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Certify or Not to Certify – That is the Question

I do not have a certification. I do not have a string of capitalized initials after my name.

I do not need to have the affirmation that I am knowledgeable, skilled, or experienced by having extra ink printed on my business cards.

However, perhaps you do have a certification; a string of initials after your name, and a deserved sense of pride that goes along with that accomplishment. After all, to be able even to submit a CBAP application you must have 7500 hours of BA experience that is verifiable. Yes, I can see how that certification can entice many toward that elusive “pot of gold” career game-changer.

A certification can be worth the pursuit as much as it cannot be. The variables to determine a value-added proposition to your career are many; are parabolic, and are personal. Many times, a certification is pursued under the guise of the qualification for employment. I will tell you this: if an employer states a CBAP as a requisite qualification for a job, then perhaps that company does not understand what they even want and why! I say this because it is all about the numbers:

  • There are approximately 6700 CBAPs worldwide.
  • There are approximately 2500 CBAPs in the United States.
  • There are approximately 120 CBAPs in Minnesota; 70 in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metropolitan area (where I live).

There are no hardcore statistics, but there are estimated 1.5 million analysts in the US. There are an estimated 5,000 BAs in Minnesota. 120 CBAP certifications are 2.4 percent of the BA population. If an employer requires CBAP certification to be considered for a job, then their population sample to choose from will be very slim. The good news is if you have a CBAP, then you are a shoe-in for the job!

Does it matter to your career if you are certified? In the above example, it certainly could. But what about a break out of the ‘value-added variables’ I eluded to above:

  • How long have you been in this career path?
  • Do you have formal training?
  • Have you been mentored?
  • Is your experience industry specific?
  • Are you a member or an officer of a professional organization?
  • Have you been published, a speaker at an industry event, or provided training in your field?

I feel the above list of variables could certainly trump a certification. I say this based on the premise of the resume; what is the first section of a resume (excluding a summary)? It is work history/experience. The second section is education. The last section, typically, is professional certifications, awards, accomplishments. Personally, I have over 25 years’ experience in various industries. The pursuit of a certification would not be prudent since it will render me no value. I am at the top of my field in title, experience, and compensation. Should I choose to focus on a different industry, then perhaps a certification can add value, especially if that industry is in high demand of filling job vacancies, like in the field of security. If an individual with 5 years’ experience and that many years out of college ask me about certification, the conversation will be very different and very PRO-certification as well.

I have focused mostly on a CBAP so far. There are other certifications that can enhance one’s career if a BA is looking to diversify. Many BAs also pursue a Project Management Professional (PMP). Some look to Agile and pursue Certified Scrum Master (CSM). There are security certifications, business process certifications, change management certifications, IT specific type analyst certifications, and on and on and on.

To determine if a certification will help you or is worth the investment in time and money, you must perform a career assessment and lay out your future goals. Do you want to follow a career path of the technician or the manager? Is your current job title a stepping stone for a bigger goal or is this job title going to be prefixed with “Senior” or “Lead”?

One thing that may be a bit tricky is to acquire a certification as a means of entry into an industry. If I am a Senior Business Analyst and pursue a certification in security, a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), will I be guaranteed a job in the security field? Considering that I have been in the healthcare industry my whole career, perhaps not. However, as stated above, this is a high-demand industry, so perhaps that will be the golden ticket for securing a job. These are all things to consider.

Some industries do require a certification as a requirement for entry; law, medicine, financial planner, for example. Until there is regulation, a certification will not be a mandatory requirement for entry into whatever that industry job world could be from project management, business analysis, or scrum. Regulation of business analysis will probably never happen, which means that the ones who are certified, may stand out as unique, and perceived as experienced, but certainly do not corner the market unless the certification process is abused, that is. I have seen the following in a LinkedIn profile (the name is changed to protect the guilty):


If you were an employer, would you be impressed or not?

As an employer, I feel if you are going to spend all your time certifying, how can I trust you actually know anything on an expert level of any of those fields? Some people may be impressed with quantity; I say err on the side of quality. I would say pick one, two, perhaps three certifications and just do those well. It just looks like some people are really good at taking tests.

In every job, technology focused or not; there is a distinct path of the flow of information. When you start a job at a company, understand what the information being used is. Where is the information generated; the source? How does it pass to the users? How is it stored and where? How is it loaded into the storage?

Is it manipulated/transformed in any way? How do the users of the information use it to perform their jobs?

From my experience, a certification for a job in a company is not necessary because in some cases knowledge and experience trump a certification. Conversely, a certification at that point in your career where you have significant experience can be what it takes for you to propel to the next level in your career. A certification is not the silver-bullet remedy to acquiring the job you want.

Certification is a badge of honor to wear proudly. Regardless of the reason or motivation to certify, the bottom line is simple. Perform your job well, and you honor your certification initials at the end of your name. Perform your job poorly, and you tarnish your certification and your peer’s certifications. Once you certify, you are an ambassador for certified professionals.

To choose certification or not to choose certification – that is the question.