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Finding The Best Analyst By Checking Their Certifications In Soft Skills

Finding the Best Analyst by Checking their Certifications in Soft Skills

“I need to hire a marketing analyst,” said my client.  “I need them to be able to analyse customer data to support our marketing efforts, and I need someone who can use a variety of tools, and they need to understand that we are primarily a SAS shop.”

We are not a recruiting firm, but from time to time our clients do ask us to keep an eye out for an analyst they can hire.  This request from our client seemed par for the course.  However, after a brief pause, he shocked me with his final request, “but please don’t refer anyone who is SAS Certified!”


According to SAS, “SAS Certification credentials are globally recognized as the premier means to validate SAS knowledge.  With a SAS Certification credential, you will set yourself apart from others and prove that you have the SAS knowledge to make a difference within your organization.”

So why on earth would my client say he didn’t want someone who was certified?  Yet, he wanted his analyst to know SAS?

After discussing it with my client and pondering my own experiences, I think I know the answer.

It’s not the certification that’s the problem.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a marketing analyst having SAS Certification or being Microsoft Certified (or any other certifications); on the contrary, it is exactly, as SAS says, a good way to confirm their SAS knowledge and prove to a prospective employer that they are a good programmer.  Please don’t discount those with Certification, or who are working on Certification– as my client is an anomaly, but the problem he is trying to mitigate and avoid is NOT.

The problem lies with candidates who put all their emphasis on technical and programming skills.

Marketing analytics is a complex blend of Art and Science.  It requires strong skills in insight generation and interpretation – along with those technical and programming skills.

As hiring managers, we know that technical skills can be trained – it might mean the analyst takes a little longer to get going but, in the long run, that is insignificant.  Avoid the temptation to rush to hire for technical qualifications to ‘fill an immediate need.”  It usually backfires; trust me, I have done it!

A few of my client’s past hires were excellent programmers but lacked soft skills.  This is too often the case with those who have taken the programming route to marketing analysis.  In addition to developing excellent (certifiable!) programming, a good marketing analyst needs to have developed communication skills, interpretation skills and storytelling abilities.

Unfortunately, many (though by no means all) who focus on Certification fail to understand this distinction.  As analytic people, they are often focused on checkboxes and measurable outcomes; being Certified is one of these, rather than on less tangible achievements.

So how do you identify these skills in a prospective hire?

It is easy for analyst candidates to list certifications and completed courses on a resume; just like a university degree, these are table-stakes for most jobs in this field.  But ideally their application, and interview process, let’s you differentiate the candidate from the other applicants – and hint at the soft skills, to give you a reason you’d want them at your table.

Many hiring mangers find it difficult to hire analysts – whether they themselves were analysts or not.  It is easy to be seduced by technical proficiency.    By all means, keep looking for that, but I suggest you also consider the following 5 tips to help identify this analyst will “speak your language.”

Ask yourself, do they:

  • Speak well? You will often need to see past accents or the occasional grammar lapse; the real issue is whether then can effectively communicate their ideas and experiences.  No matter what industry you work in, if the analyst is to provide help in the business, they must be able to make themselves understood.  And this starts with their resume; I am continually surprised by how often cover letters and resumes are sent, no only with typos and grammar mistakes, but with sentences that do not convey any meaning.  In addition to poor communication, these resumes signal a lack of attention to detail and are a showstopper for me.
  • Speak business? Does the analyst understand how their work has impacted business objectives?  Do they frame their past successes in “business speak”?  Can they tell you that, “With the model I built, the direct marketing team was able to target 30% fewer customers while increasing their response rate by 50%, resulting in increased ROI of 200%.” Or do they only know how to describe the fact that they built “a logistic regression model with concordance of 80%”?
  • Speak Insight? Does the analyst know how to share tales of insights, not just numbers?  Again, rather than stressing that they performed k-means clustering, share that they were able to isolate a group of customers hereto undiscovered that shared a common need resulting in a targeted marketing campaign bringing in significant revenue.
  • Speak Stories? Interview questions like “What is your greatest achievement at work to date?” are an amazing opportunity for the analyst to demonstrate how they tell a story.  Do they frame their answer so that you understand the problem, what they did and the outcome?  Or do they just state a fact.  Instead of “I automated a reporting process” can they explain how it was taking 6 days per month to get the reports out, that there were many reports begin run each cycle with similar outputs, and how they realized that, with a few small tweaks, the multiple reports could be replaced by one dashboard that could be automated.
  • Speak carefully? Marketing analysts have an incredible responsibility in a business; they have access to a customer’s data and data about the business.  Nothing turns me off faster than someone who reveals too much about their current employer and their business.  While everyone is a bit secretly curious about what their competitors are doing, never hire someone with loose lips!   We want to know we are hiring an individual with good judgement who will guard our data with care.

Great analysts are hard to find; not all of them will be able to “speak” in all the ways I have mentioned immediately –  but look for those who try and are willing to learn.

In summary, analytic qualifications are more than just knowledge of tools and techniques; don’t be seduced by a laundry-list of such skills – but don’t be put off by it either!  Hopefully you’ll find someone who will wow you both technically and with their “speaking abilities.”

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