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The Question:

I have had a lot of formal education, including two masters degrees and several professional designations. During my normal day-to-day correspondence, I don't draw attention to my education – for example, my e-mail auto signature only has my job title in it. On occasion, especially when dealing with customers overseas, I will list all of my qualifications in order to give them assurance about the honesty and integrity of the people with whom they are dealing. The result is that there tends to be a bit of an "alphabet soup" after my name.

Some people have told me that it is not necessary to list having a BA when you also list a masters degree. In other words, you should only show your highest degree. Other people have told me that all degrees should be listed, in the order they were achieved. Still another school of thought is that you don't mix formal educational degrees with other designations.

What is the proper protocol in this matter? I'm proud of my educational achievements, but I also don't want to come across as ostentatious.

The Answer:

I am afraid I have conflicting advice to add to your repertoire of opinions on this matter. There is no absolute correct answer but, you are right, perception is important.

As someone who regularly reviews résumés, the "alphabet soup" (as you called it) always draws my attention, and not always in the most positive way. As with résumés, only the best material should be showcased. And sometimes it can be seen as compensating for lack of experience. As in "I have limited work experience, but I have 20 years of full time postsecondary education."

If you need to truncate the letters, here are a couple of rules I recommend:

List only relevant degrees/diplomas/designations. If you obtained an accounting designation and now you work in health and safety, indicate the health and safety credentials.

List the highest degree. If you have a masters degree in biochemical engineering, it is safe to say that people will assume you earned the bachelors' degree necessary to get into graduate school.

List letters that make sense to people. If I need to look it up, then it really does not make much sense to list it, especially if it is some obscure degree or diploma from a non-credentialed university or college, or something from overseas that is not recognized in Canada.

List only official abbreviations. You may have a diploma in corporate communications (as I do) but that does not mean you put DCC after your name. Make sure whatever you list is the correct abbreviation and is somewhat widely known within your industry.

Your signature on your e-mails, as well as the headline of your résumé should provide credibility as applicable. You certainly do not want to minimize your education and professional designations. Rather, you want to acknowledge them in a way that enhances your achievements rather than detracts from them.

Eileen Dooley is a certified coach and lead consultant for McRae Inc. in Calgary.

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