Hey there! If you’re trying to break into a Business Analyst career, you may be asking: What qualifications do I need to be a Business Analyst?
I’ll be honest with you, there are really no hard and fast rules – it’s really difficult to list down a precise set of qualifications you need to become a BA – in fact, most good Business Analysts I know have multiple skill sets in their tool kit.
In fact, I know some folks in the market who get all the BA certifications (e.g. from the International Institute of Business Analysts, or IIBA) – and don’t manage to secure a good BA role.
It can all be a bit bewildering to the newbie, because you want to break into a good BA role, but simply don’t know were to start, or don’t understand what to learn.
Very often, I see people who then just want to give up on their potential BA careers because they feel they lack the qualifications, or are just disillusioned and wonder if the BA career path is really for them.
And I’ll be honest with you here – the reality is that breaking into a BA career requires not JUST fundamental qualifications, but also a broader set of skills, such as communication and stakeholder management skills – which you can’t get from an IIBA test or exam.
Now, before you fret and get all depressed, hear me out.
Based on my years of experience as a BA, I can list down definitively some of the key qualifications that you need to become a good BA.
Which brings me to the purpose of this article – in the following, I’d like to share with you five key qualifications and skills that almost ALL good Business Analysts have – so that you can tell, at least at a broad level, what areas you should focus on.
And I’ll assure you that if you commit to picking up these key qualifications or skill sets, you’ll definitely stand a MUCH better chance of breaking into a BA career of your choice.
Qualification 1: The Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP)
One of the first areas I can think of when it comes to Business Analyst qualifications is the Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) certification, run by the IIBA and is probably one of the most well-recognized BA certifications in the market.
Now, in addition to that, you should also realize that the IIBA runs a number of other Business Analyst certifications – with strange acronyms like CCBA and ECBA+.
But here’s the thing. You should not get overwhelmed by the sheer number of certifications out there – the truth is, getting a BA certification does NOT guarantee you a BA job.
I’d stress that it’s terribly important for you to understand that a BA certification gives you a base level of knowledge, and merely demonstrates to the employer that you know base BA knowledge and you’re committed to the BA path.
The hard truth that you should come to terms with is that a good BA needs to go WAY beyond BA certifications – he needs things like communication, stakeholder management, as well as solution and industry skills (more on these later).
I’d like to quote a practical, real-life example which will be of interest to you.
When I first started my IT consulting career, I had a friend who was a Technical Programmer who really, really wanted to break into a BA role.
I saw this quite early from my interactions with him, and I realized that I had to help him – after all, I had some BA skills and expertise under my belt and I wanted to accelerate his transition to the BA career path.
Now, the sad thing was that my friend was pretty stubborn – he was still attached to his IT and technical programming world and refused to learn the industry and business.
To cut a long story short, here’s what happened in the end: My friend never transitioned into a BA role – he’d run into workshops and speak like an IT guy, never with the industry or business solution insights required of a BA. It was really sad and a lost opportunity for him.
Now, if you’d like to find out more about BA certifications and what’s available in the marketplace, you should definitely check out this page for more detailed information.
Qualification 2: Communication and Stakeholder Management Skills
What’s the second thing you need to take note of, in terms of BA qualifications? Simple – I’d say its communication and stakeholder management skills I simply can’t stress this enough. It’s so important to posses strong speaking, listening, presentation and general communication skills so that you can manage stakeholders in a project.
This, then, is the secret sauce that you must know about.
The ability to communicate with your project stakeholders sits WAY above all other qualifications I list in this article. I’d go so far to say that if you have good communication skills, you can probably survive most of the time as a BA. The other qualifications are important – but don’t rank as highly.
Another point – I think it’s also important to understand that good communication skills are not inborn – one needs to practise and in fact get some good training in order to excel in this area.
You should also try to try your best to LISTEN more. A lot of Business Anlaysts I know think that good communication skills refer to talking and “owning” the room. That’s wrong – listening is equally, if not more important than talking and talking.
If you have an interest in gaining good communication skills to increase your BA capabilities, then do check out this resource for more detailed information.
Qualification 3: Master of Business Administration (MBA)
Here’s something I need to clarify upfront – many, many Business Analysts I know are interested in getting an MBA.
What’s the reason for this? Well, I think it’s because they think the MBA is a really good (and expensive) qualification and getting one will almost guarantee their entry as a Business Analyst in e.g. a Big Four, McKinsey, Bain & Company or the Boston Consulting Group or some well-known institution.
Well, I can tell you that the reality is an MBA is good for those who are transitioning from one career into another – it is NOT specifically for those who want to break into Business Analysis.
