Is ‘Al­pha­bet Soup’ Brand­ing Hurt­ing Your Cred­i­bil­ity?


I’m at a ca­reer cross­roads and I’m won­der­ing about my brand­ing. I’m talk­ing specif­i­cally about the way I de­scribe my­self on my LinkedIn pro­file.

I have seven im­por­tant in­dus­try cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and I list the ini­tials as­so­ci­ated with each one on my LinkedIn pro­file, right af­ter my name.

Re­cently a re­cruiter told me that he had sent the link to my LinkedIn pro­file to a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive who is look­ing for a Di­rec­tor of Qual­ity, a po­si­tion I’m per­fect for.

The VP told the head­hunter that the long list of ini­tials af­ter my name was a turn-off. “I need some­one to lead a large team, not some­one to work in the weeds,” the VP re­port­edly told the re­cruiter.

The VP thought that my “al­pha­bet soup brand­ing” as he called it was a mark that I’m more in­ter­ested in the tech­ni­cal how-to aspects of Qual­ity than the lead­er­ship side. I don’t think that’s a fair as­sess­ment.

I was shocked by the VP’s re­ac­tion, re­layed to me through my re­cruiter. I’ve al­ways heard that the best way to rep­re­sent my­self is to list my cer­ti­fi­ca­tions right af­ter my name in my LinkedIn pro­file.

Has that stan­dard changed? I would love your opin­ion. Thanks, Dear Mar­cella, We must get out of the mind­set that there is one way to brand your­self. Your ques­tion “Has that stan­dard changed?” is alarm­ing, be­cause there never was a stan­dard way to brand your­self.

There has never been a law or a stan­dard about how to de­scribe your back­ground or let peo­ple know about your qual­i­fi­ca­tions — in­dus­try cer­ti­fi­ca­tions in­cluded.

Per­sonal taste is the de­ter­min­ing fac­tor in de­cid­ing how to brand your­self, and that makes sense be­cause per­sonal brand­ing is a highly per­sonal topic.

One reader might love your LinkedIn head­line and an­other might hate it. As long as you are reach­ing the peo­ple you want to reach with the mes­sage you want to send them, who cares what any­one else thinks?

The re­cruiter had an im­por­tant mes­sage for you, how­ever. I can em­pathize with the VP who was scared off by your “al­pha­bet soup” brand­ing.

You have nu­mer­ous hard-won in­dus­try cer­ti­fi­ca­tions, it’s true — but do those ini­tials de­serve top billing, in the same space with your name? I’d say no, not un­less your brand is “Look at all the cer­ti­fi­ca­tions I’ve col­lected!”

Some peo­ple col­lect cer­ti­fi­ca­tions the way an­other per­son might col­lect Hello Kitty plush toys. A long list of cer­ti­fi­ca­tions does in­deed sig­nal “in the weeds” to a lot of read­ers, and who can blame them? The first way any out­sider sees you is the way you’ve taught them to see you, be­cause of the way you con­structed your brand.

The VP has a good point. When some­body is look­ing to fill a high-al­ti­tude po­si­tion like a Di­rec­tor of Qual­ity, they are look­ing for can­di­dates whose brand­ing re­flects their strate­gic and lead­er­ship abil­i­ties, not their func­tional/tech­ni­cal ar­eas of ex­per­tise.

In the same way that I wouldn’t hire a per­son whose re­sume screams “I’m a Word­Press ninja!” to be my VP of Mar­ket­ing, I wouldn’t be likely to hire a highly-cer­ti­fied Qual­ity spe­cial­ist for a Di­rec­tor of Qual­ity job.

If you want more se­nior-level jobs, it’s ap­pro­pri­ate to brand your­self for those roles by em­pha­siz­ing your lead­er­ship per­sona over the mes­sage “I know all the lat­est Qual­ity tech­niques and how to de­ploy them!”

I have hired scads of CFOs, and al­most all of them have an MBA, a CPA or both. Those lead­ers don’t list the ini­tials MBA or CPA in the “name” field on their LinkedIn pro­file. You can un­der­stand why.

When we see the ini­tials “MBA” next to a LinkedIn user’s name, our first thought is “This per­son just grad­u­ated with his or her MBA and wants to let us know about it – that’s sweet.”

We ex­pect to keep read­ing the LinkedIn user’s pro­file to learn that he or she grad­u­ated from B-school within the past year or two. Af­ter that, the ini­tials “MBA” should come out of the “name” field. Those ini­tials are not your call­ing card. Your story is your brand!

CPA is a des­ig­na­tion that one main­tains and we ex­pect see the ini­tials “CPA” in the “name” field of a LinkedIn user’s pro­file, but only if he or she is work­ing as an ac­coun­tant or man­ag­ing ac­coun­tants (or look­ing to do so) now.

By the time a per­son with a CPA be­comes a CFO, we ex­pect the ini­tials “CPA” to drop out of his or her top­most brand­ing.

Al­most ev­ery field has cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and ini­tials to be­stow on peo­ple. It’s great to list your cer­ti­fi­ca­tions in the body of your LinkedIn pro­file (where there is a whole sec­tion avail­able for you to pop­u­late with the ini­tials you have earned) but the re­cruiter’s ad­vice is sound — the more ini­tials found in the “name” field of your LinkedIn pro­file, typ­i­cally the less se­nior a can­di­date you are.

A long list of cer­ti­fi­ca­tions af­ter your name tends to send the less-thanlofty mes­sage “Look how many merit badges I’ve earned in Scout­ing!”

We cre­ate ex­ec­u­tive re­sumes in our busi­ness and I will tell you what we tell our clients: the more se­nior you are, the less you have to say about your­self. Any per­son with a VP-level ti­tle can and should de­scribe his or her back­ground in one page of text, or less.

The more we feel the need to ex­plain, jus­tify and im­press, the less im­pres­sive we are.

If you’re shoot­ing for Di­rec­tor­level jobs, get those ini­tials out of the “name” field in your LinkedIn pro­file and list them where they be­long, down in the body of your pro­file page.

You are not a func­tional Qual­ity wizard any­more — you’re a leader and a strate­gist. Come up to al­ti­tude and en­joy the view! All the best, Liz

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