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