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Thoughts on Staying Busy at CRA

Professors are happy to give work, whether one fails or not. Not so in consulting. Two types of skills increase the chances that one won’t be left twiddling one’s thumbs: skills directly related to project work, and interpersonal skills.
With respect to project work, the job of analysts at CRA is to make the trade-off between speed and accuracy as small as possible (preferably nonexistent). To this end:
Step 1: Acquire the skills necessary to accomplish what is demanded of analysts, namely data analysis, research, and presentation of findings:

  • SAS, Stata, or Python
  • Some Google-fu
  • Ability to make pretty tables in Excel
    • pretty adj. /ˈpri-tē/: 1. Whatever your manager would like. 2. Whatever is aesthetically pleasing to your manager. 3. The format that best suits your manager’s style.
  • Basic organization and attention to detail

Step 2: Get much, much better at the skills acquired in Step 1. (Note that one’s Google-fu will increase substantially as a result of trying to learn SAS, Stata, or Python.)

  • Learn a variety of databases
  • Develop tests to run on each new dataset to find duplicate observations, outliers, etc.
  • Know Microsoft Office hot-keys, pre-programmed Outlook search functions such as “to:()” or “hasattachments:yes,” and conditional formatting formulas in Excel
  • Use Word and Excel templates to automatically populate headers and footers
  • Have a consistent file-naming convention and electronic folder structure that works for many types of projects

Step 3: Adopt the mantras “increase efficiency” and “automate where possible.” Efficiency and automation require extensive thought and more work up-front, but lead to fewer mistakes, faster turnaround, and happier clients. They’ll also increase personal satisfaction.

  • Learn SAS/GRAPH or graphing in Stata to avoid charting data in Excel
  • Read papers published by advanced SAS, Stata, and Python users to improve coding
  • Make an uninteresting task interesting by giving thought to how to complete it in the most efficient way possible, keeping in mind how it will fit into a larger narrative

For quick and successful advancement through Steps 1-3, one must be aware of and adopt the techniques used by more experienced coworkers.
An analyst who produces high-quality work quickly will be in high demand. He’ll be in even higher demand if he is easy to work with and liked by his coworkers. A quick note on two interpersonal skills which are underappreciated, and underdeveloped as a result:

  • Being able to talk about topics unrelated to work with one’s coworkers
  • Understanding generational differences

​The first is difficult because work is the obvious common ground and a safe conversation, the second because it’s hard to understand a generation different from one’s own. Good manners, understanding societal norms over time, and broad knowledge (sports, history, current events, local life) combat these interpersonal difficulties.
Thanks for reading! Back next month.