No One Is Impressed: When to Lose All Those Letters After Your Name

Jun 05, 2008 -
by Erik Folgate   Okay, I don’t know if this is a rant, pet peeve or actual advice for those you in the professional world. But, I really can’t stand people that have a hundred letters after their name for every certification they’ve received in their professional career. I know you’ve come across the real estate agent who’s business card looks like this: John Smith, GRI, eTech, AIS, REI. I just made those last three up, because I didn’t want to spend the time researching what real certifications are out there. You’ve probably also seen the IT professional with a business card that looks like this: Horatio Rodriguez, A+, MCP, MCSP, MCSE. It just looks silly, doesn’t it? At my office, there used to be a lady that worked there who was in our training department, and she had literally completed every professional designation available. Then, she thought it would be cool to list every acronym for the certification on her name plate. There were like 11 or 12 acronyms after her name. Before you send me hate comments, hear me out on this one. I don’t think that you should list a certification after your name if you completed one course that gave you a certification. Also, if the certification is offered by an organization that is not well-known in your industry, you shouldn’t throw the acronym after your name. No one will know what it means.

Here is a list of degrees and certifications that I know of that warrant being listed after your name:

University Professors. If you went through the schooling and wrote the dissertation, then you deserve to put it after your name. Universities don’t just give these out, unless you received an honorary PhD, which is nothing like getting the real thing. I don’t mind calling someone with a bonafide PhD “Doctor,” because I know they had to go through a lot to get the degree. Medical doctors don’t really need any letters after their name because of the "Doctor" in front of their name. Financial Advisors. If you completed the CFP or CFA certification, it has a lot of qualifications, and you have to complete a group of courses to receive the designation. You also need professional experience. These certifications have a commanding presence in the financial advising profession; therefore, you should put the letters after your name. Certified Public Accountant. Ask someone who has taken the series of tests to become a CPA how hard it is. They definitely deserve to put CPA after their name, and there is a big difference between a CPA and a staff accountant who crunches numbers. Pharmacists. I think it’s a little weird to call a pharmacist “Doctor,” even though a lot of people do it. So I think it’s more appropriate for them to put “Pharm.D” after their name, or “Ph.D” if they went the extra mile for that. Insurance Professionals. The only two designations that warrant being listed after your name is the AIC and CPCU designations. They require you to pass multiple courses, and you really need to know your stuff to pass the tests. I am sure there are more, but these are just a few examples that support my point. Here are some examples of people who shouldn’t put letters after their name.
  • Any certification you received by completing one class or passing one test.
  • Anyone with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
  • Lower-level medical employees such as nurses and medical assistants.
  • Any certification given by an organization that is unknown in your professional industry.
Okay, so you’re probably saying to yourself, “Who is he to tell me what letters I should be putting after my name?” That’s a good point, and it’s none of my business what you put on your business card. But, I think the cleaner way to list your certifications is in a bullet format in the corner of your business card, or just keep them listed in your resume. I think you come across as an attention-seeker by listing every single certification after your name that you’ve received in your career. Letters after your name are nothing more than a status symbol. It’s a way to boast about your credentials. My challenge to you is to let your work product and customer service be your credentials. If people ask about your designations and degrees, definitely tell them. But don’t let your name look like a math equation on paper.