Many students regard their core statistics class as a necessary evil — a subject to be forgotten as soon as possible after the final exam. Until recently, this was a perfectly acceptable strategy, as people who preferred to avoid data analysis could go through an entire career without ever revisiting theories of probability and standard deviation. However, in today’s job market, data analysis skills separate good employees from great ones, and adding this ability to your resume means a greater likelihood of landing the job.

The rise of big data

Big data is the hottest trend in the business world, and most organizations are rapidly developing programs to harness the power of the detailed information collected and stored for each customer, employee and transaction. Such programs aren’t limited to departments that are already known for their relationship with numbers, like IT and finance. In fact, big data touches every part of the business, from marketing to human resources and beyond. Consider these examples:

Walmart was a pioneer in the use of data analysis to increase sales. In 2004, the organization studied consumer behavior before a hurricane and discovered that in addition to the expected run on batteries, flashlights and toilet paper, stores sold out of strawberry Pop-Tarts. Since that aha moment, Walmart has included large quantities of strawberry Pop-Tarts in pre-hurricane ordering, which leads directly to higher overall sales.

McDonald’s focused data analysts on the human resources side of the business, studying which employee characteristics resulted in greater profitability at the level of individual restaurants. Findings were surprising, as data analysts learned that employing individuals over the age of 60 had a direct relationship with restaurant profitability.

Companies in every industry have realized the potential of thorough data analysis, and many are focused on leveraging this information to increase their market share. As a result, resumes that include data analysis skills go to the top of the list.

What if you forgot your statistics class?

Even if you have already graduated and long since sold your statistics books, there are plenty of low-cost options for honing your data analysis skills. Online courses and tutorials are available through some of the best universities in the world.

Start with EdX, which features multiple certification options that range from a free honor-system style to more formal credit-eligible programs. Examples of current course offerings include:

  • Introduction to Apache Spark from UC Berkeley
  • Processing Big Data with Azure HDInsight from Microsoft
  • Knowledge Management and Big Data in Business from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

If EdX doesn’t have exactly what you are looking for, consider Lynda.com — an online education platform that was acquired by LinkedIn in 2015. Lynda.com has a full series of big data workshops and tutorials created by experts in the field. Examples of current course offerings include:

  • Statistics Fundamentals
  • Data Visualization Tips and Tricks
  • Understanding Data Science

As you explore your options for gaining additional data analysis skills, you might discover that online classes aren’t quite right for you. Fortunately, many local and community colleges are ready to assist. Examine continued education opportunities, which are more likely to mesh with your schedule. Better still, your company might foot the bill through education reimbursement and tuition assistance benefits.

An ability to analyze data is critical to successful strategic planning in today’s digital business environment, and the need will continue to grow as companies create new ways to harness increasingly detailed information about their businesses. Adding data analysis skills to your resume is an important component of achieving your career goals.