Do Not Chase Credentials

If you’re unemployed or underemployed, there may come a time when you decide that a lack of credentials is what’s holding you back. You convince yourself that adding a certification or designation will make your resume more appealing to potential employers. You may even start looking into expensive graduate school options.

Although earning (meaningful) credentials can and will boost your value in the eyes of employers, don’t overdo it. The purpose of a credential is to signal that you have higher value than someone without that credential. Thus, in theory, more credentials are better than less credentials. However, as usual, diminishing returns apply. What’s more, they begin to send the opposite signal after a certain point.

Acquiring a credential requires time, energy, and money. For example, CFA Level 1 costs hundreds of dollars per attempt and the recommended study time is a whopping 300 hours. Since the CFA is an industry standard, the time and money spent is usually well worth it. But if you’re a valuable employee that already has industry standard credentials like the CFA/FRM/MBA, you would not feel the need to incur costs that additional credentials represent. Therefore, having too many credentials signals that you are a low value employee hoping to hide this fact behind a bunch of letters and the legitimacy of the credentialing organizations.

Other negative implications of having too many credentials include seeming aimless and appearing to be a better test taker than real world problem solver. The latter is particularly insidious as the people most likely to fall into the over-credentialed trap are those who excelled at school before faltering in the workforce, which only serves to reinforce the negative stereotype.

For these reasons, people who overdo it with credentials are pejoratively referred to as credential chasers. I have seen resumes with credential letters longer than the person’s name, which is only acceptable if your name is I.M. Pei or shorter.

Instead of chasing credentials, increase your value by learning a new skill or improving an existing one. Make new connections and nurture existing ones. And if you already have a ton of credentials, you don’t have to display all of them on your resume (or worse, behind your name on LinkedIn).

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