How to become a data specialist (with definition and skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

One of the most significant trends in the world of business is the increasing prevalence of data in making decisions. Using data is an important part of successfully doing business, and many companies hire data specialists as a means of making the most of their data decisions. Knowing how to become a data specialist can help you determine if it's the right career path for you. In this article, we discuss what a data specialist is, explain how to become a data specialist and highlight some of the important skills data specialists use in the workplace.

What is a data specialist?

A data specialist is responsible for converting raw data and information into accessible formats on behalf of their clients. This role includes a series of different tasks, from verifying the authenticity of a data source to resolving discrepancies in a database. Each of these tasks means that clients and employers have a better chance of analysing the data more effectively and implementing the right solution. This role differs from that of a data analyst, as data specialists simply prepare the data for assessment by other professionals.

There are various types of employment depending on a data specialist's preference. Some data specialists work on a freelance basis. This includes supporting small companies without enough data to necessitate a full-time data specialist in the team. Some data specialists focus on working within a single large company. Companies such as polling companies, large-scale manufacturers and retailers handle a significant amount of data via a data specialist. As a data specialist, both full-time employment and self-employment are feasible options.

Related: 10 data analyst certifications to expand your skills

How to become a data specialist

Here's how to become a data specialist in six steps:

1. Complete relevant A-levels

One of the most important foundations for becoming a data specialist is having the right selection of A-levels. When seeking a role as a data specialist, some ideal A-levels include Maths, Statistics and Computer Science. Each of these discusses some of the concepts and ideas within data science. This provides a foundational level of knowledge and informs future candidates about some of the most important aspects of the industry.

Candidates benefit from focusing on these A-levels as universities and apprenticeship employers look for people with specific experience and knowledge of the field. For an educator, this means they spend less time teaching about the fundamental aspects of the course and get right into complex concepts. For an employer, it means less time and resources need to be allocated to training when in the role.

Related: The role of data in business (and its different types)

2. Consider a university degree

The next step is to take a university degree course. An ideal course for working as a data specialist is computer science, which teaches students about specific programs and systems for handling data. Alternative courses working with a significant amount of data and handling systems include physics, as physics students complete complex experiments throughout their course. Choosing the right course means you learn about many of the important aspects of data handling and analysis, building practical knowledge of building data models in your time as a student.

Related: Undergraduate vs. graduate study: what's the difference?

3. Work with data in your free time

When you complete your degree or other work towards a data specialist role, consider taking on data work in your own free time. This includes sourcing raw data from various locations and converting the information into a more manageable format. Consider including this data work in some of your other hobbies. For example, if you're interested in football data, use a combination of free live data to create readable data. Having an active interest in your work means you have a better chance of staying engaged during training.

When collating information into tables, record the processes you use and the final outcomes of your work. Build this information and media into a portfolio demonstrating your specific competencies in the role. This is ideal for anyone seeking a role in the data industry. A portfolio demonstrates your strengths in the workplace and conveys your level of skill to potential employers, increasing your chance of securing a role.

Related: What is data processing? (With benefits, types and tools)

4. Get an apprenticeship

An ideal route into a position as a data specialist is an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships are opportunities for potential employees that include attending a workplace, engaging with existing staff members and learning more about the role. Apprentices also complete a qualification alongside working in the company, so taking part in an apprenticeship means that you develop both practical experience of working as a data specialist and a qualification that reassures future employees of your high levels of competence.

You may also consider getting some work experience. This is ideal for getting a better understanding of the specific challenges of the role, as work experience includes shadowing a member of staff in the organisation and learning more about the tasks they complete. Completing work also helps you know if you have an interest in a data specialist career.

Related: What are apprenticeship benefits? (Plus eligibility)

5. Gain skills

When working towards a role as a data specialist, some of the experience you gain provides you with more of the necessary skills for this role. Aside from learning more about individual pieces of software and processes people use in data specialist roles, building soft skills outside formal environments is an important part of working towards a job. Some important skills for a data specialist include:

  • Attention to detail: Noticing details in the workplace informs better work strategies throughout an employee's time at a company. It also helps them notice even the tinniest of problems and to develop solutions.

  • Communication: This includes written and verbal communication, as data specialists write reports for management staff members. They also communicate with various organisation members to complete their tasks smoothly.

  • Teamwork: Data specialists use teamwork when working as part of a team on an analysis project. Teamwork allows them to complete tasks quickly and divide tasks as per each member's strengths and abilities.

Start this process by reflecting on yourself. This includes considering some of the parts of your work that you see potential improvement in, such as communication. Ask those around you how they feel you could benefit from improving in these areas and any other potential improvements you could make. Target your development by completing training courses for individual skills and competencies. Over time you grow your soft skills and work more effectively as a data specialist.

Related: How to improve soft skills in the workplace

6. Attend industry events

Attending industry events is an ideal opportunity for anyone seeking a role as a data specialist. These industry events include seminars and lectures from relevant software developers, conferences on the data specialist field and engaging with industry experts in one-on-one conversations. Each of these opportunities provides you with more insight into the industry. The more you know about the industry, the more chance you have of impressing future employers. Engaging in further events also demonstrates a strong work ethic to potential employers.

Another benefit of attending these events is the opportunity to grow your professional network. Having a strong network means you have people you can talk to when completing job applications, if you have any questions about processes in the industry or if you want support from an expert in the field. Industry events are good opportunities for growing your knowledge and embracing the social side of your career.

Related: Your complete guide to networking at events (with steps)

7. Apply for data specialist roles

When you have all the skills and connections in the industry you need, begin applying for data specialist roles. Consider applying to companies you have a history with. For example, in the latter stages of your apprenticeship, consider asking the company if they have any vacancies available. Engaging with people that know more about your skills and abilities means you have a better chance of securing a role, as these people spend less time assessing your performance because they are already familiar with your abilities.

Applying for positions as a data specialist includes sending a CV and a cover letter to companies. When writing a CV, consider using keywords and information in the job description. This increases your chances of passing through any automated parts of the application process, as some companies use keyword filtering systems when sifting through applications. In a cover letter, discuss reasons for applying to that particular company. This builds a link between your skills and the company's needs, increasing your chance of securing the role.

Related:

  • First-party data: what it is and some of its benefits

  • What is a data architect? (With roles)

  • What it takes to be a data planner: skills, qualifications


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