Do letters and designations after your name improve your ability to sell or do work?

I work in an industry full of letters after names that seemingly indicate professional achievement.  MBA, CCIM, MCR, PMP, LEED AP, CSCP, CFPIM, SIOR, PE, AIA, MBE, CAS…and this is just from browsing my LinkedIn contacts.  There are several types of people when it comes to abbreviations:

  1. Those that worked extremely hard for their designation, use it as part of their job and work to continue growing within their area.
  2. Those that achieved it because it was expected and it is good marketing for clients.
  3. Those that achieve it because having letters could earn them more money.
  4. Those that have earned letters or designations but you would never know it.

There is nothing good or bad about any of the above types of people.  There are lots of motivations to do things in this world and rarely do people fit cleanly into a single category.  But the question should be asked – what value should be placed on those letters after someone’s name?

Ultimately letters and designations are marketing.  They are saying that I’m in this industry and have proven to someone else that I know about a subject.  Often this includes continuing education to maintain a certain level of knowledge.  As a measuring stick this at least shows that someone is active within their industry and good at documenting the classes and seminars they attend.

Since it is marketing, it also means that it is up to all of us to judge whether it is good or bad marketing.  Someone with designations that can’t back it up may have a hard time backing up the other things that they say they can do.  Therefore the letters provide an easy means of testing someone’s base capabilities and integrity.  Learning more about their motivations and involvement is a pretty decent soft interview method.

But at the end of the day the letters and designations simply tell the world that the person has achieved a certain designation and they want you to be aware of it.  It shouldn’t mean anything beyond that.  MBAs do not necessarily know business administration better than someone that has done it for 15 years.  LEED APs may be better at acheiving LEED certification for a building but they may not be able to achieve a more sustainable design than someone with an architecture background that does green as a passion.

And who knows maybe the guy in the next seat with no designations has actually earned them all and just doesn’t want to have them after his name.  Are you going to hold that against him?

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