Data Analytics Certifications: Do You Really Need One in 2023?
Do I need a data analytics certificate? If you’re set on becoming a data analyst, you’ve no doubt asked yourself this question more than once. And you’re not alone.
Even so, getting a straight answer about required certifications for data analysts is tricky. Why? Because there are dozens of companies offering data analytics certificates online. And guess what? They all want to convince you that you need their specific certificate program.
Heck, here at Dataquest, we have not only a data analytics course, but an entire Data Analyst career path that awards a certificate!
But the difference between us and all those other companies is that we deal in the truth. So, here it is: No, you do NOT need a certification to get a job as a data analyst.
Now, that doesn’t mean that data analytics certification programs aren’t valuable. But it does mean that you need to think about your investment carefully. That’s because the certificate itself — the actual piece of paper and/or digital badge — is likely worth little to nothing.
In this article, we’re going to talk about different data analytics certificate programs and how to assess them. But first, let’s explain why the certification itself won’t help you.
Why Employers Don’t Care About Data Analytics Certificates
When I was doing research for Dataquest’s data science career guide, I spent a lot of time talking to people in the industry. And I asked them specifically what makes a good entry-level data analyst candidate.
In fact, I have almost 200 pages of interview transcripts with senior data scientists, hiring managers, and recruiters.
You know what word never appears once in those 200 pages? Certification.
The reason for this is pretty straightforward.
Certifications Aren’t Good Predictors of Job Success
From an employer’s perspective, a professional certificate means very little. It certainly doesn't predict how effective someone will be at actually doing the job.
This is particularly true in the realm of data analytics, since very few certificate programs require much real data work.
Take MOOC platform courses, for example. They typically consist of a series of video lectures punctuated with multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank quizzes. They may or may not have a “capstone” project at the end.
Best case scenario? A professional certificate on a resume means that the applicant has completed one data analysis project. That’s simply not enough.
For example, here’s a sample question from a real IBM/Coursera MOOC on data skills:
Imagine this from an employer’s perspective. Does being able to answer this kind of question prove an applicant knows how to actually use this algorithm? Definitely not.
Does It Matter Where the Professional Certificate Comes From?
Some certification programs are more rigorous than others. But this doesn’t matter to employers.
When a hiring manager looks at your resume, you have about seven seconds to get their attention. They’re not going to waste their time figuring out whether the specific data analytics certificate program you chose is any good.
It’s worth mentioning that brand doesn’t matter here, either. A university degree on your resume will impress a recruiter. But a university certification? Employers are well aware that’s a very different thing. Often, university-branded certificate programs aren’t even operated by the university!
What Do Employers Want to See on Data Analysts’ Resumes?
If a certificate program doesn’t matter, then what does? When it comes to data science and data analysis resumes, the most important thing to include is proof that you can do the actual work.
Relevant work experience is preferable.
If you’re looking for your first job in the field, you won’t have that. That’s OK! You can prove you’ve done the work another way: by showcasing your data analysis projects through a professional portfolio.
With Dataquest, students are given the opportunity to create portfolio-worthy projects at the end of each course. That way, you have relevant work to show off to employers. This is better than a certificate any day of the week!
For example, in our Data Analyst Path, students will complete the following projects:
- Create a mobile app for lottery addiction
- Build a spam filter with Naive Bayes
- Analyze a dataset of Jeopardy questions and discover winning strategies
- Use visualizations to plot the evolution of the euro-dollar exchange rate
- Work with Jupyter notebook to analyze Star Wars fans
- Analyze the accuracy of Fandango movie ratings
- And 14 others!
You can sign up for free here. You’ll be writing code within minutes.
Are Data Analytics Certifications Useless?
None of the above means that certification programs are useless for aspiring data analysts. It just means you need to assess them with the knowledge that the certificate brand you choose probably isn’t going to help you get a job.
What will help you get a job are the skills you learn over the course of the program. So make sure you choose a content-rich program you can actually learn from!
Also, it’s important to note that while certificates likely won’t help your job candidacy, they’re also not going to hurt your chances. Most employers will simply ignore them. But there are some recruiters who view certificates as a sign that a job candidate is proactive about learning and improving.
How to Assess Certificate Programs
The most important thing you can get from any certification program are the skills you learn. Important questions to ask include:
- How does this program teach? Does it use video lectures? Interactive coding lessons? In-person classes? Everybody learns differently, but the science suggests that the more hands-on the teaching method, the better.
- What does this program teach? Does it cover the most important data analyst skills, like data visualization and SQL, in enough depth? Or does it waste time on non-essentials, like machine learning? If you don’t already have statistics knowledge, finding a program that covers basic statistics is also important.
4 More Factors to Consider When Choosing a Certificate Program
Other important factors to consider in your decision include:
- Cost —Certification programs can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands! What kind of return can you expect on your investment?
- Time Requirements — Some certificate programs, like Dataquest’s, are self-serve. This means you can begin at your convenience and study as quickly or slowly as you want. Others are cohort-based and time-sensitive — you might only be able to start a class at certain times of the year, for example. Or, you may only be able to join live classes at specific times of the day.
- Prerequisites — Some programs require specific degrees, prior experience, and/or coursework.
