A common question:  Should you add degrees or credentials after your name on your resume and LinkedIn profile?

Because you are marketing yourself in the job market, be careful how you present yourself so your target employers see you as a viable candidate.  Whether or not to put letters after your name depends on what kind of work you want.

  • Go for it, if you want work in the field or profession implied by specific degrees and credentials.
  • If you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself into one field, let your name stand on its own.
  • By all means include the credentials and degrees elsewhere in your resume, for credentials lend credibility (both from the Latin word “credere” meaning “to believe”).

DEGREES

If you are looking for work in a specific field, you want to be defined by your degree or training. The most common letters after people’s names are PhD,  MD, JD/LLD, MSW/DSW, RN, MPH (Master of Public Health), MFA (Master of Fine Art), MEd (Master of Education), PsyD (psychologist), MVDr (veterinary medicine), DO (osteopath), DC (chiropractor), EdD, PharmD (pharmacist), DDiv (Doctor of Divinity), MPA (Public Administration), and DDS/DMD (dentist).

As you can see by this list, most letters indicate the person’s choice of profession. Using letters after your name on your resume is a shorthand way to tell the job market that you looking for jobs in your profession or want to use the specific skills mastered through training in that profession. They tell people that you have those professional skills, and are dedicated to your field. For example,

  • A self-labeled MSW most often wants a social work job, and probably won’t be considered for other positions.
  • A PhD is going only for jobs that require a PhD – or will risk looking overqualified.
  • An RN is probably seeking a nursing position or a position using the RN skills and tool kit.

Doctors and lawyers are slightly different animals, but the same principle applies.  A lawyer will usually put JD, LLD or Esq. after their names, even if they are looking for work outside the law, because it is such a big part of their work persona and tool kit.  Similarly, it is very rare for a medical doctor to omit the MD, DO or DC from after their names. Those letters convey a volume of information about a person’s training, vocation, attitude, and worldview. Of course, if you want to leave the field of medicine or law to start something else, it is wise to omit the defining credential letters to preclude people assuming you want to use those skills.

You may have noticed that the degree “Master of Business Administration” is missing from the list above. It’s very unusual to see the letters MBA after someone’s name.  I’m not quite sure why, except to say that the training for MBAs is far more diverse and far-ranging than any other professional training. Seeing “MBA” doesn’t really tell anyone that you know very much about any one aspect of business. It makes more sense when you can say “MBA in Leadership” (as I have), “MBA in Accounting,” “MBA in International Trade” or another specialty.

How do you let employers know you have an MBA? Put it in the education section of your resume and LinkedIn profile, and definitely mention it in your cover letter. (Remember to always include a cover letter.)  The letters MBA will be found by search engines. Putting that in your education section gives people a reason to scroll down, which makes them glance at your experience, too.

CERTIFICATIONS

Certifications provide another shortcut for indicating the kind of jobs you want. Some credentials are important enough that you could easily put them after your name, under the assumption that you want to use that knowledge and skill in your next position.  Examples are CPA (Certified Public Accountant), CFP (Certified Financial Planner), CFRE (Certified Fundraising Professional), and MSCE (Microsoft Certified Professional).

Take CPA for example. If you say you are a CPA, I assume you want an accounting or financial management job that requires that kind of training – or I’ll want to ask you to do those things for me. If you don’t want to do CPA work, don’t put the initials after your name.

People have asked me if they should put PMP after their name after earning the Project Management Professional credential. Absolutely yes, if what you want is a project management job.  If you want more options, then include the PMP in your resume and on LinkedIn, but don’t put it after your name.  You will be pigeon-holed otherwise as solely a Project Manager.

There are exceptions to this, of course.  If you want to do project management exclusively, then definitely list PMP.  If you have a special license, you can put that after your name – if you are looking for work in that field. For one thing, people outside the field won’t understand the initials.  Here are a couple of examples:

  • Registered Dietitians looking for work in that field would put “RD” after their name. Does anyone outside of food service know what “RD” means, though?
  • PA can mean Physician Assistant or Production Assistant or Personal Assistant. It depends on the context to convey what you mean.

What do you do with your certification if you don’t put the letters after your name? Two options:

  • LinkedIn now has a “Certifications” section for your profile. You also can add special certifications to the “Specialties” section on your LinkedIn profile summary.
  • Have a “CERTIFICATIONS” section on your resume.  This makes clear that your degree, licensure or certification is one of your qualifications, rather than the defining one.
  • I’ve also seen people put degrees on their business cards when networking.  This makes a certain sense because you only have this small piece of paper on which to make critical points.  It’s the only place I’ve seen “NAME NAME, MBA” where it’s looked normal and not cringe-inducing.

Do you have any other ideas about how to draw attention to your credentials?