Help a BA! What Training and Certifications Will Help Me Get My First BA Job?

Reader question: I’m trying to become a business analyst. I have several years of professional experience and I’m evaluating training options. I want to help make myself more marketable for business analyst jobs. I think that employers will find it valuable if I can list a BA certification on my resume, but I don’t have the experience necessary to apply for the CBAP. What training and certification options would you suggest to help me get the next BA job?

Doug’s response:

For a Junior BA, Let’s Ask This Question Differently

Really, the question might even be,

What training and certifications should I take to enhance my capabilities in order to move my career along?

I rephrase the question, because I think the focus should be on how you want to improve professionally rather than on what any specific job will ask for.

For this conversation, let’s include those just starting as a BA, those transitioning careers into business analysis and those work as a BA through year three. These are the foundational years for a person still testing the waters of business analysis and learning to perform better. As such, a good way to learn is to take classes, but what do they do for you after shelling out lots of cash? What about certifications?

That’s correct….courses and certifications are two different things. Though they are related, we’ll do well to treat the discussion of their value separately.

What is the Value of a Course in Business Analysis?

Courses represent the need or desire to know more about something for direct and generally immediate use. Take courses that are geared toward your daily work, so you don’t lose the knowledge due to lack of practice or integration into work tasks.

(Hey Doug, This is Laura. Let me jump in here for a moment and say that this is why all Bridging the Gap business analysis training courses include time to expand your experience in addition to your knowledge through the lifecycle of the course. Back to you Doug.)

Thanks, Laura. As I was saying, in other words, don’t take an Agile Requirements class unless you are going to bring back that knowledge and put it to use in an Agile requirements shop or a shop that is moving that way. If you are a student that is taking a series of courses as part of a curriculum geared toward a degree in Business Analysis, it might be worth your while to contact the education department at the IIBA to ensure that you are taking courses that provide the most value for you as part of your degree plan and how the certification may be of value following graduation.

For the analyst role specifically, I also see that not only are courses geared primarily toward the hard skill disciplines, (SQL, OOAD, Agile, etc.), but individuals tend to pile those courses onto their repertoire. While having some skill in technologies or methodologies is, in fact, important, I would also like to stress the value of taking courses in soft skills like facilitation, listening, communications (all types), conflict resolution, and others.

For a junior analyst, I believe that these types of instruction offer the most value and have the longest lasting impact on the person’s career. It is the quality of the soft skills that often distinguish a good analyst from a great one. Don’t forget about this aspect of career development, because when the time comes in one’s career to attempt certification, knowing how to confidently work through challenging scenarios using soft skills will add great knowledge to understanding certification knowledge requirements.

What is the Value of Junior-Level Business Analysis Certifications?

Certifications represent formal and intensive study of a discipline, such as project management or business analysis. Many junior analysts believe that certifications also represent a degree of prestige that could assist in obtaining jobs and/or promotions. I would never discourage one from studying a body of knowledge to become enlightened on standardized methods for a profession. In fact, in the CBAP study groups that I have facilitate, I make a point to invite those who simply want to learn the material and have no interest in the certification.

As someone who routinely reviews resumes and interviews potential candidates, the letters at the end of junior-level candidate’s name represent only one thing: that person can pass a test. I give that person no further benefit in the job interview process, because there is no proof that the person can perform in the workplace. Doesn’t it count that the candidate has taken the time to study and doesn’t that show a commitment to the profession? Yes and maybe, respectively.  I still care most about what that person can do, how he or she communicates, how well does the candidate listen, whether he or she can back up statements of greatness with acts to match.

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Comments

  1. Thanks, Doug! This is an often-asked question and it is great to see such a thorough answer.

    One other thing I’ve heard from new and potential business analysts with a fair amount of professional experience in related fields (say at least 2-3 years) is that an introductory course in business analysis can help them determine their transferable skills. It often happens that individuals working close to technology or business change projects incorporate some level of business analyst responsibilities into their work without fully realizing it. A general course helps them identify these experiences and talk more confidently about them in their resume and interviews, when seeking out new BA positions.

    I’d be interested to hear from some other BAs to in terms of the role of formal training.

    Laura

  2. Well, in my case it was exactly as Laura mentioned above. Certificate in Business Analyst Fundamentals which I obtained from Boston University Corporate Education Center, Boston, MA allowed me to finally complete the puzzle of a Business Analyst profession. I found proper names and definitions for what I was doing before, while working in various capacities in different industries ( … and enjoying most I should now add). Plus, it helped me to recognize my strengths and weaknesses as a BA: some knowledge areas happened to be pretty well known for me, but some revealed certain potential for further exploration. The same situation with my skill set: some of BA-needed skills as I understood I started practicing right after my graduation from university, but some as I found out required further development.

