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When putting credentials after your name on your resume works (and when it makes you look like a jerk)

How to put credentials on your resume

I’ve worked with people on both sides of the fence: those who want to put initials for every certification they’ve even taken next to their name and those who prefer not to include any, even their PhDs. While some preferences are industry-specific, there is one universal rule to guide you:

  • You can put terminal degrees in your field next to your name and in your Education & Credentials section.
  • Most designations that are not a terminal degree or certification should only be included in your Education & Credentials section.

What is a terminal degree?

Think of a PhD. It’s the highest designation you’ll receive in many fields. It takes many years to achieve and indicates the holder as a subject matter expert. However, different areas have different “ultimate” requirements that take a lot of time and effort to achieve. For example, in business, an MBA is generally the pinnacle of study. Yes, you can get a PhD in business if you’re a business researcher, but for most commercial applications, an MBA is preferred. The same goes for fine arts. Yes, PhDs are available, but most organizations prefer the MFA. Therefore, you can put “MBA” or “MFA” next to your name without worry.

In project management, PMP is the ultimate credential, so you can put it next to your name.

In accounting, CPA is the top designation, so you can put it next to your name.

These are a few black-and-white examples of what can go next to your name, but what about emerging areas like cybersecurity? In this field, CISSP is recognized as the highest credential, and most people take five years to earn it. Therefore, it can go next to your name.

Credentials that only belong in your Education and Credentials section.

If there are higher industry credentials than the one you hold, relegate those initials to your Education & Credentials section. Examples of this are master’s degrees (MA, MS, etc.) and certifications like CompTIA A+, CCT, CCNA, and MTA.

I mentioned that some industries prefer not to include initials next to the name on a resume. One such industry is law. Most lawyers prefer not to include “Esq.” or “JD” next to their name, as it comes off as pretentious.

How to decide

Certifications like CSM (Certified Scrum Master) and degrees like MPH (Master of Public Health) are gray areas where you’ll have to use discretion. Remember, your resume is a marketing document, so you want to give yourself an edge by presenting your credentials. However, if you come off as too ostentatious, you may get the door slammed in your face before you can even put a foot in. If you have a certification or degree that you’d like to mention, but you feel it’s better not to include the initials next to your name, you can mention it in your power statement instead, which should come right after your header.

A final tip: when reviewing your resume, ask yourself, “Is this a person I would like to work with? Why or why not?” Then, adjust accordingly.

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