Tip #199: The Case For Credentials, Not Initials

I have a bias that I am going to share, based on thirty years of experience in training and consulting: Knowing is not doing, and doing is better.

By knowing, I mean initials based on academic degrees and professional certifications. By doing, I mean credentials based on expertise.

Yes, initials can open doors, particularly for those who are early in their careers. There are some jobs where the academic degree is a gate keeper: if you don’t have the degree, you can’t get in. And most certainly, attaining a degree or a professional certification reflects positive character traits, such as commitment and persistence to achieve a goal.

I am also aware that there are folks who have earned initials and are also able to effectively deliver on the job. That is a terrific combination. But the bottom line is that they are able to deliver on what they know.

There is nothing wrong with believing in continuous learning and seeking academic or professional certification initials. If a degree or certification program offers someone knowledge they value, more power to them.

However, regardless of existing initials, I think that the person who can effectively deliver clearly has more to offer to any organization.

When I worked in personnel for the State of Wisconsin, we could not limit recruitment to persons with degrees, unless a degree was statutorily required for a position. If a hiring supervisor desired someone with a degree, we could post that a degree was desired, but we also had to add that we would consider individuals with comparable training and experience.

I know that degrees and certifications do not automatically make an individual better at what they do. The degree may not be relevant, the certification may be theoretical rather than practice-based, and the person may not use what s/he learned.

I believe in degree programs and professional certifications that give you credit for what you have already accomplished or can accomplish on your job.

If you are seeking to hire someone, please give them a chance to SHOW you what they can do.

If you are seeking a professional certification, please make sure that the content and the focus will be professionally useful to you because you can apply what you learn- and the certification will be based on that knowledge and ability.

Why am I writing about this now? I have a dear friend who has been incredibly accomplished and effective in every area of employment in different industries over a long and illustrious career. As a manager, trainer, and employee, she is brilliant at what she does- and every organization that employs her is very conscious of the value she brings to the company, their employees, their customers, and their bottom line.

She decided to seek a professional certification- and rather than validating her self worth and her proven expertise, the experience almost devastated her. The certification test was based on who did what, rather than how to use what you know.

So she failed, not once, but twice. Imagine what they can do to your self esteem. Thank goodness, she was made of stronger stuff. She didn’t fail because she isn’t bright, didn’t study, wasn’t committed to doing well, or had test anxiety. She was busy doing her job, with no study support base. She tried to fit studying into her already rich life filled with a demanding job, extensive community volunteer work, and family life.

The certification test experience tried to tell her that she wasn’t enough and didn’t know enough to qualify. But my take on that situation is very different. As a hands on practitioner, the certification test was wrong for her. It didn’t measure what was important for her in her professional life. It valued rote memorization over practical application- and, as far as I’m concerned, that is a poorly written test.

Luckily, my friend saw the light and her strong sense of self and her sense of humor helped her learn what she needed to learn from the earlier certification experience and move on. She is now happily pursuing a different certification that better meets her personal and professional goals and needs.

So, my wish for her and for you is that all of your learning experiences, now and in years to come, will be useful, meaningful, validating, and, yes, sweet.

This Tip garnered two responses that might resonate with you.

Susan Fuszard wrote:  This experience reminded me of one I had when applying to graduate school. I took the GRE, wrote my statement of purpose, gathered up my reference letters, and submitted my application. The school responded with concern about my lack of preparation in economics and statistics, so I took a class in each as a special student, re-applied, and was turned down.  

While I was ready to accept that decision and get on with life, the academic advisor was furious on my behalf and encouraged me to appeal the decision. I did so, and spent 45 minutes telling the faculty committee members why I belonged in their program.  

Would I have done it on my own (the appeal)? Probably not. I was ready to believe the messages I thought were implied – that I “wasn’t bright enough,” “couldn’t cut it,” etc., in such a rigorous program.  However, once I was accepted and entered the program, I learned that it was not so much about me after all. They’d had turnover in faculty and were admitting only 5 students that semester (plus the two of us that appealed our denials), when they normally accepted 20 – 25.  It ended up being a good lesson for me, in more ways than one!

Julie Almont wrote:  I was anxious to read this article simply because of the title.  I had no idea how personal it would become! Your words are healing!

It is especially relevant today as I was surprised to have received several greetings and messages from peers around the nation with whom I have shared the learning experience over the last two years…just staying in touch. Some are younger and seeking validation for career growth and security. Some, like me, are looking to stay current, benchmark our performance, and take back a renewed energy and knowledge we can apply to our company’s goals. Some have asked if they can visit my company and learn more about my programs and procedures. But, mostly, these wonderful folks honor me by validating our worth to each other…trainer-to-trainer, soul mates in the business of motivating and inspiring adults in the workplace! What a kick!

Thank you, Susan and Julie, for validating the idea that we ALL have a great deal to offer, based upon our experience and expertise.

Related Posts