    Hope it helps,
    Yegor

  3. “As someone who routinely reviews resumes and interviews potential candidates, the letters at the end of junior-level candidate’s name represent only one thing: that person can pass a test.”

    Doug, I couldn’t agree more with what you said. It’s important for BAs wondering about certification to focus first on identifying potential weaknesses and ways to overcome them (via training, mentoring, or another solution). The goal has to be to learn important skills that add value to one’s organization over time. Taking a course that adds a depth of knowledge is great; going through the motions just to pass a test and add a certification to one’s resume won’t be of much help.

  4. Thanks for a good post and the respective insights
    In my opinion, I feel, it depends on the company’s standards / culture to impose the roles of Business Analysts / Junior Business Analyst
    I have seen many companies, who do not have such roles even in today’s market and are coming forward for these ventures of late… Firstly, we may have to educate the IT Industry about the importance of BAs and the respective roles.
    Secondly, find the suitable attitude and knowledgeable person on board(may be within the team/organization) and provide the necessary training. Once implemented across projects and at success, am sure, they feel the necessity of BA’s.
    Thidrly, After forming a study group / BA group under an organization, they may discuss the benefits and costs involved in certifications and also depends on whether it is from the company’s pocket or from their own

    Hope i was clear…!!!
    Gopal Sumukha

  5. I recently started a career as a BA and I can tell you that experience was far more important than education. I took System Analysis and Design courses that helped me land an internship developing web based applications, and thorugh that internship I was able to gain some requirements experience. Six month of requirements BAs and have no experience are having a hard time accomplishing their goals

  6. Thank you very much for your articles. I am learning a lot from every articles and comments – I also want to transition from Helpdesk to being a BA in the future.

    Thanks again.

  7. The articles and comments in this group are very helpful! Thanks everyone for the insight.
    I just completed a BSIT/BSA and am finding the experience required to break into this field is difficult to come by. I have experience in another field which should be useful in this career once I start working in it. This is like the chicken and the egg; you need the job to get the experience and you need the experience to get the job. Any suggestions for a newbie? Thanks!

  8. MOHAMED JAMEEL says:

    Yeah as Carol Cook said, BA Understanding is just like chicken and egg.
    While looking for a BA job, companies preferred candidates wit work experience.
    After landing in a BA job as a fresher we need some training to improvise and understand the profile effectively.
    Even in case of on job training, some boosts like additional training is needed.
    But for freshers made 2 work without training, the understanding is ????

  9. Hi Carol and Mohamed, I think one way to break out of the chicken and egg cycle is to build experiences that represent portions of the business analysis role. Carol, you mention your prior experience would be relevant to a BA job, possibly that could be taken a step further and you could, with some training, see those past experiences as BA experiences?

    Mohamed, even senior BAs who are great BAs are always learning something new. I think by looking at our careers as iterative processes (as opposed to waterfall ones) we can make anything happen. A fresher BA will need to continue to learn BA in their new role. But that learning can come in many forms — from books, webinars, and 1-1 mentoring. I succeeded as a new BA mostly from books and a bit of mentoring. I’ve been a BA for 7 years and never had any formal training in BA until about 2 years ago.

  10. Laura,
    Hi! Thank you for the post. I agree the past experiences I have, like writing policy and procedures (basically process documentation), defining best practices, management of inventory and personnel, etc. can be seen as BA experience, but getting companies to see it that way can be difficult. I am working on my resume to help show how my past experience can relate to my current career. Currently, I am working with an employment agency to get more experience in the business world. I figure it will help if I have had experience on the front-line of different types of business processes, in addition to the healthcare field I have been in before.

  11. Great to hear Carol. It sounds like you are doing many of the right things. As far as updating your resume, you might also want to check out this post: http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/does-your-resume-tell-a-story-of-your-career-experiences/

    In terms of experience, t sounds like you might be focusing on entering BA in a specific domain? In healthcare and a few other selected industries domain experience can be one way to enter into the BA profession. Certain organizations will definitely value your domain experience and put you in BA role because of it. In terms of general business experience, I’d recommend trying to target anything that is around a change effort: new processes, new systems, improvements, etc. In the midst of changes, business analyst opportunities often arise.

  12. Laura,
    I really appreciate you taking time to help me. I have recently been helping with merging database records, which at least gets me some business experience and helps me understand the issues involved with designing and maintaining a helpful database. I would like to take advantage of my experience in the healthcare sector if possible. I have 17 years in respiratory therapy, most of that time I was also in management. I have been looking for ways to maybe get my foot in the door and then move up or over to a BA position. This is proving a bit difficult in the current environment, but I figure I’ll keep plugging away and getting out into the workforce and I’ll get there. Thank you for the suggestions. I’ll check out the post for suggestions as well.

