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12 February, 2014 Posted by John G. Self Posted in Career Management
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Too Many Degrees, Too Many Credentials: A Worrying Sign?

Posted February 12th, 2014 | Author: John G. Self

Brand management, a tried and true concept in corporate marketing departments, is a common sense idea that has gained enormous traction among job seekers.

It was probably not a new, original thought in the realm of career management coaches in 1995 when I first mentioned the concept of personal brand management, a thinking out loud moment at a healthcare conference where I was a speaker, but there was a measurable “a-ha” moment among the participants.  If you judge the quality of an idea by the length of a long line of participants who wanted more information, then, in my book, that idea was proof positive.  The proverbial blind squirrel found an acorn.   

Golden key on resume textCollege degrees awarded, credentials earned, association memberships, fellowships achieved all join other things such as record of accomplishment, personality, appearance and presence, as well as interpersonal relationships to form an individual’s career brand.  Another element of someone’s brand that is frequently omitted from the list is the quality of the resume.

I want to go back and revisit a couple of brand components that are abused and misused by candidates:  degrees, credentials, including certifications, and the resume.

First on the list of comments is the use of degrees and credentials.  Jack Welch, the retired Chairman and CEO of GE Corporation once said that people who have multiple degrees after their name struck him as dabblers, people who lacked focus, and who were not sure what they should or could do with their lives.    

If you subscribe to this “dabbler” theory, then the first hint you will have is probably at the top of the resume.  Recently, I reviewed a resume listing five college degrees at varying levels — with a note later in the resume that a second doctorate was in the making — all but dissertation. There were two “fellowships” and four more professional credentials covering diverse healthcare disciplines.  Wow, this person apparently had never been told about the “less is more” rule. 

Several career coaches I know contend that using academic credentials immediately after one’s name on a resume — save for a doctorate, including a JD — is the sign of professional insecurity.  While I will not debate that issue here, I will say that having MHA or MBA, etc. after one’s name is not going to advance them in the candidate screening process unless the resume contains an abundance of quantifiable relevant accomplishments.  For most healthcare leadership jobs, having a master’s degree is now a minimum standard.  Some systems also require Fellowship in the American College of Healthcare Executives, but that is a credential, versus an academic degree, that should be listed after one’s name.

Insofar as professional certifications are concerned, listing five or six is more of a distraction than help, especially if those certifications are not relevant to the position. 

The candidate I mentioned earlier — the one with all the degrees, credentials and certifications listed immediately after his name on the resume – must have spent most of his time at school and attending workshops because there was not much experience or quantifiable accomplishment contained in the resume.

In a recent dispatch on developments in the not-so-encouraging state of affairs in Egypt, New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman wrote, “Why does Egyptian military strongman Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have so many medals on his chest when he is too young to have fought in any of Egypt’s big wars, and why might that be a worrying sign?” 

It is OK to be a lifelong learner, but be careful how you package the experience on your resume.  Lifelong learner sounds so much better than dabbler.

© 2020 John Gregory Self

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