The art of a choice – how to choose your first/next business analysis certification?

Karol Kocjan worked as a business analyst for 8 years before moving to a managerial function. He has a keen interest in where else software can be useful to improve quality of our lives.

It is a known fact that project or business analysis is crucial to the success of organizations and if you ace it, you are going to be a much sought-after employee. So, how do you prepare to be a top-notch Business Analyst? Karol shares some pointers.

According to International Institute of Business Analysis, employees holding Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) certification earn on average 13% more than their colleagues with comparable work experience when occupying the same position. If you would like to take a leap towards better earnings (hopefully becoming stinky rich eventually!) by obtaining a paper which certifies your skills and qualifications to be a business analyst, here is a (not so) short summary of  factors you should consider when selecting the right certification type for yourself.

By no means this article is supposed to be a summary of the content required for each certification exam. If you are looking for an exam cheat-sheet, stop right here and continue browsing the web. If you are looking for an almost “apples-to-apples” comparison of certification exams to help you find out which exam is the best fit for you at this point in time, do grab your coffee (or whatever else you enjoy sipping at this time of the day) and continue reading.

1. How much experience as a business analyst can you already prove?

Notice that I intentionally did not formulate it as ‘How much experience as a business analyst do you already have?’. For certain exams you need to showcase your past business analysis achievements. This includes evidence of past projects and a breakdown of activities performed by type in those projects, trainings attended and – even better – delivered. The more “advanced” the certification level is, the more stringent the requirements are – quantity and quality-wise. To showcase your experience, you will have to describe what were the objectives of the training, show that there was an instructor leading the course and that it directly relates to BABOK (BA Book of Knowledge) topic. Self-study in a cozy shelter of your bedroom won’t do the trick here.

2. How much can you spend on obtaining a certificate?

Better things usually cost more, but “better” can be sometimes a question of brand awareness. If you don’t feel very confident in self-study and individual preparation for the exam, you may need to splash an additional sum for a preparation course.

Most of us obtain certifications at the expense of our employers. Check your company’s policies to see how much it can help you.

3. Will you have the time, the need and the willingness to get recertified?

For certain examination types, successful passing of the test is just the begging of the journey. In order to keep up with the latest trends and prove that you are an ambassador of change (business analysis is all about managing change, isn’t it?), you must make sure that you attend sufficient number of training sessions. Actually, “attend” isn’t the right word as some requirements for continuous learning include “active participation” or even “leading” these activities. In order to make you even “keener” to take such an exam, re-certification is not for free. You need to pay your contribution to the welfare of the organization that issued your certificate a few years ago. Nevertheless, the more stringent the re-certification requirements are, the more impressed some more aware interviewers and managers may be, when reviewing your profile. Secondly, we all know that despite all the focus on internal motivation in modern working culture, a self-imposed stick is sometimes more inspiring than a carrot. It makes us go this extra mile and learn something new.

4. Do you want or need a vanilla ice cream or a raspberry one?

An increasing number of certification providers spotted that the market is changing, and some may need a more sophisticated product than others. To translate it to the topic of this article – apart from general business analysis certifications, we can observe an increasing number of them flavoured with a specific delivery method or business domain. Some of the focus on business analysis in the context of Agile delivery, some of them take on a role of an analyst in cybersecurity. Certain technology providers issue their own certifications for business analysts – e.g., Pega, a low-code BPM platform offers to check your knowledge on their proprietary approach to gathering requirements (as you would expect, it leverages the features of Pega) and, for successful candidates, issues a paper certifying that you are a Certified Pega Business Architect. By the way, “Business Architect” sounds somewhat prouder than “Business Analyst“, doesn’t it?

5. How confident are you about your English?

If taking a professional exam full of nuances is a challenge for you than taking an exam in a foreign language may sound really frightening. Luckily some certification providers give you syllabus and allow taking exams in more than just English – this goes up to 12 languages for CPRE foundation level certificate. The more expertise the certificate requires, the less likely is a chance that you will be able to sit it in your mother tongue and the bigger the likelihood that you will need to write something more than just a test (e.g., case study) and then present your knowledge verbally. So, if you’re planning a career in business analysis lasting longer than just 2 or 3 seasons, bringing your command of English to a professional level is an obvious point in your personal development plan.