  13. MOHAMED JAMEEL says:

    Laura,
    Thanks for your valuable reply,
    Let me paraphrase my profile as a BA that clearly states where I stand.
    Am into the ERP domain for foundry Industries.
    My role is like gathering the requirements, documenting the requirements, downloading the requirements to the developing team, Client interaction, and assisting deployment @ client side. I don’t do anything like SRS, Use case etc.. And practically speaking I don’t even know are those SRS, Use cases are that important in developing a software project. Even the only senior BA available did the same what I was doing. Kindly please tell me Where I stand as a BA, and help me out to improvise my profile.
    Thanks,
    MJ

  14. Carol, Great to hear!

    Mohamed, The question you ask is a big one and beyond the scope of what can be answered in a comment or an email, but from how you describe your experience above, you are fulfilling many essentials of the BA role. Many BAs do not use formal models in analyzing and documenting their requirements but find that eventually holds back their career. This is definitely a place to focus on building experience and seeking professional development opportunities. The models themselves may or may not be important in a specific project, but having multiple models in your BA tool belt and learning when to take them out is an important part of building your BA career.

    For more information on building a career development plan, you might want to check out the first book in The Promotable BA series: http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/business-analyst-career-resources/career-development-for-business-analysts/

  15. Chris Alexander says:

    I haven’t seen too many comments that relate to individuals such as myself who would be trying to move from business operations into a business analyst position. I am truly just starting to research everything about the business analyst role and so my first step is to get truly educated…the resources on Bridging the Gap can help with “learning,” but after education, there is also a need to market one’s skills.

    In my current position I work as a business manager, but am also a “super user” for the internal applications that are used through the company. This means I am a liason between the business unit and the IT team. Unfortunately, this role is not a formalized business analysis role and my company has no plan of allotting resources towards having BA’s. So, once educated, the only likely option is to prepare my resume for other companies looking for BA’s (but without any true BA experience.)

    Getting to the point…

    In researching education options I see Master Certifications (Villanova’s for example), which are quite expensive, but provide for an actual “certificate.” And then there are all the resources available on Bridging the Gap and less expensive classes and trainings, but don’t provide for an actual certification.
    Overall, I’m trying to balance cost with still being able to be presented with a job opportunity despite lack of experience.
    Thanks

  16. Chris, I’ll answer your question from the perspective of someone who is frequently in a position to interview BAs for new positions (I’m actually going through this process right now). Given the number of talented and experienced professionals in the market due to the still recovering economy, I can tell you that no amount of certifications and expensive classes would make me select you for an interview at this point, even for a more junior position.

    In my opinion, you should start looking for jobs that could help you build on the experience you already have, and solidify your knowledge of business analysis techniques in the process. In order to achieve that, I recommend Laura’s ebook “How to start a business analysis career”, which you can find in this website or via this link that generates an affiliate commission that goes to charity: https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?ii=276598&c=ib&aff=80220

    If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly recommend that you start reading now. In this ebook you will find invaluable advice that can make your transition into the BA role happen much faster, and without a costly investment in formal training programs.

    Hopefully other people will chime in to offer their perspectives as well. Good luck!

  17. Chris, Thanks for your question. Transitioning from business operations to business analysis is a rather common path, but you are right, we haven’t addressed this topic specifically in recent months.

    You write “am also a “super user” for the internal applications that are used through the company. This means I am a liason between the business unit and the IT team.”

    Given your career experiences, it may be that some training could help you identify prior business analysis experiences. Many of the active BAs you see today became BAs in just the same sort of transition. They began doing BA by instinct and once they learned about the business analysis fundamentals, they were able to quickly position themselves as a mid or senior-level BA. This may or may not be the case for you — the book will definitely help you discover this. I also help clients through this discovery process through my resume evaluation services.

    I would agree with Adriana — no specific certifications independently will qualify you for a BA position. However, training might fit into your professional development plan as a means for you to identify prior experiences and, if you are still in your business operations position, leverage your role to practice some of what you learned. With training fitting into this perspective, a lot of less expensive options might work, including starting with reading a book on the business analysis fundamentals.

  18. Chris Alexander says:

    Adriana and Laura,

    Thanks for the great feedback! It’s good to hear from the voice of experience.

    I’ve downloaded and starting reading “How to Start a BA Career.” Looking forward to it.

