Which Business Analyst Certification is Right for Me?

Five Crucial Questions to Ask Yourself

By Richard Larson, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, and Elizabeth Larson, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, CSM, Co-Principals, Watermark Learning, Inc.

Which track is right for you?

Business Analyst Certifications

If you are a business analyst interested in certification, you are likely wondering which one would be the best for you. The CBAP® from IIBA® is perhaps the best known, but the newer PMI-PBA® from PMI® is growing in popularity. They require 7500 and 4500 hours of experience respectively, which may be more than you have accumulated in your career. But even if you have less experience, there are other certifications and certificates requiring fewer hours to qualify that would be good alternatives until you get enough hours for your preferred credential.

The choice of which BA certification to pursue can be a difficult one. We present here a review of the top choices and offer some thoughts about which ones to consider. The list is not exhaustive, but we aimed to include the ones with the broadest international appeal. These choices are in alphabetical order with links to the provider’s web site:

Download a PDF of this Article

Here are the questions to ask yourself before deciding which certification is best for you:

1. What is my typical role on projects?

The first question you need to ask yourself is what business analysis role you play on projects.

  • Maybe you don’t have a role yet, or are just getting started in the field. If you have no real business analysis experience, a certificate like the ECBA or CPRE would be best in those cases. As Table 1 below shows, no BA experience is necessary, although some BA training is required. The ECBA is a single certificate, while the CPRE has three levels to allow you to accumulate additional certificates as your career progresses.
  • Likewise, if you don't have a BA role but work with BAs, want to learn more, and add a certification, then choose an ECBA or CPRE. Examples are managers, product owners, developers, testers, and even domain subject matter experts.
  • Are you a part-time business analyst? Maybe splitting time with other roles such as project management or tester? You might be called a “hybrid BA.” The two credentials to consider are CCBA and PMI-PBA. They require less experience than a full-time BA and, in the case of the PBA, are based in part on sources such as the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®).
  • Are you a full-time BA? We recommend the CBAP for you if you have enough hours to qualify. If not, then the CCBA or PMI-PBA are bridges to getting your CBAP.
  • Do you do business analysis work but have another title? There are many roles that require business analysis skills. We often are asked questions like this one: “I was a business analyst for many years, but that was a long time ago. Now I’m an account manager doing mainly sales work. A credential would give me more credibility. What do you suggest?” There are many roles that require business analysis skills. For example, sales people working with customers to understand their business need and recommend solutions are doing business analysis work. Our advice is to read the BABOK® Guide from IIBA to really understand all the ways you are doing business analysis work and use those tasks and hours on your application. The important thing is the work, not the title.

2. How much experience do I have doing business analysis work?

  • As stated earlier, people with either little or no business analysis experience would qualify for the ECBA or CPRE.
  • If you have 2-3 years of experience and/or 3750 hours or more of BA work you have performed, then the CCBA is right for you. It is the only certification of the ones we are reviewing designed for beginning-to-moderate level business analysts. The PMI-PBA has close to the same experience requirements as the CCBA, but we classify it differently due to its higher number of hours needed.
  • If you have 4500+ hours of BA experience, the PMI-PBA is suitable for you if you have a college degree. If you don't, then you need 7500+ hours, in which case you may want to aim for the CBAP.
  • What if I have 6-7000 hours or so? Should I wait? Perhaps. It depends on some of the other factors mentioned here and what is your motivation for getting your certification. If you have the 7500+ hours or are very close to it, we usually recommend the CBAP, particularly if you’ve done business analysis work, even if that was not your title.

3. What is your employment situation? Do you work for an organization or as a consultant? Between BA jobs? Trying to break into the field?

  • If you are currently employed as a BA, whether in that role full-time or not, your motivation for gaining a certification may be different from others. Like many of your peers, you would likely be happiest with the CBAP or PMI-PBA. That might even include waiting until have enough hours to qualify.
  • On the other hand, are you a consultant, trainer, or unemployed and want a certification to help get your next job? You should get the highest certification you qualify for today, and “upgrade” to a higher-level certification when you qualify.
  • If you are trying to enter the BA field, the ECBA or CPRE are your best choices.

Bonus Question

Does your organization support your efforts or are you doing this on your own? It affects how you approach your certification journey.

  • If you work at an organization that actively supports your certification efforts, count yourself fortunate. You may be able to attend a certification class or boot camp. They may pay for materials such as a study guide or online practice exams. You might even be reimbursed for your application and exam fee.
  • If your organization provides more moderate support, it may mean they would sponsor a study group, possibly paying for the materials. You may or may not be reimbursed for the certification fees.

If your organization has not yet seen the value of supporting your certification effort, you will have to self-fund it. Make sure you budget for not only the application and exam fees, but also for preparation materials. You may need to study on your own. Check whether your local IIBA or PMI chapter can sponsor a study group (and many do). We supply several chapters with volume discounts and bundles on study materials and are happy to arrange the details with you or your local chapter.

4. How aware is your organization of the various certifying bodies?

  • It makes sense to seek financial and other support from your organization for whichever institute your organization is most aligned with. PMI and IIBA are the most widely-known certifying bodies in North America, but it makes the most sense to get the certification that helps with your current and future jobs. 
  • The CPRE is better-recognized in Europe and India, so organizations in those areas may be more receptive to it than others.

Become a Watermark Learning Member for Up-to-Date Industry Info & Free Resources

5. What are your future career goals?

  • If you plan to stay in the BA field and focus on the BA role, then the CBAP makes the most sense (assuming you have organization support – see #4).
  • Alternatively, let’s say your goal is to move into other jobs, with project management being an obvious choice for some. Or, maybe you are focusing on Agile and want a certification to help your career. In these cases, the PMI-PBA is the better choice given it can help you work toward your PMP or PMI-ACP.

Type Name and Link Issued By BA Experience Needed BA Training Needed Exam
CBAP Certified Business Analysis Professional IIBA 7500+ hours in the past 10 years 35 hours 120 question, multiple choice exam, with basic, scenario, and case study questions
CCBA Certification of Capability in Business Analysis IIBA 3750+ hours in the past 7 years 21 hours 130 question, multiple choice exam, with basic and scenario questions
CPRE Certified Professional for Requirements Engineering IREB None Exams after 3 levels of courses – Foundation, Advanced, Expert Varies – True/False and Multiple Choice, using basic and scenario questions.
ECBA Entry Certificate in Business Analysis IIBA None 21 hours 50 question, multiple choice exam, with knowledge-based questions
PMI-PBA Professional in Business Analysis PMI 4500+ hrs. (Bachelor’s) or 7500+ hrs. (High School) in the past 8 years 35 hours 200 question, multiple choice exam, with basic and scenario questions

Table 1: Summary of BA Certifications

We hope this review has helped you clarify which BA certification is best for you. Please leave your comments, including other questions you find relevant to deciding on your preferred BA certification.

Whenever you are ready to start pursuing an IIBA certification, Watermark Learning can help!  We offer numerous products, resources, and certification preparation courses to help you prepare for your CBAP, CCBA, ECBA, or PMI-PBA exam.

ECBA Products     CBAP and CCBA Products     PMI-PBA Products