Analytical skills are highly sought after in virtually every field of work but the term can seem a bit confusing and vague.
In this article, we define analytical skills and explain how you are already developing them at school or college – as well as how they apply at work and what employers will do to test you when you apply for jobs.
'Analytical skills enable you to look at information and work out what is important and relevant to the problem in hand'
What are analytical skills?
Analytical skills are the ability to look at information and work out what is important and relevant to the task or problem in hand. They require a whole load of other skills including problem-solving, critical thinking and research.
Analytical skills are a kind of soft skill, which means they are not technical skills specific to a certain role. Watch this video on soft skills:
You use your analytical skills across a whole load of subjects at school or college. For example, think about the steps involved in writing an essay in history class:
- Review relevant primary and secondary sources.
- Work out the significance and reliability of each source and compare different accounts.
- Use this information to reach an interpretation of what happened and formulate your argument.
- Extract the most useful quotations to use as evidence to back up your claims.
- Structure an essay which presents a balanced account of the historical event and reflects different perspectives on what took place.
- Draw an overall conclusion based on the balance of evidence.
Throughout this process, you have to analyse information for relevance and reliability and weigh up its significance to reach and communicate an interpretation. Analytical skills require a methodical and systematic approach and result in a reasoned, objective outcome.
Using analytical skills at work
Analytical skills are useful across a varied spread of workplace contexts:
Customer service: When dealing with customer enquiries, customer service agents extract relevant information from the complicated and often incoherent information a customer is giving them to work out what the real problem is. They then use the information they already have about the field of work to solve the problem as best they can.
IT support: IT support technicians deal with computer system problems all day every day. Sometimes these are down to user error and require an explanation or are straightforward issues with simple solutions. At other times, there is a deeper problem which requires further investigation and more complex technical work to resolve.
Finance officers: Finance officers often come across discrepancies in the financial data they are reviewing regarding payments and receipts. They have to first identify the disparity, work out what kind of discrepancy they are dealing with and follow up various lines of inquiry to work out whether it is an accounting error or if money has actually gone astray. They then have to ensure the discrepancy is resolved.
Other fields analytical skills are relevant in:
How will you be tested for analytical skills?
Employers will likely test for analytical skills at various stages in the screening process. You may face questions about analytical skills in your application form and be asked to demonstrate them in your interview.
You are unlikely to be explicitly asked about “analytical skills”. Instead, you will be asked a question such as:
- Tell us about a complex problem you have had to deal with and what steps you took to solve it.
- Explain a difficulty in your life and how you overcame it.
How can I demonstrate that I have analytical skills?
You can use all sorts of examples from your school and home life, or your part-time job if you have one:
School life: Think about where you have had to interpret complex information in your school subjects. This could be interpreting texts in English, extracting valuable information from research in social sciences like psychology or sociology or making sense of results from a chemistry experiment.
Extra-curricular activities: Have you ever been treasurer of a school club or society? The treasurer must keep track of money coming in and out and make decisions about what cash can be spent on based on need and financial prudence.
Home life: Are you a computer or board gamer, into making things or craft? Any practical hobbies like this require you to visualise an outcome then make sense of the information you have to hand to get there.
Part-time job: If you work in a shop or café, every day you deal with requests from customers and instructions from your boss. You have to understand what is expected – whether explicit or implied – then react accordingly.
As we discussed earlier, analytical skills are closely related to other skills, and we have articles about these too:
Check out our key skills articles to learn more about attributes employers look for in applicants and how to develop them.