    Thanks
    Chris

  19. You are welcome, Chris! I also agree with Laura that training may become a very effective tool in your career planning, after you have identified a specific skill that can help you at this point, something that you can start using in your current (or new) position right away, so you can solidify the knowledge with practice, as this will be very useful in future job interviews.

    I’m sure you won’t be disappointed with the advice and information on Laura’s ebook. Enjoy the reading!

  20. Seconding, Adriana…you are welcome, Chris! Thanks for the book purchase and I hope you enjoy it.

  21. Emma Santa says:

    What are your thoughts about undertaking a Master’s Program? I have been researching the BA field and was pleasantly surprised that all roads led to Rome. It seems that my experiences as a programmer, marketing professional and project manager have all provided a solid foundation – while Grad school will help provide some practical experience and in depth knowledge specific to business analysis. As employers of BA’s and working BA’s, is a graduate degree another form of proving I can take a test, or will a Capstone project be thought of more favorably?

  22. Hi Emma,

    I personally have mixed thoughts on a Master’s Program in BA. In most cases that I’ve seen these programs do not help someone make a quick transition to business analysis. They may position you for more senior level roles once you find a path to BA, but because most BA jobs require experience they don’t directly help qualify you for your first position. These programs tend to be quite expensive and there are many less expensive ways to learn the fundamentals of business analysis while also creating opportunities for yourself to build BA experience.

    This is part of the reason I’ve put together my own training program, specifically to help professionals transition into business analysis. Unlike the more general BA training programs that attempt to serve multiple audiences, this is geared specifically toward someone looking for their first BA opportunity.

    Learn a bit more about the course and register to hear about the next enrollment by clicking the URL below:

    http://www.mybusinessanalysiscareer.com/launch-ba-career-early-bird-list/

  23. I second what Laura said about a Master’s program — useful for moving into more senior roles once you are already in the field, not likely to help someone trying to get his/her foot on the door.

  24. I am surprised by the amount of comments discouraging newbies going into BA. I would like to get into this field as well, I have a M.S. in information systems and I am now trying to get the BA certification. Everything that has been said so far seems to be true. however I think there are some college programs in IT that increase some people’s chance more than others to get in. I have seen some companies asking as one of the qualifications for newbies a B.S. or M.S. in Information Systems. I think the reason might be because some courses such as Systems Analysis and Design, Database, Human Computer Interaction, and Information Technology Project Management, give student a decent understanding of UML, business requirements, functional requirements, SDLC, etc.. which are part of the lingo of BA people. Just to conclude I would like to say only healtcare students get easy pass to entry levels jobs. All the other students from fields such as computer science, engineering, math, etc.. have to jump some pretty high hurdles before getting accepted.

  25. Hi Gardy, Thanks for sharing your view here and I regret to hear that you found these comments discouraging. It’s no doubt that your college education can help you on the path to becoming a BA and the skills you mention are very valuable. But they are most valuable when coupled with real-world work experience applying those skills to real projects.

    In the jobs that you see are they looking for BS/MS in Information Systems only? Or BS/MS + experience? And, do they say “or equivalent work experience.”

    I receive many questions from people considering training programs and often point them to this post as a tool to help them think through the benefits they are seeking from training so they can make sure that training is indeed the best possible choice in their career development at that time. Many of these people already have bachelors degrees.

    For already trained business analysts, such as yourself, my advice is typically to go out and start using what you learned to build some experiences, even small ones at first. Your training will help clear a path, it just might not be directly to a role that leverages all of your training at first.

    You are also right that domain expertise can really help one land their first BA job. All other things considered, hiring managers tend to use that as a differentiator. This topic is discussed in more detail in another post: http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/how-industry-expertise-can-impact-your-business-analyst-job-search/

  26. Hi Laura,

    Would you be able to give me advice on what to do next in terms of transitioning into a Business Analyst role? I recently rec’d my BA certification from Villanova University, currently working as a User Acceptance Representative on a large-scale banking project (agile method) where I have been lightly involved in BA tasks – gathering/documenting requirements, workshops, etc. I am thinking about taking IT courses, namely Applied Software Dev as I have no IT background (what do you think?). After my UA role ends this fall, I am not sure if I should go into UAT (User Accepetance Testing or Super User Training to help achieve my career objective. Thoughts?

    Thanks!

  27. Hi April,

    Congrats on your schooling and your UA role. Whether or not IT training is needed really depends on where you are headed with your career. Do you want to be programming? Or, do you want to be a BA?

    You might check out this post for the resources we have on becoming a business analyst:
    http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/becoming-a-business-analyst/

  28. Dear Doug and Laura,

    I am international student in Australia, currently study Master of business information system in my 2nd semester, still got 2 more semester to go, but I need prepare my career before my graduate, that means I need get some experience first or do some project to get hands on experiences. However find it is a bit hard for me even just find volunteer job.

