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Alphabet Soup: I’m Certified, Therefore I Am

Have you noticed it yet?

I was wandering around LinkedIn the other day and came across a profile which quite literally had somewhere between eight and ten acronyms next to their name indicating the numerous and diverse ways in which they have been trained and certified. Ironically, just underneath this litany of what I call ‘alphabet soup’ was the phrase “Looking for opportunities.”

Maybe it’s just me, but is it starting to feel like you can get ‘certified’ for rolling out of bed in the morning?

If there is a new thought on how to do something…you can surely get a little piece of paper stating you’ve passed an online 80 question multiple-choice exam for which you will need to pay said organization a yearly fee to maintain its status. You will get the added privilege of being able to append it to your name on resumes, business cards and social sites. And what’s worse…we see such things and say, “Wow, they must have lots of experience” when, in fact, this has nothing to do with the amount of experience they have and often more to do with how much time they have available to attend classes, seminars, take exams and maintain certification statuses.

Don’t get me wrong, I have certifications. My introduction to the wonderful world of computers and ability to get a job in IT centered mostly around obtaining what was then referred to as a MCSE (which no longer holds much, if any, value). The cost of this cert? Around $13,000 at the time. Hey…it got my foot in the door.

But now, it’s as if people are actually measured by the extent of their ‘alphabet soup’. Ask most staffing agencies and they will tell you they filter resumes via keywords. There are software packages specifically designed to make that process easier. In applying for a job online with many organizations, they ask you to list certifications in a special field which is designed for HR to filter in order to narrow down potential candidates. I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked then to see the ‘alphabet soup’ scenario taking place. Some of it also has to do with the terrible job institutionalized education has done keeping up with technology. A Masters degree in Information Technology might get you in the door but a CSM is really what we’re looking for. I tell clients all the time, if you want to change the behavior of people, the surefire way is to start measuring them. This has become how some organizations measure now and, in response, society has adapted its behavior. Want to attend a conference or industry Lunch and Learn? Better make sure time attended helps maintain a certification status!

I say ‘some’ organizations because there are those out there who have begun to place little stock in the degrees and ‘alphabet soup’ and greater stock into what they feel you can do for them based on conversations, experience and feedback. I’ve personally been involved in seeing people with great interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and willingness to help others become some of the best leaders of an organization while the higher educated and certified attempt to push their own agendas in the spirit of entitlement.

Formal education and certification are not bad. All I’m drawing attention to is the skills you can’t list after your name that seem to make the bigger difference. Can you get certified for being highly emotionally intelligent? Being a great communicator? The ability to bring a calm and influence to a difficult situation without having the organizational authority to tell people what to do? How about simply being an example of a great servant leader? (I wouldn’t be surprised if someone was reading this article now wondering how they can measure, certify and market those exact things. I want to be gCOMM, ServLD and EI certified!)

I’m happy to shamefully plug the fact that the staffing side of the organization I work for has worked to deviate from the typical candidate ‘filter and send’ mode and instead learn Agile principles, applying them to their extensive staffing network. They base successful candidacy placement more on knowing an organizational culture and needs, person to person conversation and experiences they can readily speak on than on the ‘alphabet soup’ alone. For some reason, they get higher placement rates that way. Go figure…

Bottom line is we crave measurement nowadays. Business Intelligence, detailed Big Data analytics and performance metrics are big business right now; hot topics of conversation and podcast material for self-proclaimed industry “thought leaders” (Ooo…can I get certified as an Industry Thought Leader?!) Naturally we apply this to how we measure people. Call it “Sociosapien Moneyball” - The detailed, analytics-based way we measure human society.

I realize there can be hundreds of candidates and we have to find a way to quickly identify great people who can help us do great things. Taking the time to actually talk to people, find out who they are as a person, how they respond to various circumstances and the actual experiences they have does take time.

Not as much time as having to do it twice, or three times, because we hired purely based on the length and complexity of their ‘alphabet soup’.

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