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Is Credentialing Necessary For a Successful Career?

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I recently received an e-mail from one of my clients, a piano teacher, who asked my opinion on the value of certifications. She was prompted to ask the question because she was feeling a bit uneasy about her lack of specialized credentials.

Her insecurities surfaced after reading some mean-spirited comments posted by other piano teachers on her LinkedIn group. Evidently, a new teacher had asked a question about setting rates and another member answered by referring to “part-time pseudo-teachers who think they’re qualified because they took a few piano lessons in their youth.”

By way of background, my client most definitely does not fall into the “pseudo-teacher” category. Although she does not hold an advanced degree in music, she studied classical music for 16 years and attended college as a Fine Arts major with a concentration in music. She has earned a great reputation among the parents in town and now has a backlog of students waiting to work with her.  She takes her job very seriously and her efforts have paid off nicely.

Nonetheless, without clear guidelines or regulations defining what constitutes “being a professional” in her field, my client is left to wonder if she should invest in training strictly to beef-up her resume, or if she would be better served to take classes more for enrichment, without a credential being the driving motivator.

It’s a great question; one that many professionals who work in unregulated professions (my own included) grapple with.  There is no shortage of schools and programs willing to take your money in exchange for an alphabet soup of credentials, but the question remains, is it a nice-to-have or a neccessity?

If you, like my client, find yourself wondering what type of training is really needed, these questions should help you to gain some clarity.  The first three address the rules, regulations and norms of your professions, so make sure you know the answers to those at a minimum:

What are the legal requirements of my professions?: This is a “must-answer” question. In certain fields, like medicine or law, you are legally required to obtain and maintain a professional license in order to practice. If you don’t have the license, you can’t practice, plain and simple. Know the licensing requirements and meet them, plain and simple.

Where will you practice? Requirements for licensing and certification vary depending upon State, specialty and workplace setting. Check your local state professional association to ensure you meet the appropriate standard for your locale.

What are the professional regulations?: Different professions have different regulations regarding the use of occupational titles. In many fields, you must pass rigorous training and testing before you have the right to call yourself a specific title. For example, in my profession, anyone can call themselves a “career coach” (much to my dismay) but the use of the title “career counselor” is more tightly regulated.  In the financial world, anyone can call themselves a financial coach, but only people who meet specific requirements, can call themselves a certified financial planner. From a career planning standpoint, you should first investigate the rules, and then decide which certifications are best for your situation.

What is the accepted professional norm? Here is where things get interesting. In many fields, an advanced degree is not officially mandated, but it is the norm.  For example, in corporate America, many top executives have an MBA or other advanced degree, even though it is not mandated by law. If the norm in your field is to hold a certain degree or certification, then you’ll likely need to invest in furthering your education.

What type of credentials do your clients want you to have? If you intend to go into private practice, it’s important to think about whether or not your clients place a value on credentials.  For example, a mom looking to hire a piano teacher for her young child is probably going to prefer a teacher with reasonable rates who relates well to children over an expensive teacher with a stern personality, who has an advanced degree.  On the other hand, a parent looking to hire a piano teacher to help their child gain entrance to The Julliard School will be more concerned with the teacher’s pedigree and training.

At the end of the day,after you’ve met the legal, professional and “unofficial” requirements of your profession, you want to invest in the training that distinguishes you from the competition in a meaningful way and provides you with the skills that enable you to deliver superior service. Get to know your market and their needs first, and then decide which credentials are most important to your target clientele.  Investing in education and credentials that matter to your clients (or employer) is the best way to get a strong return on your training dollars.

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