    I keep sending emails to online job listed on seek.com.au. however now of them reply me, it has been a week I start seeking for volunteer position, so I start build up my linkedin and other online profile, to join those BA groups.

    I have 7 years working experience, 4 years in Airline as flight attendant, 3 years in business either executive assistant/ purchasing/ sales. I think my background is very good candidate for BA, just need to get more idea about BA industry language, I need write likes BA, act as BA, and resume seems BA, can you give me some hints how can I learn those things?

    Thank you very much , I really enjoy reading your article, I also subscribed your news letter from the website, it is really useful for me.

    Regard,

    Crystal Z

  29. Jeff Wilfong says:

    I am having trouble narrowing down my options for Business Analyst training and certification. I do not necessarily want to take a whole year or longer learning the skills necessary. I see that various University of California Extensions (Berkeley, Davis, Irvine) offer courses and that IIL as well as Villanovau University offer trainings.

    I really want to get the most effective and most prestigious certificate I can get. Do you have any thoughts on what training program is considered the de facto?

    I need the program to be 100% online.

  30. doug goldberg says:

    Olfat:

    I think that you should first think about what your goals would be for getting training. As mentioned in most of the other posts, or alluded to, it’s the pratical experience that will take what you learn in a book and put it to use. You can get a cert or degree, but you have to know how to apply the book knowledge in the end. I guess I would recommend a blended approach where you get some class time and you work with network contacts to shadow more sr analysts or attend workshops where you can watch and participate.

    • Doug,

      Thanks a lot for your quick reply. Let me share with you how I decided to take formal training.

      My Background studies. Bachelor in Technology-based Mngt – Double majors in Finance and Information Systems and a minor in IT.

      Currently working as a Technical Support Analyst “pure technical job”. What I realized for almost the last two years since I graduated and working in this job that my passion lies in BA.

      I continuously spot areas that need improvement, have documented a process for one the services we offer and participated in other process documentations. I was leading a project for global knowledge management. I always show initiative in this area and enjoy doing it. My manager supports me and appreciates this but till now I am doing this beside my main job which is technical. I really want to be dedicated for the business analyst job and want the company realize that they need such a person.

      What I concluded that I need some formal training to have a larger impact on the company and know the “technical background” of Business Analysis. As I dont think it is enough to say I have passion in BA.

      I was first considering a Msc and found this in Strathclyde and I was excluding the online certificates. But then I reconsidered and thought that these certificates may have a faster effect on my career and in the long term I can be a certified BA in IIBA.

      There are two courses, I am considering the Villenova BA essentials but I find it expensive. It is a virtual training/ recorded one, the only way you get with the other participants is in chat rooms/ forums. And there is the BA basics in Boston University – this is a virtual – instructor based one taking place in specific timings online. less expensive but I think the content is less too. Not sure how to choose and can’t really find rankings or reviews about these courses.

      Appreciate your help.

      Sorry for writing too long 🙂

      Thanks

      • Olfat, It sounds to me like you are approaching this problem from a position of weakness instead of a position of strength. You have a lot more going for you than against you – choosing a BA training program based on price or the criteria you mention is most likely not going to help you make a good long-term decision. Reviews can help, but Doug is 100% right – it starts with your goals for the training.

        Have you signed up for our free email course on becoming a BA yet? After helping you identify some positions of strength specific to your BA career transition, in lesson 7 I walk you through a decision-making process for BA training and give you a worksheet to use to compare options.

        http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/enewsletter-sign-up/become-a-business-analyst-free-course/

  31. Thanks Laura.

    Yes, you are right sometimes I feel very optimistic to reach a BA job while other times I feel that I am too dreamy.

    Is it doable to convince a global international organization with a BA job. How do you think this can be possible? I tried to describe shortly what my passion is in my prior post. It is in BA area right?

    My goal from getting a formal training is to enrich my BA knowledge since I am having the chance to apply new ideas and my initiatives are welcomed in the company I am working in. What I thought is that it is not enough to like doing sth, education in this area is important. It can be of advantage to help me talk more confidently abour the BA role in my current organization and convince them with it and if I will be doing interviews to get a BA job this can be a plus.
    I believe that this course can be a confirmation that I am talking about BA and that’s what I want — in order not be in any doubt.

    If you have a chance to take a look at the first BA course in Boston University and VillenovaU, canb you please let me know which one will satify my goals / more suitable for me. I will appreciate this a lot.

    Thanks,

    Olfat