- Third-Party Reviews — Any half-decent marketing team can write a landing page full of five-star reviews. But what do real learners have to say about the data analytics certification program? Third-party review sites like Switchup, G2, and Course Report are all good places to do some research.
When in doubt, try it out! Many platforms offer free trials and/or free courses. For example, you can sign up for a free account with Dataquest. Then, complete any of our 60+ free lessons to get a feel for the different types of content and teaching style.If a platform or certification program doesn’t give you any opportunity to sample their product, that’s a red flag. It hardly makes sense to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a learning product before you’re sure its teaching style works for you!
Analytics Certifications Compared
There are a huge number of data analyst certificates out there. Below, we’ll compare a few certification programs, so that you have a better idea of how each option stacks up.
- Cost: $49/mo
- Type: Online, self-serve
- Platform: Hands-on browser-based coding interface
- Topics covered: Python, SQL, statistics, command line/shell, Git
- Prerequisites: None
- Time constraints: None (Most students meet their goals in less than a year of part-time study).
Switchup.org Review Average: 4.85 out of 5
Google’s Data Analytics Certificate
- Cost: $39 per month (financial aid available)
- Type: Online
- Platform: Coursera
- Topics Covered: Intro to Big Data, Data Visualization, R Programming
- Prerequisites: High School Math
- Time Constraints: None (Study at your own pace, part-time or full-time).
General Assembly Data Analytics
- Cost: $3,950 or higher (loan options available)
- Type: Online or in-person bootcamp
- Platform: In-person or online virtual classroom
- Topics covered: SQL, Excel, Tableau
- Prerequisites: None
- Time constraints: Must join a specific session and attend courses at specific times. (However, new sessions start frequently, so you won’t have to wait long to join).
Switchup.org Review Average: 4.28 out of 5
Thinkful Data Analytics Immersion
- Cost: $12,250 or higher (loan options available)
- Type: Online
- Platform: Online virtual classroom
- Topics covered: Python, SQL, Machine Learning
- Prerequisites: None
- Time constraints: Full-time for four months, or part-time (20-30 hours per week) for six months
Switchup.org Review Average: 4.65 out of 5
Springboard Data Analytics Track
- Cost: $5,500 or higher (loan options available)
- Type: Online
- Platform: Online virtual classroom
- Topics covered: Python, SQL
- Prerequisites: None, although you do have to apply and be accepted.
- Time constraints: Must wait for the next cohort to begin, then the program length is six months.
Switchup.org Review Average: 4.67 out of 5
As you can see, there are significant differences between these programs. The most obvious one is cost — the costs here range from less than $300 to over $12,000! And there are other meaningful differences, too.
Take user reviews, for example. Despite being the most affordable option, Dataquest also has the highest average review score.
Time constraints also vary dramatically. There are programs like Dataquest or General Assembly that you can start immediately. Conversely, programs like Springboard require an application process. Users may also have to wait for a cohort to start.
Most importantly, the actual topics covered can vary from one program to the next. General Assembly’s program has a limited focus on SQL, Excel, and Tableau. Thus, it may be focused on less technically-demanding analyst roles.
On the other hand, the Thinkful program devotes time to machine learning, which isn’t typically required for data analyst roles. Dataquest appears to be the only one of these options with substantive coverage of probability and statistics.
What About Test-Based Certifications?
If you think test-based certificates in data analytics are too good to be true, you’d be right over 99% of the time.
There are a number of certification programs such as Certified Analytics Professional (CAP) or Cloudera’s CCA Data Analyst that don’t require any education at all. These are tests you can take for a few hundred dollars. Once you pass, you’ll receive an instant certification.
Are these a good investment? Not usually. There are specific jobs that may favor these certifications, but few require them. And there’s no real evidence that employers are interested in them.
A quantitative analysis confirms this theory. As of this writing, there are about 39,000 open data jobs listed on Indeed.com in the United States. Of these, fewer than 100 require a CAP certification, and fewer than 20 mention CCA.
Put another way, about 99.7% of all data jobs don’t require these certifications. And that’s a conservative estimate.
In fact, only 15% of the data jobs on Indeed include the word “certification” at all. Many of these are software-specific certifications related to a company’s specific tech stack. And some of that 15% also includes job listings that read “Certifications: None.”
Any way you look at it, the demand for generic data analytics certifications is low. If you do need a certificate for a job, it’s likely to be something software specific: for example, an AWS certification for a company that does a lot of cloud-based data processing.
Selecting a Certificate Program (If You Do Decide to Get One)
Again, you don’t need a certificate. But if you do decide to get one, make it the right one.
So what’s the best data analytics certification option for you? That’s going to come down to a personal decision based on factors like:
- What is your budget?
- How much free time do you have to study?
- Which data analyst skills, if any, do you already have?
- What is your desired timeline for completion?
Now that you know the specific certificate doesn’t really matter when it comes to getting a job, you can focus on what does matter: learning the right skills and building great projects to prove those skills to potential employers. Don’t forget to check out Dataquest’s data analytics courses. Sign-up is free. Plus, you’ll have multiple opportunities to build your relevant portfolio and showcase all those job-ready skills you’ll be learning!