Editor’s Note:  John is taking a break from writing his blog and hosting the podcast during the month of August.  During his absence from this space, we are re-printing some of his more popular posts from an archive of more than 1,000 articles.  This post, one of his most popular, first appeared in 2012.

The use of academic credentials following a candidate’s name is a source of debate, spurred on primarily by those who hold the advanced degrees and want everyone to know.

Graduate Degrees, Professional Credentials and the ResumeLet’s assume, perhaps prematurely, that everyone knows that you NEVER list an undergraduate credential on your resume or business card following your name versus listing it in the credentials section of the resume.  That brings us to the most common question in the debate: whether graduate degrees such as an MBA, MHA (Master’s of Hospital Administration) or Master of Science in Nursing, should be added after the candidate’s name, particularly if a potential employers requires it.

The answer is NO.

There are academic degree credentials and professional credentials.  The rules for their use are different.  All degrees and credentials should be listed at the bottom of the resume under the category called Academic Credentials/Professional Certifications or something along those lines. The only degrees that should be listed after a candidate’s name at the top of a resume, biographical summary or on a business card are so-called terminal degrees such as  MD, DO, DDS, DVM, PhD, EdD, Dr. P.H. etc.  For most executive leadership positions, a master’s degree is a minimum requirement and should not be listed after the candidate’s name.  Ever.

Professional credentials such as CPA, fellowship, or certification in a medical specialty or professional association should be listed.  Always.  The only question here is how many. For example, in some medical or scientific fields, candidates occasionally have multiple certifications. I have seen as many as six for one candidate.  When you add their PhD and fellowship credential, that candidate’s professional “initials” exceed my unlimited suffix data field.  I would suggest following the “less is more” rule — use only the professional certification(s) specifically required by the job selection criteria and list the remainder at the bottom of your resume.

Again, seasoned executives should always list their degrees and credentials at the end of their resume.  The only time academic degrees should be listed at the top of the resume is for new graduates with limited executive leadership experience.

I realize these standards may not be universally popular. It is understandable that some people are so proud of their academic accomplishments they want them front and center.  The problem is that this pride, coupled with endless credentials, can be interpreted as reflecting a lack of confidence, or a candidate who is not sure what they want to be.  Jack Welch famously called them “dabblers.”

Why would a professional want to create that image — fair or not — as a first impression?