Your Name, DOeS, IT Ma, TTer

Posted on August 23, 2010


The design and construction profession is guilty of credential envy.

Healthcare pros flat out blow anyone out of the water in the letters-after-the-name-department. Who can match the BSN, FACHE, ACHA, MHSc, RN CRRN, BCOP, CEN, NE-BC, ad nauseum? These represent a fraction of the letter combos I saw at a recent healthcare conference. And what about the pedestrian MDs? Do those plebes even matter anymore?

On a very basic level, professional credentials for architects, engineers and contractors help.  They provide a means for those from outside the industry to compare apples-to-apples when shopping for expertise. When appropriate, a credential can signal that someone has the basic skills to complete the task. Credentials help qualify someone.  Going hand-in-hand, is the other function of credentials:  to differentiate. A credential that meaningfully sets someone apart from a qualified group can be helpful.

Credentials, though, are not the end-all for many reasons. First, everyone has them.  If you are a professional in healthcare or design, someone has certified you are fit to do your job; it is what defines you as a professional.  Second, a person needs to use them. This may be obvious Self-Marketing 101, but not everyone feels comfortable advertising accomplishments, especially credentials that many people have acquired. 

Third, not all credentials mean something to the general populace because they are very industry specific. What is distinctive to you may not mean much to me. Fourth, credentials seem to multiply every year so many people become desensitized or confused by them, especially if they signify something not universally recognized.  Call it credential inflation.

Additionally, some valuable skills do not come in the form of letters after names.  The Healthcare Construction Certificate program by ASHE is something I would want every builder I hire to go through prior to working on my hospital campus, but it is not a “lettered” thing, yet.

Before you print your next business card or plaster your CV around the lecture circuit, consider:

1)  With all the education accomplishment in the world today, there is no need to put graduate degree letters after your name. Degrees are the intellectual currency we trade in, the ‘ticket to admission’.

2)  Use a credential where appropriate; otherwise, leave it off. Among engineers, there is little need for the PE. Likewise for architects hanging with the AIA crowd.

3)  Give up on the “MBA”. People snicker when they see it as shorthand for “I am vain and uncouth.” When in doubt, do your internet research.

4)  Eschew membership for achievement. Professional associations like the AIA are only marginally helpful because they signal, maybe too subtly, that an individual has both achieved licensure, and is now a member of a recognized group of like professionals. If you only paid to be part of it, forget it.

5)  Beware of ‘the next big thing’. Those who think an MBA is chic (see #3 above) only declare their ignorance. As Dan Pink related in A Whole New Mind, Fortune 500 companies now seek the MFA, as the ‘it’ degree. After all, design is a true differentiator in the market place.

When in doubt don’t flaunt it, and err on the conservative side. You will most likely look more professional and save face by not sticking your alphabet soup in someone else’s.