You may have noticed that the term analytical skills are among the most popular ones within job advertisements. Many employers from diverse sectors strive to find talents with such skills. What makes them so special? What are those skills? There seems to be a consensus about them being an aptitude for gathering relevant information and identifying finer details in it. The whole process also involves aspects that especially cognitive psychology is fond of. Critical thinking and problem-solving are often the first ones coming to mind. But wait, there’s more. Where? In the following sections of our article, of course. We will be dissecting the main components of those skills and, more particularly, those that apply to the business context.
The Importance of Analytical Skills
Analytical skills are also often labeled as soft skills. This can be misleading for some people who may tend to underestimate them. We should thus understand the word soft properly. It rather indicates how things can get much smoother thanks to those skills. Because a person who has soft skills is, above all, someone who acts as a relational facilitator, this is not only limited to communicational proficiency with regard to the workplace staff and customers. It’s also about how certain personal attributes (attitude, behavior, etc.) are capable of positively affecting entire ecosystems. Let’s admit that this isn’t something achievable only with machines and automated systems. The human factor is necessary for overcoming various contingencies that pop up in professional environments too.
On the other hand, analysis skills are also composed of hard skills. For example, a financial analyst must possess solid mathematical knowledge, along with a mastery of micro and macroeconomics. So hard skills are related to the more technical aspects of each specific field and discipline. Those are usually the first ones they will ask you whenever applying for a job.
What’s the use of mentioning soft and hard skills here? Could it be because analytical skills are nothing but a harmonious blend of those? It seems to be so. Analytical ability is about grasping any situation in an accurate way and consequently producing the most suitable solutions. For the employee, it’s a synonym of working efficiently and increasing the chance to achieve career goals. For the employer, it’s an opportunity to boost overall productivity and a guarantee of longevity. Let’s deconstruct those skills a little more in order to better realize how impactful they can be.
Remember that one from our introduction? It’s safe to say that this is one of the most precious legacies coming from the Age of Enlightenment. Socrates and others had surely shown the path beforehand, but their successors displayed the courage to actually engage in it. That’s definitely how we humans have started questioning the world around us instead of passively watching it.
One question often comes up about critical thinking. Some people wonder whether it’s the same thing as analytical thinking or not. The answer is yes and no. Both are aimed at examining the facts that form any given information. They also help to find out further details, as well as cause/effect connections. However, critical thinking involves a deeper level of questioning. It doesn’t hesitate to make comparisons between different options nor to propose changes that might sometimes be drastic. Thus it requires a non-negligible dose of acceptance, open-mindedness, and flexibility. Yes, we hear you. Those are unfortunately not the qualities that are the easiest to implement inside many companies. Let’s try to remain optimistic, though, and see what this kind of thinking can bring.
Schematically speaking, any critical process is based on a 3D principle: data, diagnostics, and decision. In the majority of cases, there’s indeed a certain project on the table. It encompasses several aspects such as the timeline, financial previsions, team in charge, etc. (data). Then comes an assessment phase that determines the feasibility of the project (diagnostics). Finally (and usually under the supervision of analysts), there’s a verdict regarding what has to be done concretely (decision). Critical thinking is especially important during that third stage. It can enable to rectify any hasty initiative that can be detrimental to the project.
Problem-solving is a natural prolongation of critical thinking and thus an analytical skill. According to psychologists, it’s even one of the main indicators of mental health and adaptability. No area of life is exempt from problems, and the business context is no exception. There’s not really a magical recipe to avoid them. What can be done, though, is to apply the right strategy to solve them. The most important step to improve a problematic situation is to identify the root cause.
Let’s take our previous example regarding tight budgets. Let’s also suppose that we have a company that is constantly struggling with the financial aspects of marketing campaigns. It could be because this company is caught in a kind of spiral. Maybe the staff involved has kept feeding the issue by trying to fix it only through bank loans. Consequently, this has created an ever-growing amount of debt. We have already said that critical thinking would make this company consider some alternatives like crowdfunding. What about problem-solving? In this example, the problem can be solved when crowdfunding is chosen and concretely applied. So problem-solving is an even more action-oriented skill (when compared to thinking abilities).
