12 Essential Business Analyst Interview Questions
1. Tell me about a time you had to complete user research.
You are going to be asked a lot of "behavioral questions" which start out with "tell me about a time..." These types of questions generally let the interviewer see what you've done in the past and, more importantly, how you did it.
In this particular case, the topic is user research, which would be very common in any kind of product or marketing type role. The answer should focus on how you started with an objective, found people to interview/research, and then what result came out the other side.
There's a very famous example of user research that went into Febreze. The long and the short of it was:
- Hypothesis: Some people used the free samples religiously while similar people never touch it. Why?
- Let's go to the power users and see how they use it.
- Let's talk to them about the emotions they experience while using it.
- Aggregate the results and look for patterns.
- Result: The most avid users spary it at the end of cleaning up as a "final coat". Let's add more to that experience with an original scent that smells satisfying.
Do: Goes without saying, use a real example from the past.
Have a clear story to tell with it: question, research, end with results (positive or negative).
Give as much detail as you can about your thought process behind each step of the operation.
Don't: Make up statistics that aren't accurate.
Not know how the project ended. You want to able to show results from your work.
2. Tell me about a time you had to deal with difficult bosses or competing opinions.
This question gets at how you will interact with people you will work with closely at the new company.
At Zippia, we don't generally like working with people that are passive aggressive or soft spoken. We want to aggressively question ideas without insulting people. The result is that you often don’t agree with everyone. What do you do?
Try to think of an example where that's happened to you and then work through how you resolved it. How did you communicate that you didn't agree? What steps did you take to work it out? What happened at the end of the day?
Similar to the user research question, you want to explain your process as much as the results.
Do: Explain why you did the things that you did.
Accurately reflect on how you work with people -- if you like working one way, then you'll be happy in the long run working with other people who have the same way of doing things.
Don't: Focus on the drama around it. The goal is to give context for your answer, not show how you were right the whole time and the other person was wrong.
3. Tell me about a time you had to manage multiple deliverables in a short period of time?
Ah, this question gets at, we think, what everybody means when they "thrive in a fast paced environment". What does that mean in non-resume speak? How do you prioritize your time to achieve a goal given constraints.
The way we traditionally like this question answered can best be summarized in a graph:
Impact On Key Statistics vs. Time It Takes To Implement (Difficulty of implementation)
Each of these two axes then have their own components you need to weigh appropriately given the circumstances of the situation. Time to implement has time/scope and the quality within that time period. Impact on key statistic has risk of success/failure and cost.
Do: Explain, in some quantifiable way, how you make choices around trade offs.
Identify the objective you are optimizing around whether it be revenue, engagement, retention, etc.
Don't: "Just go with your gut", most of your choices have a rational backing --- explain it. Although, there will always some “ties" in priority at which point you should trust your gut.
4. Other Behavioral Questions To Have An Answer Prepared
- Tell me about a time when you had to learn a new technique or software.
- Tell me about a time when you created a database.
- Tell me about a time when you had a requirement full defined. What went into it?
- Tell me about a time when you had to identify a user pain point and create a solution.
- Tell me about a time when you worked with a group to achieve an aggressive goal.
5. You have a table with EMPLOYEE_ID, EXPENSE, DATE, DEPARTMENT. Write a SQL query to find the 5 most expensive departments for the company over the past year.
You're going to need to know a query language to get a job as a business analyst -- or at least know how to Google the syntax quickly.
In fact, knowing how to get data out of a database is one of the essential skills of a business analyst.
The query for this could look something like:
SELECT department, sum(expense) as total_expense FROM TABLE GROUP BY department WHERE (date BETWEEN (DATE_SUB(CURDATE(), INTERVAL 1 YEAR)) AND CURDATE()) ORDER BY total_expense, DESC LIMIT 5
Other languages and programs that you'll probably encounter besides SQL:
- Microsoft Visio
Do: Talk through your thinking as you go along.
Admit if you haven't used a language before.
Don't: Make up language. Let them know your logic if you can't remember the exact syntax.
6. A major telecommunications giant posted a surprising net loss last quarter. Why? What can the company do to improve its forecast?
Fun question right? The key with these is to ask as many questions as you can to understand the context. The interviewer is expecting you to ask them questions; it's purposefully vague.
So what kind of context? Ask something like:
- What geographic market?
- Where there any new competitors or new competitor products?
- Was there a lawsuit or some other kind of non-recurring expense?
- Was there some other major news event?
The goal with these questions is to see how you think through a problem. Always communicate and base your thoughts on rational assumptions with some basis in fact.
