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What Skills Does A GIS Analyst Require?

by GeoCommunity Staff

A common question distributed to GIS discussion lists and asked of us here at the GeoCommunity is the following... "what skills do employers look for when hiring a qualified GIS Analyst?" I did a bit of snooping around and asked for contributions from a number of sources including the popular GISList discussion group. Here's what we found.
Personally, I find that one of the most important requirements lies in developing an accurate position including a reasonable description of expected duties. Within the GIS Community I believe there has always been much confusion regarding this. How often do you see a career posting for a Technician or other "junior" person and the requirements asking for a candidate with a Master's degree and 5 years of hands-on experience? To top it all off, the position pays $12 per hour! A key to matching up qualified people with the perfect job is to have both sides on the same page and the employee being aware of what is expected of him/her in their duties.

If you are looking to hire a GIS Analyst or you want to find a position as a GIS Analyst, be sure that both employer and employee's expectations and definition of an "analyst" are clear. A particularly very useful response I received pointed out that in general, the reality of an "analyst" position is that there is a requirement for a solid knowledge of computer based technology. I couldn't agree more!

Upon conducting a search through a number of career postings, I found a number positions advertized that essentially, has similar requirements for applicants. What differed was the position title and quite often, the salary. The following are just a few of the commonly used Career Titles that are used by employers seeking what I would consider a GIS Analyst:
  • GIS Analyst
  • GIS Technician
  • GIS Data Specialist
  • GIS Specialist
  • GIS Mapping Technician
  • Engineering Technician
  • GIS Mapping Assistant
  • GIS Application Specialist
  • Engineering Aide
Please note, in the cases mentioned above, the salary offered ranged from $25,000 - $60,000 per year! Job seekers, be sure to look around as there exists much disparity in wages. Being open to relocation is a big plus, however, don't expect exployers to always be open to covering all of your expenses. Those of you considering International relocation, be sure you understand what you are getting involved with as there's much more to consider than you can imagine.

The following is a summary of what a number of potential employers look for in their "ideal" candidate for a GIS Analyst position. For those of you seeking employment, these would be some great areas to emphasize on your application (hint!)

Technical Skills

  • Strong GIS skills with two or more GIS packages
  • Strong Macro / C / C++ / Visual Basic programming skills
  • Understanding of and/or willing to learn math and statistical analysis
  • Strong Oracle or related RDBMS skills including development skills
  • Excellent verbal / written communication skills
  • Genuinely excited and enthusiastic about learning and pushing technical limits / finding new solutions
  • Good writing skills - for documentation, training, processes
  • Formal training (eg. Degree) or high level of experience with GIS.
  • "Hands-on" experience
  • Good analytical / problem solving skills
  • A basic understanding of the concepts behind data management in a relational database
  • Good IT technical skills
  • The ability to think and solve problems

    People Skills

  • Do you like them? Could you be friends with them outside the office?
  • Ability to communicate with other humans - not just with email,
  • Excellent co-worker, superior, subordinate work relationship skills
  • good people skills
  • Someone who is not scared to "break" the equipment - it's okay to make mistakes
  • Positive outlook on life, work, other people - don't bring your baggage here
  • Creative Regardless of their education and experience, they must be committed to ongoing learning
  • Honesty Ability to work within the budget limits of the organization - we can't replace workstations annually, plotters are replaced every 5 years, etc.

    In the interview:

  • Exude confidence
  • Don't be afraid to say that you don't know how to do something but be sure to show eagerness to learn this new skill or software (The ability to turn a negative into a positive!)

    For Employers:

  • Knowledge of Cartography /Geography is important (which way is North? what does a map projection really mean?)
  • one can often teach a non-spatial person the essentials of spatial information, but it can often be frustrating to have geographers learning programming and databases
  • GIS Analysts need not come out of a geography program. Readers have sent us rave reviews about GIS analysts having backgrounds in geology, computer programming, political science, and even astrophysics
  • Good candidates have travelled outside of their own country, even better if they have worked outside their own country.
  • Make them prove they can think outside of the box

    One respondent told us of his company's excellent experience with hiring graduates from technical colleges, such as the Centre of Geographic Sciences, Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia. "The combination of a university undergraduate degree coupled with advanced technical training yields the optimal balance between knowledge and real world skills."

    Thanks to everyone in the GIS Community who contributed their thoughts.

    Have we missed something? Send your comments to editor@geocomm.com

    Feedback

  • A reader from New Brunswick sent us some info on an interesting initiative in Canada to define IT jobs and their required skills. It is called the Occupational Skills Profile Model (OSPM) developed by the Software Human Resource Council (SHRC). Details at www.shrc.ca/ospm

  • From a reader in San Antonio, TX: I am glad to see someone is finally commenting on the large disparity that exists in posting jobs fulfilling and or demanding high level requirements in GIS Analyst jobs. Anyone with a Master's Degree and five years of GIS experience will unlikely accept or function in a position that pays the average that is usually posted. Long overdue!
  • From "Julie"... I have further input. If you want an "Analyst", it implies that you want someone with a few years of experience in the GIS field along with some sort of specialty such as Environmental planning, or Remote Sensing. A 'GIS technician' or "GIS operator" should imply that this an entry-level position or a year or two of experience with an associate's degree and/or a GIS Certificate. If you want certain skills, place them in the job description, don't have students waste several hours preparing a resume and cover letter only to find out that the employer wanted a Senior Analyst with five years of experience and expert level programming skills on C++. And finally, if you want entry level, this means that the potential employee is fresh out of school with absolutely no experience, not a year or two years of experience. Please employers state the exact skills you want, the salary, a good description of what the position involves and what the potential benefits or lack of benefits are offered. Finding a job is difficult when I have to wade through thousands companies of WebPages, newspaper classified ads. With the Advent of the Internet, everyone thinks it is much easier to find a job. I disagree. Most of the jobs I have done were through the old methods of cold calling, snail mail letter writing, and filing out applications. The employers just expect more. Why? Time for the unemployed is money too. If I have to waste time researching a poorly constructed Company website to find a particular job description, then be expected to tailor a specific resume for each company, it will take at least an hour per company. And if I know the company is really good, it could take me all day. This effectively make it possible to complete 10 to 30 applications send off each week. When I should be able to do hundreds of job applications if every company would have a national standard for the job application. With Current GIS database technology, we could create a tremendous service for job hunters. I will let you on a little secret, most students have thousands of dollars in loans to pay off and some of us are willing to fly to Antarctica if you offer us a decent salary, some job security (a five year contract), and full medical benefits. A decent salary is $17 dollars an hour, , and full medical and dental coverage. Give us a livable wage and some hope. I recently could not believe it when I asked for an Internship position that was part of a requirement to receive my GIS Certificate and the County administrator suggest a requirement for me to work for free at 40 hours a week. Are you going to pay my rent and my friends at Sallie Mae. An unpaid internship should be at most 20 hours. Hello, not everyone was born with trust funds. Our parents wanted us to go to college so we could support ourselves. Please be reasonable and either offer to pay the hundreds and thousands of dollars for computer classes and you will get exactly what you want. It does me no good to take an AutoCAD class when a particular Municipal Government only uses ESRI products. I will continue my cold calling and attend my industry conferences to make contacts, I am just asking employers to clearly define what you want in a specific position or we the job hunters lose because we waste time applying at your company and you get 100 unnecessary underqualifed job applicants.
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