That analyst is certifiable!


featured speaker at SAS Global Forum 2017Editor's note:
The following post is from Emma Warrillow, Chief DiGGer at Data Insight Group Inc. (DiG). Emma is a featured speaker at SAS Global Forum 2017 and recently named as one of the Top Women in Direct Marketing by Direct Marketing News.

Learn more about Emma.


“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. We do our work in a variety of tools, but we are primarily a SAS shop.”

We’re not a recruiting firm, but from time to time our clients 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 the SAS Certification website, “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 SAS certified?  Yet, he wanted his analyst to know SAS?

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

It’s not the certification that’s the problem

There is nothing inherently wrong with a marketing analyst getting SAS Certified (or who has any other certifications); on the contrary, it is exactly, as SAS says, a marvelous way to validate your SAS knowledge and prove to a prospective employer that you are a good programmer. Please don’t stop working on your SAS Certification– my client is an anomaly, but the problem he is trying to avoid is NOT.

The problem lies with who is getting certified and their focus

Marketing analytics is a complex blend of art and science. It requires strong skills in insight generation and interpretation - along with those programming skills.

Most hiring managers know that technical skills can be trained.  They know that they can send you on a course once you are hired. While most would prefer to see that you had those skills already, many are concerned with far more than a list of certifications.

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 communication skills, interpretation skills and storytelling abilities.

So how do you demonstrate those skills to a prospective employer?

It is easy to list certifications and completed courses on a resume; just like your university degree, these are easy for people to understand and critical for most analytic jobs.  But your resume needs to represent who you are and differentiate you from the other applicants, and technical skills are only a small part of that. They are like table-stakes; you cannot get to the table unless you have a certain proficiency in a tool.  But once you are at the table, your witty conversation and table manners are what will get you asked back!

So, how can you demonstrate you soft skills on your application?  I suggest you think about how you “speak” in your cover letter, your resume and your interview.

1)      Speak well – It seems obvious, but if you want to convince an employer that you can communicate and help them succeed,  make sure your resume is written clearly.    I am continually surprised by how often cover letters and resumes have typos and grammar mistakes. Have someone proofread it before you send it!

2)      Speak business – Chances are the person that is interviewing you has business objectives.  Consider framing your past successes in “business speak.”  For example, don’t write “I built a logistic regression model with concordance of 80%”; instead, try “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%.”

3)      Speak Insight – Share tales of insights you have uncovered. Again, rather than stressing that you performed k-means clustering, share that you 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.

4)      Speak Stories – Interview questions like “What is your greatest achievement at work to date?” provide you with an amazing opportunity to demonstrate how you can tell a story. Instead of answering, “I automated a reporting process,” frame it as a story.  Explain the problem (how it was taking 6 days per month to get the reports out), what you observed (that there were many reports begin run each cycle with similar outputs, what the six days meant for the business), how you tackled it (that you realized , with a few small tweaks, the multiple reports could be replaced by one dashboard that could be automated) and finally what you learned (how you have or will tackle other projects,  what the business can now achieve with more timely reports etc.)

5)      Speak carefully – One caution: nothing turns a prospective employer off faster than someone who reveals too much about their current company. While we are secretly curious about what our competitors are doing, we won’t hire someone with loose lips! We want to know we are hiring an individual with good judgement who will guard our data with care. So keep your examples and your stories generic – imagine your former employer was listening!

The moral of the story:  be proud of your certifications but don’t rely on them as the sole means of landing that dream job.  Technical skills and certifications of those skills are a wonderful thing – don’t downplay them.  But remember you need to cultivate many other skills to be successful; develop those, and make sure you are sharing your progress with prospective employers.

About Emma Warrillow

Emma Warrillow is the founder and President of Data Insight Group Inc. (DiG), and has more than twenty-years experience in the corporate and consulting side of customer management and marketing analytics in a variety of industries (banking, insurance, telco, technology, business services etc.). Her humble and personable approach to mentoring and making data make sense to her clients has made Emma a highly respected and visible expert in the fields of both data analytics and marketing. Prior to founding DiG, Emma thrived in the financial services sector for two of Canadas major financial institutions (Royal Bank and Bank of Montreal), where she oversaw a team of analysts, predictive modellers and programmers. As Lead Analyst Emma played a vital role in leveraging customer data, modeling and developing customer relationship management (CRM) solutions. Today, as Chief DiGGer, Emma takes great pride in the team of passionate database and analytics professionals that she has brought together, and how they seamlessly complement our clients teams, ensuring the successful support and achievement of their goals. Emma holds a Masters degree in Management Sciences (University of Waterloo) and an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Statistics (Queens University), and is uniquely qualified to understand the analytics and business of customer relationship strategies. Her relentless curiosity about this industry and where it is headed fuel her passion for assisting her clients and developing new and creative marketing initiatives. She is a recognized expert in her field and a highly sought-after speaker. This year Emma was named one of the Top Women in Direct Marketing (by Direct Marketing News).


About Author

Larry LaRusso

Principal Communications Specialist at SAS

Larry LaRusso is the editor of the SAS Tech Report and SAS Learning Report newsletters and the SAS Users, Learning Post and Analytics U blogs. He has worked at SAS since 2000 in marketing, communications, customer experience and management roles for both the Education Division and External Communications. You can follow him on Twitter @lalaru102.

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