Certification – that very word that can inspire hope, bring joy, cause trepidation or strike fear in the hearts of every business analyst. Some people believe in it and others do not. Some people think it is a crutch and others take pride in it. I am going to try and provide some practical perspective on business analysis certifications. Notice I said “certifications” plural. Not only are there multiple types of business analysis certifications, there are different needs to be met through the different types of certification. I have hired business analysts, I have developed and measured competency for business analysts, provided business analysis training, and I also know specifically, what my certifications (again plural) have done for me, and my career. And yes, I firmly believe that certifications are needed. I do not expect you to be convinced just yet, so I am going to break things down so you can make up your own mind about certification and its importance to you and your career.
First, there are different types of certifications; academic and industry driven. i.e. educational organizations like Watermark Learning and credential-based like the IIBA. Both serve very different purposes for why they are needed, and believe it or not, both are very important to your career. In fact, when you do the research, you will find that many organizations, and industry experts alike, agree that getting certified in your field of expertise is critical for both effectiveness in your role, as well as best hiring practices. People want to know that you can do what you say you can do. Certifications go a long way towards that end. Let’s start with academic certifications.
The academic certification and you.
Academic certification is about skill development and its application – what you learn and then practice day in and day out. It proves that not only have you learned the theory of your particular craft, but that you can and should, in turn, apply it when it makes sense to. You learn from experts in your chosen field who give you process, techniques and tools to put into your tool box for future use. Many academic institutions have two equivalent levels of certification. At Watermark Learning, we have an associates in business analysis and a masters in business analysis. The associate certificate generally covers foundational business analysis theory and techniques, whereas the masters certificate covers advanced concepts that require more experience to master. Like college, both of these certifications will get you a piece of paper showing completion, it will show that you learned something, and that you have a level of “sticktoitiveness.” So what is it beyond the piece of paper that makes academic certifications important?
What a business analysis academic certification did for me.
First, I practiced what I learned, which later turned into I practiced what I preached. It is certainly hard to do that without first having had the necessary training that an academic certification program can provide. Yes, you can learn on the job but it will never make up for high-quality education. Also, when you work with other experts who have a proven track record, people quickly find out if you can walk the talk or not. My tool kit with each passing class became more robust and it was all thanks to my academic certification process. It raised my profile in my organization. I was able to share my experience with my colleagues and show the application of my learning directly on projects. I became a stronger mentor and coach. I was able to discern what was needed and when because I had a stronger understanding of my profession. I knew what was in and outside of my tool kit. This differentiated me in the eyes of many leaders in the organization. They saw that I was dedicated to the pursuit of understanding and practicing my craft. I had begun to maximize my career potential. Knowledge… is… power. My level of influence in the organization and in the industry increased. Now you may be asking at this point, “well you can increase influence without an academic certification right?” Perhaps. But the structure and formality it brings is invaluable, especially when you combine it with an industry certification. I will get back to this but let’s chat a little bit about industry certifications first.
Industry certification and you.
Industry certification is all about validation and recognition. Validation that you know what you know, and recognition from peers and governing organizations, that demonstrates your understanding of industry standards. There are two main types of business analysis industry certifications in North America: the CBAP® (Certified Business Analysis Professional) and the CCBA® (Certification of Competency in Business Analysis). A CBAP must have 7,500 hours of Business Analysis experience and 21 hours of professional development training. A CCBA is required to have 3750 hours of Business Analysis experience and 21 hours of business analysis training. If you need more details on the breakdown of the two certifications, how to apply and prepare, visit the IIBA® Website.
What industry certification did for me.
My academic certification did great things for me. My industry certification was the icing on the cake. My organization wanted to know that according to the governing body, I knew what I was talking about. They wanted to know that all of that money they invested in me for my academic certification paid off. They wanted to have confidence in me, regarding the critical decisions I was making for the organization, actually matched industry best practices. Talk about pressure! Industry certification got me a raise. Industry certification got me recognized with my peers and colleagues. Without my industry certification I would have been out of a job. Without my academic certification, I would not have realized my industry certification.
Certifications. Is one better than the other?
I think they go together. Did you hear the one about the certified business analyst who could not analyze their way out of a paper bag? Of course you could insert any role and certification type into that statement, but the argument that many will make is that certifications are not proof positive of being an effective business analyst. People can just “memorize” and take a test. And that is why I believe it is important to have both academic and industry certifications. They back each other up. Learning, practice, application, and validation. The academic certification gives you everything the industry certification is going to test you on. If you do not have that learning behind you, the industry certification testing process is likely to be a monumental challenge. If you do have that training, you will most certainly be able to walk the talk.
Certainly, there is cost involved in this pathway to success, however, it is an investment in your career! Whether you want to get into business analysis, maintain your current role or look for that next promotion, this investment is a very important part of your career. So take some time out, write down your goals for your career and see how these certifications fit into the plan for your future!