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Job Titles and Credentials vs. Value

February 13th, 2019

On my Self-doubt in the job search post, I got this comment from Patricia:

“I have a Ph.d, have taught at prestigious universities, worked for research firms, and a public school system. Now I am over qualified for everything.”

This is kind of sad. I know what Patricia is saying because I, too, did things and had credentials that seemed to make me employable. I was told there were certain things to do to further my career, and I did them.

When I went into my first real (and unplanned) job search, none of what I did had mattered. My CIS degree didn’t matter, even though it was technical (“not technical enough”). My MBA didn’t matter (MBA means “more bad answers”). The fact that I had recently been fluent in Spanish didn’t matter, because the roles I was looking at didn’t care one iota. My past titles didn’t matter, either because they were at a very small company or because the titles I was going for weren’t related enough.

Let me seemingly tangent with something I learned as a speaker. This is Speaker 101 level material: know your audience. I may speak to two different groups on the very same topic, with the very same presentation title, but give two completely different presentations, because the audience is different.

How is this “know your audience” topic different than preparing for a career? I took generic, general career advice and applied it to my future without really even thinking about what I was doing. The building blocks I was accumulating was almost in name only. I was not recognizing the raw skills that I should have been focusing on, instead going after titles and credentials. I assumed (oops, bad on me!) that if you saw a title or a credential, you would understand what went into achieving that title or credential.

I didn’t need to tell you everything that got me there, or kept me there, or made me successful, if you could just see my accomplishments on my resume.

That was a very poor assumption.

Looking at Patricia’s comment above, if you think about it you can probably take ten minutes and brainstorm what it takes to get a PhD. The massive amount of research, creativity, working within a very structured organization (but with enough ambiguity that you need to be creative and take initiative), etc. Presenting, writing, analyzing, persuading, researching, … what else?

You could take ten minutes each and figure out the skills required for any of what she mentioned: teaching at universities, working in research firms, and working in a public school system. I feel like 10 minutes of brainstorming might just barely scratch the surface.

More than understanding the skills, what about understanding THE VALUE.

I want to disconnect titles and credentials from value. I don’t care of if you were president of this or that, I want to know what you did. Here’s an exercise for you (all of you): describe yourself only by the value you bring or create, and not by using any titles or credentials. 

It’s true that, many times, our experiences and credentials help us get into opportunities. How many jobs that you are qualified for say something like “must have a degree” or “MBA preferred”? Having certain things can help you get in the door. But, the successful hire will be the one who ultimately brings value in their role.

I’d rather hire someone with no big past titled-history, who does wonders for my company, than someone who has had all kinds of big titles but can’t seem to make any progress.

Personal experience: in my first big job search, in 2006, I didn’t get any jobs (barely any interviews) because of my overqualified titles. I learned to kind of dumb-down my resume a bit, and remove the big titles and just change them from CEO to “manager” (an ego blow, yes, but the right thing to do based on what I was applying for).  I was putting my titles in front of my value, and I didn’t understand that.

Am I discouraging you from growing, and getting credentials, and education, etc.? Absolutely not! I am encouraging you to do two things:

  1. Understand what you bring to the table. How will you help the organization with their objectives? What can you do to move things forward? Don’t go based off your titles, rather your skills and abilities.
  2. Figure out how to communicate #1. It can be very difficult talking about ourselves, especially when we feel like we are explaining the obvious. But we must become masters at this type of communication. This is a big part of career management, and because jobs don’t have the “security” that they had a few decades ago, we should find ourselves repeating these messages more and more frequently. This is the new normal, and it’s our job to get great at it.

To all of the Patricia’s out there, great job on what you have accomplished. Now, just look at it through a different lens… a career management lens. This should reduce your frustration, and it should help you have much better conversations with your prospects.

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