Planning a Job Shift to Technology Industry Analyst: A How-to Guide

May 8, 2008 at 10:05 am | Posted in Analyst biz | Leave a comment

In interviewing for the open position on my team, I’ve had four conversations so far with people who were not applying immediately, but thought being an analyst sounded like a nice job and wanted to know how to position themselves for an analyst role in the future.  Here’s the advice I gave.

Of course, I first gave them a realistic view (warning?) of what the job entails.  When I first got an entry-level job as an analyst at Meta Group, I gave a good description of the job to one of my friends at the financial services firm I worked at previously.  She listened intently, nodded her head, and when I’d finished said “I’d rather have someone put a hot poker in my eye than do that job.”  It’s not what everyone would enjoy, and that’s fine.  I’d estimate there are only about 2,000-2,500 technology industry analysts in the U.S., so it’s pretty much a niche occupation.

Then, I described what I would (and did) do to position myself for an industry analyst position, whether it’s at Burton Group or any of the other technology research advisory firms as well.  I’m assuming here that you work in IT in a firm that uses (rather than sells) software.  It needs a few twists to be applied to people working at a vendor or consulting firm as well.  I’m also assuming you are not trying to get a “blank slate” analyst job (such as just out of college or total career change) since most analyst positions require experience.  There aren’t many intern or first-job analyst spots (at Burton Group it’s none – we require at least 5 years of experience for analyst hires, and the average on my team is actually about 15 years experience).

Start creating a portfolio of vendorless research positions

Analysts have to be unbiased towards any vendor, but if you’re coming from an enterprise or vendor you may have deep knowledge about the product you use (and specifically the capabilities that you’ve enabled) but none about the products and capabilities you don’t.  Rather than jumping into researching competing products, I’d first focus on creating frameworks, best practices, market segmentation, organizational structure recommendations, maturity models, and evaluation criteria that don’t even mention a vendor.  These exercise your capacity to think at a higher level of abstraction and then those frameworks can be applied across a slew of vendors using an analytical method of your creation rather than a self-serving one from each vendor.

Seek out speaking and writing opportunities

Depending on the analyst firm you go to, writing or presenting are a big part of the job.  Your current job may not require much in-depth writing or offer many chances for large presentations.  That’s when you have to take initiative to find opportunities, such as presenting case studies at a conference or speaking for local user groups or at universities. If someone really wanted a job with a lot of writing and speaking, wouldn’t you expect they’d have gone to extra effort to find writing and speaking opportunities for themselves in their current position?  For example, I had selected a special master’s thesis project (which wasn’t required) that involved developing a type of knowledge management and business intelligence methodology and wrote a paper on it.  I also proactively searched and found speaking opportunities at my two alma maters with professors I’d taken classes from.  These days it’s easy to set up a blog and start typing away.  Even if it doesn’t become a big hit, a potential employer can look at it for examples of writing skill, analysis, and long-term commitment to writing.

Get involved in some product evaluations

Try to line yourself up to be involved in some product evaluations.  The type of software doesn’t matter as much as the comprehensive analytical model you can demonstrate in making your selection.

Move into an R&D role

Many organizations have an internal group that researches new technologies and writes recommendations on if/how/when they should be applied to the business.  Both myself and another analyst on my team came from internal R&D groups (mine was called “advanced technology”) from within financial services and manufacturing companies.  These jobs are fun!  Plus they expose you to analysts, get you used to rapidly changing technologies, and providing opportunities for describing recommendations in writing and presentations.  An architecture team involved with product evaluations would be a good choice as well.

Read papers from the firms you’re interested in

Start learning their analytical style and applying it to your current projects.  Most of the firms have a rotating set of free research available on their sites or occasionally republish articles through partners. Burton Group’s free papers are here.

Determine which analyst firms are best for you based on what you like to do

Each analyst firm has a different mix of emphasis on quantitative research (like surveys), qualitative research (such as speaking with vendors and users, reading books/white papers, and searching), financial analysis, writing, presenting, advising clients, vendor consulting (marketing strategy), end user consulting (applying analytical and architectural frameworks), speaking to the press, and travel.  Ask yourself what you enjoy most and learn which firms emphasize those activities.

When interview time comes, do your research

Unlike applying for most internal positions, analyst firms, by nature, are easily findable.  As easy as it is to do a Google search there’s no excuse not to know what they cover, what positions they’ve been taking lately, and what kind of research they do.  An analyst is supposed to be a good researcher, so this is a good time to prove it.  Hint: all the analysts I know love to debate, so come in with an angle you think they’re missing or a position you think they’re wrong about and (gently) show you can find holes and defend a position.

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