Each problem is somewhat unique. However, many companies seem to go for a few ‘classics’ whenever they are stuck or confronted with a complex issue. SWOT analysis (aka the identification of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) is one of the helpful methods. Choosing which key performance indicators to track is another preventive measure right from the start. Being open to several scenarios (instead of insisting on only one) or reducing the width of the project can solve the problem too.
Do you know the good old cliché, aka ‘communication is the key’? Well, clichés are always born with a good reason. What’s the use of thinking analytically if one is unable to transmit those thoughts properly? After all, thoughts are just internal/mental processes. In order to have any impact on the external world, they have to be shared. There are too many employers and staff who refuse to spare some time to improve their communicational issues. They only focus on the end result and profits. It’s a shame since they are missing one of the essential pieces of the puzzle. On a brighter note, there are more and more job advertisements that emphasize the importance of teamwork. And truth be told, this ‘togetherness’ requires functional communication skills. What are the skills in question? Here are some of them:
- Active listening. Let’s face it: most people keep talking without ever listening. In a business context, we can observe this configuration during weekly meetings. There’s usually one individual delivering an endless speech, whereas others pretend to listen while daydreaming behind their coffee. Active listening is nothing unilateral like that. It’s rather based on mutual sensitivity and empathy. The parties involved take one another into account and try to provide reciprocally constructive feedback.
- Reports and presentations. These may sound simple, but actually, they are not. Keeping everyone informed and ‘updated’ is one of the prerequisites of harmonious teamwork. This kind of communication can be provided in either oral or written form.
- Surveys. Companies often use surveys to get extra information about their clientele. But surveying is also one of the best examples of analytical skills in the workplace. It can help to identify the level of satisfaction, perceived support, or personality traits of the staff, among other things.
Here’s one of the supposedly popular analytical skills. Why supposedly? Well, let’s play the card of honesty once more. As a matter of fact, there are still many businesses that don’t want to change their habits. Innovative ideas can indeed be a synonym of threat for a huge number of people, even nowadays. True creativity is often about shaking up old foundations and rules while also taking some risks. Terms such as restructuring or redesign can be scary or perceived as failure. Regardless of such kinds of resistance, creativity is one of the pillars of progress. We may see it as a problem-solving ability on steroids, so to speak.
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Once again, concrete examples will depend on each company’s profile and needs. We can nevertheless cite curiosity, imagination, and open-mindedness among the common key ingredients. It’s also often about choosing the less obvious and easy alternatives. All in all, creativity is an example of analytical skills that pushes you to go beyond your comfort zone.
Research and Academic Skills
We have already mentioned hard skills. They are the ones that you will need to conduct almost any kind of research. And yes, this also requires thinking and acting like an academician oftentimes. Business projects and campaigns need some evidence-based groundwork before being launched. This part of the job is usually a highly specialized one, making the intervention of specific expertise mandatory.
The aforementioned SWOT analysis is among the most utilized ones. That aside, aspects related to the budget are best dealt with via cost and financial analyses. You may also have to carry out specific research on certain industries, social groups, or geographical zones.
It’s also important to make up one’s mind about the research type right from the start. Which approach seems to suit best your current topic? Quantitative, qualitative, or mixed? Will your investigation be descriptive or rather predictive? How will you collect your data, and what are the tools you intend to use for analyzing them? Say, do you have the appropriate software to decode X or Y metrics? As you see, you need to familiarize yourself with research methodology before initiating that kind of work.
Analytical Skills in a Few Lines
Analytical skills are a mix of intellectual, emotional, and social abilities. Indeed, one obviously needs the right dose of each to get the most satisfying result in the end. Say a critical approach is softened with empathic communication and thus more easily ‘digested.’ Or creative ideas stop being a utopia when they are actively applied to a perceptible problem. So all those skills are interrelated and contribute together to the overall effectiveness of any business.