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Forrester: Where are you finding strong business analyst talent?

ApplicationI was recommended to check out the new Forrester Community (registration required) and on the front page there is an active question about BAs! Analyst Mary Gerush asked:

What are your best practices for either developing business analyst talent internally or finding external help?

 

I answered the question in the forum (as did @dwwright99), but I wanted to post my response here because this is something I am passionate about.

 

I have found strong talent can come from anywhere, but winnowing the field down to the person you should hire is a time-consuming process. Don’t get me wrong, I think you should take the time, but you need to know it is an investment of effort to find great candidates. I have spent 5 – 20 hours per week for 2 – 3 months to find a single hire in one market. It was a serious investment, but it paid off with a world-class team I could drop into any situation.

My preferred BA hiring process includes the following steps*. I like this order, but the middle steps can be moved around without significant consequence:

  1. Resume review, with a focus on a variety of experiences and a pattern of growth. I avoid candidates who have only recently been award the Business Analyst title after helping with a system upgrade. I expect to see 60-200 resumes per hire.
  2. Critical Thinking Skills assessment. This can be via paper, online, or a challenging problem face-to-face. I expect to lose at least 70% of candidates due to high expectations.
  3. In-depth interview. I prefer the Topgrading model by Bradford Smart, but Lominger can work. This should show the candidate has a history of continuous learning, relevant growth, and can achieve excellence in your environment. You should end-up with insights into their favorite work environments, what they think of past supervisors, and how they are best managed. If you take less than 90 – 120 minutes, you have not plumbed deep enough.
  4. Team interview. This includes 2-3 current employees. At least two BAs, the third may be from the business or IT, but must be familiar with working with a good BA.
  5. Skip-level interview. Meeting with the hiring manager’s supervisor. Optional.
  6. Discussion & Decision. This includes a rating of the BA in the areas below.

Here are the questions everyone should answer in the Discussion & Decision step:

  1. Does the candidate demonstrate the known competencies we desire?
  2. Is the candidate strong technically? [elicitation, documentation, understand our technology, etc.]
  3. Does the candidate have strong verbal communication skills? Are they strong enough at written communication?
  4. Are they a good fit? [in order: BA team, project team, Customer & IT]
  5. Should we hire them?

I believe the manager should have the final decision with the following exception: When the team unanimously agrees the person is not a good fit with the team, the candidate may not be hired. I generally treat the team as decision makers, at teams even arguing why a given candidate is good enough.

I do think it is important to always be adding new skills and capabilities to a Business Analysis team. Whether this is business rules, product management, understanding of data, facilitation techniques, ownership spirit, etc. every hire should add something new to the team. When this is followed correctly, it leads to continuous growth and expansion of capabilities. It also causes those early superstars to be eclipsed if they don’t keep up, but that is a different issue.

 

* I’ve left out any cultural fit or technical skills screening interviews, typically performed by a recruiting department. For the most part, I have found few screeners get to the level of insight I desire or add to the information I uncover during the in-depth interview. If I cannot use them to screen out a bad candidate, I don’t want to waste their time for these steps.

 

What’s your best practice? Please add your insight below.

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