So it’s a big myth that getting a MBA will almost guarantee you a BA job. You need to make sure you do your research before spending all that money on a MBA.
The next thing you should consider is the cost of an MBA. Unlike a BA certificaiton like the CBAP, an MBA is REALLY expensive and time consuming – is it worth you leaving your job to pursue it full-time? Think carefully and weigh your options properly.
Here’s a real-life example I’d like share with you.
A lady friend of mine was in the banking industry but she was sales – what she wanted was to break into Business Analyst role the bank.
I listened to her speak frequently about how she really was tired of selling and wanted to do a BA role – which was more analytical and played to her strengths.
Now, it turns out that She ASSUMED that to be a Business Analyst, she needed a formal business qualification and signed up for a part-time MBA.
And at the end of the day, she realized mid-way through the MBA course that she could have just approached her Business Transformation department (within the bank) to ask for a BA role! So you see, a MBA does impart general management and business skills, but is NOT mandatory for one looking to be a BA.
If you wish to understand more about MBAs and whether they make sense for you in your pursuit of a BA career, you definitely want to do check out this page to get some tips.
Qualification 4: Domain Knowledge
One of the most crucial things you need to know about being a Business Analyst is the need for domain knowledge – that means that a Banking BA knows the banking industry, and a Healthcare BA knows the healthcare industry.
Frequently, one of the problems I observe is that Business Analysts come in to workshops and face stakeholders with all their fancy BA techniques (requirements, testing and agile methodologies), but lack the domain knowledge to hold a decent business conversation with stakeholders.
You may not think this is a big deal, but I can tell you that it IS a big deal. A lot of banking clients I know, for example, favor consultants who can speak their business language and understand their value chain.
If you come into the scene and you don’t demonstrate the requisite domain knowledge, you’ll risk not just your credibility but also your success at the job.
So, I can’t stress enough that picking up domain knowledge is one of the most important qualifications for a Business Analyst – those of you who read my blog in-depth will know this is one of my key messages to my readers.
Now, you may also want to know about a good trick I use to gain domain knowledge – and that is to pretend you’re a customer of the business and just walk into a store or branch. For example, you could pretend you’re a banking customer and walk into a branch to ask about bank loans.
The good thing about doing this? Well, it gives you the perspective of being a “customer”. And I can tell you that in ALL companies, there’s nothing more important than the customer. If you understand how a company’s customer works, you’re already well on your way to understand the business as a whole.
If you wish to pick up more skills and domain knowledge, be sure to visit some trade shows or industry forums pertaining to the company you’re working for. It’s a good way to pick up industry know-how.
And hey, if you’re in banking, I’ve written a nice guide on banking domain knowledge for Business Analysts – do check out this link for more detailed information.
Step 5: Solution Knowledge
I’ll let you in on another important secret – good Business Analysts have great solution knowledge as well – everything from Target Operating Model design, core banking system know-how, through to cost optimization techniques – all of these are “solution skills” that set a good BA apart from the rest.
You should also know that to get solution skills ain’t so easy – a person who knows, e.g. the Temenos T24 core banking package solution probably needs to work for months or years before he or she understands the product fully.
As an example, you may find that it is difficult to articulate what a particular solution is and explain it in layman terms. You need years of practice and exposure before you gain that level of mature solution knowledge.
So what can you do, then? One thing I see amongst many Business Analysts is their desire to “short cut” this learning process.
My advice to you is this – don’t do it! There is no shortcut to knowing and understanding a solution. Instead, I suggest you pick up a book or two and start drilling in-depth into the solution area that interests you – and start to read voraciously. Talk to people who know the solution well to learn even more.
If you want to get more information about solution knowledge for Business Analysts, do check out this article – it’ll give you tons of information about innovative technology solutions in the market.
In closing, let me just say that the qualifications a Business Analyst needs are varied – it’s usually no sufficient to assume that e.g. a BA certification or a degree will help you break into a BA career.
The truth, and one of the key takeaways I want to leave with you is this – over and above the paper qualifications, a BA needs solid communication skills and also hands-on, working level industry and solution knowledge.
Another key point to bring home is that there are many paths to a BA career – if you somehow can’t get traction through gaining qualifications and skills, you probably need to think about your network. Are there people who are willing to sponsor you into a BA career? If you have this, you’ll be light years ahead of the BA who has all sorts of qualifications but has no sponsor for brining them into a desired job.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article. If you’re interested in learning more about the qualifications you need to be a Business Analyst, then do feel free to check out this useful link here – it contains some good, practical information.