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What Value Is A Piece Of Paper?

There’s a rather lively conversation taking place at Olivier Blanchard’s The BrandBuilder blog about social media “certification” being promoted by the International Social Media Association (ISMA). I put certification in quotations because I question the very idea of whatever this organization is pushing as true certification. I’ve been on the professional association side of things and know how much work goes into developing a certification program, the standards and oversight needed to make it truly legitimate. (If you’re curious about what basics go into developing and maintaining a recognized certification program, here’s a terrific article from the American Society of Association Executives.) Once completing the program, you may receive a certificate, but it is not certification and there’s a huge difference. I understand the proposed value and rationale for a certification program as a ward against snake oil salesmen but based on the site’s info, I wonder about the true purpose of the ISMA’s program.

But lest I go into a more focused rant against ISMA, I actually want to address a tangential issue that arose from Olivier’s post. It has to do with the value of the diplomas and true certifications we earned. Think about the Bachelor’s and other post-graduate degrees you hold as well as the professional certifications necessary to practice your craft. Maybe it was an advanced engineering degree earned from a large university twenty years ago. Or perhaps it was a general liberal arts degree from a small college last year. What is it’s value to you today? If you’re thinking it has little or no value, I’d encourage you to think again. Even if you’re not actually using that degree today, I wager it has had some impact on the way you view the world.

My personal example (and yes, your mileage may vary) is that I went to a small liberal arts school and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in history. If you know my profile and background, you’ll notice that I haven’t spent any professional time working in museums, teaching history or any other historical-related efforts. Yet, what I learned through my history major has impacted how I view the world around me. I see cause-and-effect differently; I seek out root causes for incidents; I believe there are multiple viewpoints to explore for any event. So while I’m not a practicing historian, I do see and think about my world through the lens of a historian. And that is what adds to my unique value as a professional no matter what I choose to do in my career. Now I’m working on a Master’s degree in Business Anthropology and that further adds to my specialized approach to working with clients.

Try to think about that diploma differently. Don’t disregard or undervalue the learning that you’ve gathered over the years regardless of how detached it may seem to the work you’re doing right now. That academic learning coupled with your experiential learning makes you the unique and highly valuable professional you are today.

Are you doing something different in your career than your undergrad or post-grad prepared you for? More than likely you are…if so, how do you think your academic learning has influenced your professional work? Love to hear your own stories.

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