Ian Richards, a warrant officer in the British Army Reserves, gives his personal view on how BAs can drive their careers forward, by investing heavily in personal and professional development.

As a head of business analysis, I have interviewed many business analysts. Most are looking to further their careers within their profession. In today’s market, the advantage is firmly in the employee’s favour. That said, job interviews are still important. The first half of the interview might show that the candidate is right for the organisation. But, should the interview go really well, I believe that employers need to spend the last half of the interview convincing interviewees that their organisation is right for the candidate

Invest in your own professionalism

There is nothing worse than walking into a client situation and feeling uncomfortable or lacking confidence in your abilities. I sometimes hear the tongue in cheek expression ‘fake it until you make it’ - especially from those who have just arrived in the profession.

Sadly, youth and inexperience are only credible excuses for a limited time. Soon, these limiting traits become little more than incompetence. With the right guidance and leadership, there is every chance that you could carve out an outstanding career for yourself. However, complacency carries with it a risk: you could lose credibility very quickly.

Some BAs make the mistake of thinking that ‘on the job’ experience is sufficient. They believe they can learn from more senior BAs in their organisation. But ask yourself: how do you know that the person from whom you are learning has referenceable BA skills? Moreover, could these senior BAs have just learned their craft from others who have failed to invest in their professional skills too?

There are three competencies to a BA:

  • Professional techniques
  • Personal qualities
  • Business knowledge

Of course, formal training and qualifications are the prime method of demonstrating that you have learned core BA skills, however in the current economy, most companies have limited training budgets. They can’t always afford the courses that bring with them the qualifications to demonstrate BA capability.

Consider the interview questions

One of my favourite interview questions is: ‘how do you maintain your professional standards and keep your information current?’ Of course, what I am looking for is interviewees to say are things like: they have read books, attended conferences, browse LinkedIn articles, conduct research on YouTube, read white papers, frequent blog sites, listen to podcasts and look at company websites that offer knowledge hubs and articles. If they have self-funded courses then that is always a bonus. In short, I like people who work to keep their own skills fresh.

With the advances in technology now driving business innovation I like to see BAs demonstrating a working knowledge of technologies such as: cloud, blockchain, automation, artificial intelligence and other disruptive techniques.

Learn to articulate what you do

I put great importance on BAs being able to articulate what they do and the value that they bring to business transformational change. This shows a maturity of thought, based on an investment in fully understanding the essence of their craft.

During interviews, I like to inject a little role play and say: ‘right, I am a project manager who doesn’t think that I need a BA on my project. You have one minute to convince me otherwise’.

Some candidates really struggle when confronted with such a direct question and one that requires such a concise answer. The best and most mature replies I have heard press me to consider the consequence of not understanding the business need and therefore building a solution that is not fit for purpose - resulting in financial and reputational damage.

I am sure that there are many of us whose partners don’t fully understand what we do and maybe say that you: ‘work with IT’. Well, why not practice explaining what you do to them? They’re a good starting point, will be patient and will let you practice articulating what you do and the value that you being. After all, we are all in sales. Right?

Problem solving by committee

I draw a lot of energy from passionate BAs that visibly go the extra mile. I hear about initiatives where groups of likeminded BAs take their sandwiches, crisps and apples to a meeting room for an hour, over lunch and practise creative and innovative problem-solving techniques.

They may start with simple hypothetical problems such as: ‘the wheel is now illegal, what do we do next?’ I have seen these lunchtime sessions grow into useful company problem solving sessions that tackle problems like: ‘how can we reduce the attrition rate?’ or ‘how could we leverage the BA apprenticeship scheme to benefit our organisation?’

Good business solutions to such problems are often rewarded by progressive organisations. I have even seen focus groups such as these, figure out how they are going to win the next industry award.

The power of belonging

I often look for candidates whose passion for their profession takes them beyond their organisational workplace and into the wider BA community. It’s similar to the recent British Army recruiting campaign’s slogan of ‘belonging’.

There is a wider support network out there where people can volunteer. They can get involved in arranging conferences, webinars and socials.

By getting involved in organisations such as BCS, members are able to tap into the rich network of likeminded individuals. In my experience, it is not always what you know but who you know. So, why not cover all angles and use all the resources available to you to support you in advancing your career?

Public speaking

For those of you who like to be front of stage - as opposed to backstage - there is always the challenging of public speaking. If you are passionate about business analysis and want to stand out from the crowd there are many opportunities to do this in the wider BA community.

There are opportunities to host webinars or speak at regional industry events or even at the Business Analysis Conference Europe. It is always keen to support candidates who are speaking at the conference for the very first time.

To practice and to gain confidence, experiment with knowledge transfer sessions in the workplace. Such schemes will let you practice in a safe environment.

Reach for the top!

Why not build your credibility and even apply to become UK BA of the year? The BA community is always looking for the next BA ambassador and you could be that person. If you don’t quite make it, don’t worry. You’ll have been on a fantastic journey. You’ll be a richer and more rounded BA.

There are many opportunities to increase your currency in the wider BA community and to stand out from the crowd. This not only demonstrates that you are a role model and an inspirational leader amongst your peers, but doing so also ensures that your CV is as strong as it can be. This will help you get noticed inside and outside of your current organisation and could help you get that ideal assignment or make the next exciting career move.

The British Army encourages you to have a sense of belonging and to ‘be the best’. As an employer of talented business analysts, I say that we can learn a lot from this model. Invest in yourself, back yourself, get involved, learn your trade and openly demonstrate - to your managers and to future employers - that you are working towards being the best BA that you can be.

Biography

Ian Richards is a Warrant Office in his 30th year in the British Army Reserves. He is a musician in the Regimental Band of The Royal Welsh and has played at many prestigious events and venues such as Sydney Opera House, The Royal Variety Performance, has played for Her Majesty the Queen over 25 times and for many world icons such as Nelson Mandela. His band is most well known for playing the anthems to 74,000 tuneful fans at Welsh Rugby internationals at the world-famous Principality Stadium.

Ian is also very prominent in the Business Analysis world and is a previous winner of the IIBA® UK BA of the Year and a member of the judging panel for the 2018 award. Ian is also an assessor for the Chartered IT Professional award, the BCS International BA Diploma, has written questions for both BCS and the IIBA® and also joins authors and thought leaders as member of the Advisory panel for the IIBA Business Analysis Conference Europe.

Ian blends is military reserve career with his corporate role as a head of Business Analysis and reflects on the British Army’s slogan of ‘British Army, Be the Best” and how that relates to business analysis.