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Analytics Magazine

Certified Analytics Professional: A usage guide for employers and clients

January/February 2014

A usage guide for employers and clients.

Polly Mitchell-Guthrie Scott Nestler

By Polly Mitchell-Guthrie (left) and Scott Nestler, CAP (right)

The purpose of this article is to provide potential employers and clients of analytics professionals with useful information about the Certified Analytics Professional (CAP®) program offered by INFORMS, the leading professional membership organization in the world for advanced analytics. Beyond providing some updates regarding the CAP program, we also offer suggestions on how certification should (and should not) be used and attempt to answer questions such as, “How can certification help you find and retain analytical talent?” and “Why should I support certification for my existing employees?”

Focus on Skills and Knowledge

The 5 E’s in CAP
Many of the questions we receive from prospective applicants focus on the Exam, which tests skills and knowledge listed in the JTA. However, we would like to emphasize the importance of the other four E’s to employers and clients of analytics professionals. In order to apply for certification and take the exam, a candidate must demonstrate that they possess the necessary Education (B.S. or higher) and analytics-related Experience (3-7 years, depending on level of degree and field of study). Additionally, they must demonstrate Effectiveness, by having their soft skills validated by a current or former employer or client. Finally, they must agree to abide by a written Code of Ethics.

There are many ways to qualify a new hire; certification is one that may have some advantages over other methods. First, the CAP certification is designed to test across the breadth of knowledge that is necessary in many analytics jobs. Some of this was detailed in an earlier publication on “The Shape of Analytics Certification.” While many of the newer degrees in analytics incorporate much of the same components in their curricular program, other related degrees may focus more on providing depth in one or more technical skill areas. The scope of relevant skills emerged from the CAP job task analysis (JTA), a methodological approach to determining what should be tested, that was developed to be a market-driven assessment of necessary skill areas for analytics professionals.

In addition to addressing breadth of knowledge, the CAP certification tests skills, which can be defined as “the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance.” This means that not only has the individual learned the knowledge through formal or informal education, but they also demonstrate proficiency in the application of that knowledge. While case-based interviewing is possible, it is tricky. So, while employers can ask a more concrete question such as familiarity with a particular algorithm, assessing whether a candidate knows when and how to apply this algorithm is tougher. The CAP tests this kind of scenario through the domains of business problem framing and methodology selection. Finally, students often learn the fundamentals in academic environments, which may not suffer from the rigors of data that are often dirty,
incomplete, messy, big, etc.

The JTA covers the entire analytic life cycle, starting with the problem, working through the data, and finishing with model deployment and monitoring, thus addressing the challenges of real-world problems. Through a shared understanding of criteria and standards across the work environment, those employing analytics professionals will have greater confidence and assurance of organizational and individual qualifications.

Certification Sets Employees Apart

CAP program update
• 12 exams conducted in 2013; six planned for early 2014.
• Pass rate: 91 percent (includes some “early adopters”)
• Current number of CAPs: 87 and growing
• Computer-based testing is coming in 2014!
Study Guide now available online

Besides demonstrating the recipient’s ability to apply their knowledge and skills to comprehend and analyze a real-life situation or issue, conduct an analysis and make a recommendation to the decision-maker, a certification such as CAP establishes the confidence and credibility of the people who are hired (i.e., right person for the right job). Most hiring managers and supervisors will agree that the ideal employee is much more than just an experienced worker. In particular, she is a dedicated professional with the right attitude as well. Good indicators of attitude include someone who is adaptable and willing to learn new skills, as well as someone who possesses the drive and confidence to demonstrate it, such as earning a relevant certification.

An individual who has chosen to invest time, money and effort to prepare for and achieve certification demonstrates dedication beyond any doubt. Because the CAP certification requires completion of professional development units (PDUs) to maintain the certification, it is also an indication that an individual is keeping up-to-date with developments taking place in the ever-changing analytics industry. This is certainly a quality that all managers look for in their potential employees.

Quality Attracts Quality

As the saying goes, “birds of a feather flock together.” This is true in the workplace, where exemplary workers tend to attract other dedicated analytics professionals to your organization. According to Certification Magazine, organizations that consistently invest in training and certification establish a culture of excellence, including the ability to attract and retain top talent. These organizations will have the best people, which will be noticed by customers and competitors alike. And this then becomes a virtuous cycle, whereby great employees continue to attract great employees, resulting in continuous improvement.

