Thoughts on credentials

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about credentials. For the first few years after I started working full-time in a new field, I was relishing *just* working. I finally had some semblance of work-life balance and had no reason to consider building up my credentials. My existing credentials had gotten me in the door and then the quality of my work itself was good enough to not just keep me there, but to get me promoted a couple of times early on.

But it’s not just that I was fine leaving well enough alone. I also had a certain, well, attitude about it. I refused to consider another degree or a certification. I felt strongly I had already done more than my fair share of time as a student.

Once I started my new higher ed career, I regretted some of the opportunity cost of wasting spending so much time in grad school. It often feels like once you start working, nobody cares about your degree; they only want to see what you can do and what you get done on the job. So I started to conclude that all that time languishing semi-aimlessly in grad school would have gotten me further along into figuring out a career (not to mention financially) by just settling down and working.

And then there were personal reasons for me to protect the work-life balance that I held so dear. I was trying to balance full-time work with raising two small children, chores, and even (GASP!) occasionally making time for myself. And my partner was carrying his more-than-fair share of the household workload, because although adjuncting wasn’t part-time in terms of the hours, it did allow him the flexibility to be home way more than I could be. So the last thing I needed was anything that I wasn’t seriously vested in.

But every once in awhile I would find it necessary to consider whether another credential would help open up doors in terms of job prospects and advancement. Industry-specific certifications can attest to one’s knowledge and signal one’s commitment to the field. But in the field in which I work, the only available certification is pretty new and seen as an *alternative* to a grad degree in the field, a way for existing practitioners to certify that they are qualified for the line of work they’re already in. Nevertheless, the idea of another grad degree (on top of the MA & nearly-PhD I already had) was a deal-breaker. I would have to either go to classes during the workday, so I’d be coming home even later, because, as the primary bread-winner and the only source of benefits for our family of 4, there was no way I could back off of full-time. Or I could do sleep through night classes, comatose from starting my day super early with a baby and young toddler at home, then working 8 hours. Either way, I would be seeing my adorable family even less. So that was out. Sure, there’s online programs, but none in my field where I work, and paying the online program tuition even as an out-of-state student at a public university was beyond my means.

So I was back to considering the certification, again and again. Every time I circled the idea, I backed away from it. As I mentioned, it’s pretty new to the field, and more importantly, its value is not quite accepted or recognized within higher ed as in corporate. It took tons of digging to find any other practitioners *in higher ed* that held the certificate. And let’s be real: there’s a lot behind that. After all, academia is ALL ABOUT the academic degree, and rightly so. Even within higher ed, there’s a certain, well, snobbery about “newer” degrees because the fields are not yet proven. (I’m looking at you, educational technology, but even old school faculty would set way lower of a bar, throwing shade at Master’s of Liberal Arts or Leadership, and so on). Point being: if it ain’t a degree…and a degree in a real field, many academics aren’t going to care. So I let the idea of the certification go.

But here’s the thing that keeps me struggling with what to do about this. I work in a job title that, when you read the job description, the min/desired qualifications almost invariably require a degree in one of two fields, neither of which I have. And so I feel like I could be at a disadvantage when I compete for openings in other departments or even beyond this particular university, because I have to get past the “…or equivalent” phrase in a job ad, making me at the mercy of an HR person’s interpretation or an algorithm. And I don’t mean to diss HR, but in my experience, HR often doesn’t know what to “do” with an academic with a degree in the humanities, since that doesn’t feed directly into any particular career path.

One of the degrees is offered at the university at which I work, but I truly couldn’t feign a single ounce of interest in studying it academically, nevermind sinking a minimum of 2 years into it. And so when I talk to more senior coaches and respected colleagues and share my dilemma and concerns about whether I realistically need to do *something* more (i.e., degree or certification) to continue to grow and advance in my career, they invariably say: scrap that idea; your experience and expertise alone is enough. I get that from having worked – that workplaces value work products and years in the field more than the degree, but realistically, I just don’t know that the advice bears out when tested. I’m not getting any nibbles when I apply for more senior positions and I have to wonder if it’s simply because my resume isn’t moving past the initial screening.

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