Staff analysts conduct research and analytical studies to support organizational policy formulation and management decision-making. Staff analysts are also referred to as operations research analysts. They use a variety of techniques, such as statistical analysis, data mining, computer modeling, linear programming and mathematical modeling, to conduct research and extract the information that companies use to analyze and develop business strategies.
Analysts interview other managers to understand the business problems their research will address. They formulate research plans for each identified problem area and select an analytical technique for gathering and analyzing the data. Analysts use the selected analytical method during their research and compile reports of their findings. They present recommendations to the organization’s managers about how to improve business processes and solve business problems. Analysts also help management teams implement the solutions proposed in their reports.
Operations research analysts generally work a standard 40-hour workweek; however, specific assignments may require longer working hours. Many analysts work in well-lit offices; some assignments may require field work where analysts conduct their research through direct observation. Analysts may develop work-related stress from working on numerous research projects simultaneously or from the pressure to meet deadlines mandated by an organization’s top management. Analysts may also develop carpal tunnel syndrome, writer’s cramp or other minor repetitive motion injuries from high-volume data entry and extensive use of the computer keyboard.
A bachelor’s degree in operations research or management science qualifies individuals for entry-level careers in operations research. Many employers show a strong preference for individuals problem-solving skills and a master’s degrees or dual graduate degrees in operations research or management science. Advancement to senior research positions usually requires an advanced degree. Analysts may also obtain relevant and practical knowledge for future work through courses in political science, economics, statistics, engineering, accounting and management.
Because staff analysts spend so much time analyzing data, a keen eye for detail is essential for job effectiveness. Technical acumen, quantitative skills, the ability to perform complex research and expert knowledge of using the computer, operations research software and statistical packages are other key competencies for staff analyst jobs. Effective staff analysts also maintain a current working knowledge of the technological advances, software tools and improvements in research and analytical methods, maintain positive working relationships with peers and managers and communicate effectively, both orally and in person.
Salary estimates published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates research analysts in the United States bring in annual wages ranging from $40,030 to $119,140, as of May 2009. The annual median income is $70,070 for all operations research analyst positions in the United States, as of May 2009. Analysts employed by management, scientific and technical consulting firms or a federal executive branch of the U.S. government have the highest earnings potential, with annual average wages of $83,690 and $105,710, respectively, as of June 2010.