Data Skills+: The Ticket to a Successful IR Career

Data skills are a must for IR professionals at every level. Today’s institutions use increasingly complex data tools, including advanced predictive analytics, big data, and business intelligence systems. Certainly, that calls for hiring individuals with advanced data skills. However, data skills alone do not necessarily make a skilled IR professional. IR professionals will likely find that they need to have Data Skills+. That is, to be equally strong in the so-called “soft skills”, such as communication.

Women sitting at table having a conversation

Data Skills+

Traditional data skills have been–and will be—critical for IR professionals. A quick survey of IR job descriptions will surely return requested qualifications including: “quantitative skills”, “reporting”, “statistics”, etc. This makes sense. Years ago, specific, data-related skills may have been the bulk of the job description. But a review of more current positions may surprise you. Today’s IR jobs are looking for individuals with not only the data skills, but for prospects to have well-developed soft skills as well.

Communication is Key

As early as the 1990s, higher education researchers were beginning to recognize that being good with data isn’t all that valuable if your IR department doesn’t know how to share it effectively. Indeed, today’s position descriptions for IR jobs at all levels often look for applicants to have a variety of soft skills. Communication. Collaboration. Writing. Presenting. Also known as, the skills that help transform the data from numbers on the screen to actionable information in the hands of the right people.

Person standing on top of mountain with arms raised in victory

What Do I Do?

A focus on soft skills in IR has implications for IR professionals at every level. If you’re looking to break into the field, you must figure out how showcase your soft skills via cover letters, resumes, and interviews. What examples do you have to show how you communicate information and work with others? How will you highlight those skills as part of the interview process?

Looking to advance your IR career?  You should always be aware of how you are showcasing (or, uh, not) your soft skills in your current role. Are you bringing people together to discuss analyses and solve problems? Are you keeping lines of communication open? Are you developing reports and presentations in a variety of formats to best suit the audience you’re sharing with? Whether you are or not, seek opportunities to build and fine-tune your soft skills before you put in for your next promotion.

If you’re responsible for filling open IR positions, you’ll find there is so much more to consider than whether or not the applicant has mastered all the technical skills in the job description. It may be beneficial to consider the soft skills strengths and weaknesses of your entire IR team and look for applicants who can support the areas where you find room for improvement. Your ultimate candidate may not always be the data wizard.

Which soft skills do you find the most valuable in your IR role? Tell us in the comments!

Using Storytelling to Engage Your Data Consumers

We all love a good story. It hooks us from the very beginning. The scene and characters come alive in our minds. Before we know it, we’re hanging on every word. We get so wrapped up in the story, we lose track of time. We’re dying to find out how it ends. When we reach the end, we feel a sense of closure…and maybe a little wistfulness that ride is over. Storytelling is a powerful tool.

Now imagine yourself in a meeting where someone is giving you a presentation on data. Are you engaged? Are you dying to find out what happens next? Not usually, right?

Storytelling book open with eyeglasses

Storytelling Makes Your Data Come Alive

But you could be! And when you’re up there giving the presentation, you could have your audience on the edge of their seats. You just need to look for ways to turn your data into a good story.

For example, suppose you need to report on an initiative that has increased graduation rates for its target population. It’s good news, so of course you could just share the numbers. But wouldn’t it be better if you told a story about some of the participants: where they came from, how they struggled, how the initiative helped them, how it helped other students, what it could mean for the future of the institution? Even without the details, the story is more interesting and memorable than just a few data points. And just maybe, it will keep people talking about it as they go about their day.

Data consumers listing to a story about data

Draw on Your Experience to Build a Story

Turning your data into a story isn’t all that difficult. Sometimes there is a real-life example to build on. Other times, you can construct a storytelling scenario. Either way, remember to incorporate these principles:

  1. Make them care: Who is your audience? What is important to them? Make sure to align those things to capture their interest.
  2. Build anticipation: Include enough background detail to paint a picture in their minds.
  3. Follow a clear path: If your story is too complex or too hard to connect to the data, your audience may lose interest.
  4. Draw parallels: It may be clear to you how the data relates to your story, but make sure it is crystal clear for your audience.
  5. Clear conclusions: Your story is one example of the data, but make sure they see the bigger picture.

Have you had good luck turning your data into stories? What do your audiences respond to? Let us know!

4 Easy Ways to Encourage Productive Data Conversations This Year

So often, one of the biggest hurdles to using data effectively lies in the conversations we have about the data. What are we trying to study? What data do we need? How should we collect it? What type of analyses will we do? With so many conversations to navigate, we thought we would share some tips for creating space for more productive data conversations in 2019.

People having a productive data conversation

Focus on the End Game

The holidays are a memory, and chances are, your colleagues have shifted their focus to their 2019 goals. However, folks are still energetic and refreshed from the holiday break! That makes this is a great time to connect with colleagues and leaders to find out what goals they have. And once you’ve done that, you can consider how to support them, given your role.

Bring Something to the Table

Delight a leader with new data they didn’t even know they were looking for (using minimal extra time on your part!). Most of us have a number of required reports due throughout the year. While doing compliance work, take a second look at the data. Then, identify any areas that may be of interest and/or align with folks’ goals (see Focus on the End Game above).

Looking at laptop, having a productive data conversation

Go the Extra Mile

Take a few extra minutes to add another variable into the pivot table or other analysis for greater granularity. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised at what you find! For example, if you need to provide data for compliance reporting as a total, disaggregate the data by degree or major. This can serve as a ‘cross check’. For example, is the largest number of students the institution’s largest major? In addition, it gives you another table to discuss in your data conversations with senior leaders.

Sharing is Caring

Share your work widely. We all know to share our work up, but what about across and down? It is important that everyone is informed so that they can incorporate information into their own constructs. Thus – the more people know – the greater the likelihood they can make the connections that might otherwise be missed and offer valuable suggestions and solutions.

Have other suggestions for fostering productive data conversations? Drop them in the comments to share!