I didn’t grow up knowing I wanted to be a product analyst. Honestly, the role probably didn’t even exist when I was a child. It wasn’t until about halfway through college that I even had an inkling that I wanted to work with data, after gaining minimal exposure to it in classes. I took an internship to learn basic SQL, popped it on my resume and was fortunate to have someone from HubSpot reach out over LinkedIn about an opportunity.
Despite it being an entry level position, I remember feeling incredibly intimidated by the interview process. It was far more technical than anything I’d done before and the whole time I couldn’t help feeling like my knowledge was subpar.
But I hadn’t come in totally unprepared, I had my experience in SQL and while I knew there were more advanced functions I’d never heard of before, let alone used, I was confident with my foundational knowledge that I could pick them up easily on the job. And what I lacked in technical skills I tried to make up for in interpreting results. None of the analysis I did in the take-home assessment was fancy or novel, but I did my best to explain why I looked at the data the way that I did, what it told me, and what I would recommend doing with that information.
In the in-person interview I was asked how I would go about answering a particular question from a stakeholder. Again, I don’t think I gave an impressive answer, but afterwards I did ask the interviewer what she would do. While I may not have demonstrated that I had a ton of experience or knowledge in answering those kinds of questions I did demonstrate a desire to learn and a curiosity for what could be done with data. I think those were critical factors in convincing the company to take a chance on me.
So what was it actually like?
Just as in the interview process, I felt completely intimidated during my first few weeks of work. I’d sit in meetings and be amazed by the work others were doing. I asked a ton of questions. Many felt stupid, many I spent waaay too much time trying to figure out on my own before asking, but my teammates always answered them without the slightest bit of judgement — except maybe to wonder why I hadn’t asked sooner. As an associate I tried to soak up as much knowledge as possible.
In the first two months I didn’t really perform any “big analyses.” Instead, I focused on learning the company, learning the team I worked with, and learning the data that we had. It seems like a common fear across all of the analysts I’ve spoken with during those early days of onboarding (not just entry-level) is that they’re not delivering results fast enough. But if I hadn’t built that foundational understanding first, any analysis I would’ve performed would’ve been crap. In fact, over the coming months, I would find what felt like gaping holes in my analyses. “Oh, I didn’t factor in that these were “test” accounts or that we have this special discount that totally skews the results.” So that’s not to say that my foundational understanding of the product area I worked with was perfect, but it did show me that the product understanding was just as, if not more important than, the technical aspects of the analysis.
I was given an area to focus on, and I think that was the greatest gift I could’ve received during my early associate days (so if you’re not given one, create one yourself based on where you think there’s a need). I started to gain confidence as I understood that area more and more deeply. And because I “owned” that space, I was given the freedom to experiment and learn how to be an analyst. So I took a stab at an analysis for an initial question my team had identified. I remember reviewing it with my mentor and I think he looked at me like he never would’ve spent the time doing it that way. Looking back now that I’ve “graduated” from being an associate, I really wouldn’t either. But it was so helpful for me because it was a start. It was something to build on. And while no, it may not have been the most efficient way to tackle the problem, it did yield some insights that I was able to take back to my team.
And from there the project gained momentum. I got questions from those insights which led me to new analyses with new insights that again led to new questions. And with each new insight (no matter how small) my stakeholders continued to build trust in me. I feel like you always see the advice of breaking your goals into small, discrete tasks — and to celebrate the completion of those little tasks. And it’s so true, especially with something you don’t have a lot of experience with. Set up those small wins, so that your job doesn’t feel so daunting, and so that you can tell you’re making progress.
By the time I was four or five months in, I felt completely different about my role. I suddenly felt confident, and that even though I was still figuring things out, I truly had a unique value that I brought to the team. After all, I had been the one that spent the weeks digging into the data, so I really was the best person to talk to about my focus area, and I could give truly educated opinions there. It was funny because even in the short months that I had been in the role, I’d already look back on earlier work and think, “What was I doing?” It was okay, though — I’d grown beyond that.
I had also realized by that point that the toughest parts of the job were actually figuring out what work would be most helpful for your stakeholders, and how to present that work in a meaningful and actionable way. And while I think that’s a really hard skill to master, the more you practice the easier it becomes.
- The one piece of advice I’d give to new analysts is to always be ready to try new things. If your whole analytics team is learning something new, be an early adopter of that skill/program. It’ll help you start feeling on the same “level” as your more experienced teammates and can even be an opportunity for you to teach them something new. And then you’re no longer just a sponge absorbing everyone else’s knowledge because you too can share your own.
- Yes, you’ll likely feel intimidated, but that’s okay, everyone has to start somewhere.
- Build a strong foundational understanding into what you’ll be analyzing before you start trying to analyze it.
- Learn all that you can from your more experienced teammates, don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Take on a project or problem, own it, and break it into small manageable tasks to build confidence and experience.
- Be open to trying new things (even if they seem beyond your skillset) as that’s how you’ll start to gain expertise — that’s what will help you go beyond just being an associate.
Do you have your own goal to become a Product Analyst? Apply today to our Associate Analyst Rotational Program.