Right, so much for questions. I guess the reason why you are even looking at this article is to find answers. Let’s use a few personas to illustrate how market supply meets demand, or vice versa.

Tommy Newbie is a Data Analysts who wants to switch to IT lured by significantly higher salaries. He has no experience in business analysis. Actually, he finds it hard to explain to his girlfriend what it actually is and what does he intend to do for a living. He would better learn how to do that though, since his plan to propose may encounter a significant risk of rejection, if he doesn’t have a tangible plan to provide a plan which guarantees that he will be able to bring the bacon home. He decided to become a Certified Professional for Requirements Engineering Foundation Level since there are no entry requirements and the cost of the examination will certainly not ruin his already limping budget. He is also willing to get a more complete view of what does it actually mean to be a business analyst and what are the workshop tools he can use in his daily work.

Sally Young is Junior Business Analyst in a huge international software house. She is quite confident that business analysis is what she wants to do in the future as she enjoys the fact that it is a mixture of hard and interpersonal skills. Her company provides a lot of training for their employees leveraging the knowledge of its senior-level specialists who are incentivized to share it with the juniors. Her manager admires her drive for personal development and is able to help her with obtaining a budget to get her certified so that any potential future customers are ensured about the standards she’s following when performing requirements engineering tasks. Sally also wants to broaden the toolset she uses to elicitate and manage requirements – reading through BABOK may help her better apply elicitation techniques in specific project circumstances. Sally applied for Entry Certificate in Business Analysis with a view that she may build on it in the future and attempt other, more sophisticated IIBA examinations.

Walter Deutsch is a quite experienced (2 years of professional experience) business analyst. He is considered to be a huge talent and has outstanding ability to bring structure to projects which were considered a “pandora box” before he came in. Unfortunately, Walter has one trait that doesn’t let him move forward – his technical mind lacks the ability to learn modern languages, even such widely spread like English. However, Walter hopes for a promotion next year and his manager has tied this up with fulfilment of a development plan which needs to follow very tangible and sharp success criteria. Also, Walter would be really happy to put some more structure around his knowledge, which at the moment is a sum of all his project experiences. Walter decided to try Certified Professional for Requirements Engineering Advanced Level, Requirements Management and attempted to pass this exam in German, his mother tongue.

Johnny Agile is an experienced analyst who worked in a maintenance project for one of the biggest insurance companies in the world. Unfortunately, the project sponsor was not very keen to shift their mindset and try this “revolutionary” approach to software engineering and stuck to the Waterfall model. Johny starts growing really tired of problems appearing in the late phases of the project and decides he will quit the project in a few months and start looking for an opportunity to embrace Agile. He thinks that he also needs to develop the famous “Agile-mindset” and going through the certification preparation material seems to be a good method of finding out what the so called “big-picture” is. He also fancies moving to the United Kingdom in the future. Johny chose to obtain Professional Certificate in Agile Business Analysis from British Computer Society.

Anna Brainsky has just started her 15th year as a BA for her current employer – IT department of a huge international governmental institution. She has acquired several BA certificates in her CV as the years passed by. She started as a junior and now holds a position of a lead BA in one of the well-established functional teams. Anna wants to continue working for her current employer due to geographical proximity to her home and very good atmosphere in work. Recently, general newsletter brought the news that Anna’s supervisor, head of the business development is heading for his well-deserved retirement and the position will vacate. Anna considers this position as a great opportunity to step-up to the next level of her career, but the CTO who will take decision is looking for somebody with transferrable theoretical knowledge about how consulting activities can contribute to the success of IT projects. Also, as it usually is in the public sector, every personal decision is under a huge scrutiny and has to be well explained with the candidate’s skills and qualifications, so that there is no space for accusations of nepotism. In order to increase the transparency and good publicity around her application of this post, Anna will apply for the Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) examination as it is a widely recognized proof of her professional capabilities and it is easy for her to showcase the required work history professional development activities.

Check out the key features of business analysis certifications for detailed information.

Aspire Blog Team

Aspire Systems is a global technology services firm serving as a trusted technology partner for our customers. We work with some of the world's most innovative enterprises and independent software vendors, helping them leverage technology and outsourcing in our specific areas of expertise. Our services include Product Engineering, Enterprise Solutions, Independent Testing Services and IT Infrastructure Support services. Our core philosophy of "Attention. Always." communicates our belief in lavishing care and attention on our customers and employees.