Furthermore, once you have attracted an outstanding cadre of employees, certification can be a worthy goal to help those with less experience advance in their careers, especially if the employer indicates willingness to invest in these careers by supporting this goal. Doing so tells employees that this organization cares about career advancement, continuing education, professional development and the ongoing learning required to maintain certification. As difficult as it is to attract good employees it can be equally hard to retain them, especially when demand outstrips supply. Since analytics professionals are knowledge workers they appreciate firms that share that value of knowledge and are willing to ensure they continue to acquire it.

Some Useful Terms

To use certification appropriately it is important to clarify a few terms that are often used interchangeably but actually have specific meanings. A credential is a broad, umbrella term for recognition of having met a defined set of standards. Two common types of credentials are licenses and certifications. Licenses are mandatory credentials issued by states while certifications are voluntary credentials offered by professional organizations, such as INFORMS and its CAP program. One concern borne of not understanding the difference is the misconception that the intent of the CAP is to restrict the pool of practitioners.

While this may be indeed true for licenses (where health or safety concerns may apply and hence the credential is mandatory), this is not the case for voluntary certifications like CAP, which allow recipients to choose to differentiate themselves when they do not feel their experience alone does so.

Another common mistake is thinking that certifications and certificates are equivalent. They are not; the latter is usually issued upon completion of a course of training but may not actually reflect achievement of any other education, experience or testing standard.

CAP exam schedule
The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) has scheduled the following exam sites for its Certified Analytics Professional program for the first half of 2014:

Jan. 11, 2014: ITPG Education Center, Vienna, Va. (suburb of Washington, D.C.)
Jan. 29, 2014: University of Alabama, Business Analytics Symposium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
March 6, 2014: Drexel University, James E. Marks Intercultural Center, Philadelphia
March 29, 2014: INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and O.R., Westin Boston Waterfront,Boston
March 30, 2014: Gartner BI & Analytics Summit, Venetian Resort Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
June 21, 2014: INFORMS Conference on The Business of Big Data, San Jose Marriott, San Jose, Calif.

To apply, click on https://www.informs.org/Certification-Continuing-Ed/Analytics-Certification/Apply-for-Certification

For more information, click on https://www.informs.org/Certification-Continuing-Ed/Analytics-Certification

How NOT to use Certification

The CAP should be considered a possible order qualifier but not an order winner, meaning this designation alone shouldn’t signal that a resume with it should result in an interview or one without it be set aside. Many good candidates will determine that their education and experience are alone sufficient to demonstrate the skills the CAP seeks to tease out. A candidate who has a Ph.D. in statistics and 15 years of experience in credit risk may seem at least minimally qualified, whereas it may be less obvious whether the theater major who started his career on stage actually has the abilities he professes to have gained from five years at an entertainment company in an analytics role. However, if the theater major achieved the CAP, employers can have greater confidence in this likelihood. So certification can be a helpful screening mechanism but should not be relied upon alone.

CAP Special Supplement
This issue includes a special supplement, “Certified Analytics Professional Candidate Handbook” (second edition).

View it as a downloadable PDF or in digital magazine format.

Likewise there are tasks the JTA concluded are essential to analytical jobs but are beyond the scope of the certification exam, such as testing and selecting approaches and running and calibrating models. Beyond even those concrete areas is the fuzzier area appropriately termed “soft skills,” because they are harder to define and measure. These skills can run the gamut from interpersonal skills to the ability to present and communicate results effectively. While the CAP does consider this area by requiring applicants to provide validation of these skills, this measure is currently qualitative and certainly bears further investigation by employers. The nature of the depth and breadth of skills needed in a given position merits more targeted interview questions by the potential employer.

Finally, even more intangible considerations such as attitude and fit are far beyond the scope of a certification exam and up to each employer to find other ways to assess.

The benefits of hiring Certified Analytics Professionals certainly go beyond just having the right person on the job. Certified employees elevate the credentials of an organization and improve customer confidence. For example, a CAP-credentialed senior analyst with the Coast Guard Research and Development Center, while helping work up a new center for analysis to full operational capability, indicated that certification would increase the credibility of his organization and the important work it is doing. Consulting firms in particular have shown strong interest in the program as a way to illustrate to their customers the quality of their bench. It’s clear that the benefits of hiring certified CAPs extend beyond the internal needs of the organization and extend to the perception of it by external stakeholders.

For more information about the CAP program, visit the website or contact Dr. Louise Wehrle, INFORMS Certification Manager, certification@informs.org, 443-757-3599.

Polly Mitchell-Guthrie is lead strategist and customer liaison for advanced analytics at SAS and vice-chair of the ACB. She is a member of INFORMS. Scott Nestler, CAP is an Army operations research analyst and chair of the INFORMS Analytics Certification Board (ACB). He is a member of INFORMS.

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For more information, go to 
https://www.certifiedanalytics.org.