Do Have a basis for any assumption you make.
Draw upon any case studies you worked on in the past. How did those companies solve similar problems?
Don't Just say an answer. Find a starting point and work out from there.
Bull shit, stick to a simple response rather than BS, the employer can tell.
7. Be Ready to Explain the Following in Some Level of Detail
Agile Method: Originally designed for product development, agile is a method of rapid implementation and iteration. The process normally involves sprints (Defined periods of time), scrums (Status Meetings), and stories (The components you're actively working on).Functional Requirement Document: This goes by many names, but is essentially the high level doc that you will be running your analysis around. It will spell out the data to use, the business objectives, and anything that the stakeholders need from you.
Pareto Analysis: The 80/20 rule where 20% of something accounts for 80% of the output. For example, 20% of clients may produce 80% of the revenue, so it would make sense to focus on, cater to, and find more of those types of clients.
Charting and graphing: Your job is to present your findings in an easily communicable way. Since people are visual, that leads to a lot of charting and graphing. Get ready to use all the tools in the arsenal from flow charting to basic line graphs.
General Interest Questions
8. Tell me about yourself.
This is the kind of question you'll get asked in basically every interview setting -- I know I ask it every time to break the ice. Have an answer to it outlined in your head without being too exact on what you're going to say.
This is a good place to stand out and give them a little something unique. Describe yourself in a manner that an employer will remember
Using myself as an example, I'd have something like this outline prepared:
- Background on my geography: Grew up in NJ, college in CA and graduate from Pomona College, lived here for the last four years
- Background on employment: Was an econ major in college, which led to my first several jobs as a consultant and analyst
- What interested me in this job: I've enjoyed finding interesting insights from data, the company comes highly recommended from my friends
- If appropriate, general interests: sports, video games, something interesting about yourself
Do: Break the ice with the interviewer as they hopefully have something in common you can chat about for a minute after.
Get everyone in the interview "mode" -- talking about a trivially easy subject to get your jaw moving.
Don't: Drone on with your life story. This shouldn't take more than 2-3 minutes to answer. Get hung up on exact details.
9. Why do you want to work for this company?
Again, this question is so common that you want to have an outline of the answer going into it. I say outline in both these cases because you don't want to come off as a robot. Having a very stock answer might not fit the exact phrasing of their question.
The main goal of the question from the interviewer's perspective is does this person care enough to research our company? So with that in mind, here's what my outline usually consists of:
- My experience fits in well to tackle the opening
- I'm interested in the problems the company is trying to solve
- The company culture is something I can get behind
- The people that work here are people I want to work with
Do: As a general rule, try to show off how you can help solve their problems, not how the job will be good for you. So phrase it as "My experience running in depth analysis on large datasets will transfer well to the types of analyzes I'll be running here."
Don't: Focus on yourself. "This job will be a huge job in pay for me" is not a good answer.
10. Why are you leaving your current position?
There are a lot of valid reasons for wanting to leave. Maybe your manager changed and you don't fit. Or your wife is moving across the country and you want to stay married.
The key here is just keep it honest, and if possible, swing it more towards why you're interested in the new position. Whatever you say, don't bad mouth your current employer -- it just comes off like you're resentful.
If you were laid off or got fired from your previous job, the answer is a bit tougher. You want to be honest as to why it didn't work out. Maybe the company missed projected earnings or you were going through a hard time. Try to spin it as best you can and take it as a learning experience.
Do: Be honest without bad mouthing your current employer.
Don't: Lie. Ever. If you got laid off or fired, explain it.
11. Do you have any questions for me?
YES! You should definitely have questions prepared. This question is an easy way to close out an interview as it puts you in control for a bit, so there's no pressure. It lets you show your interest in the company.
Good questions show that you cared enough about the position to do your research. Topics to ask about include:
- Company culture
- The responsibilities the role will require
- Topics about your experience that didn't come
- Any shared interests that came up during the course of the conversation
I'm torn on whether you should ever ask about "What are the next steps in the hiring process?" There's not really a right answer, but this can potentially be off putting to the interview without any real upside to you. If they want to continue with you, you'll find out either way.
Do: Research the company and interviewer (online, through friends, etc) so that you can ask something insightful.
Bring up something positive. People remember the end of an interview more than any other part.
Don't: Use that time to tell them about something they need to fix with the product/process/company. Why insult what they're working on at the very end? You have to believe they are aware of issues.
12. Other General Interest Questions to Prepare For
- What will you miss the most about your current job?
- What was a typical day like at your most recent job?