Alphabet Soup: The Letters That Follow Your Name

When you receive a business card from a professional with letters after their name, what do you think of?Notorious billionaire Thurston Howell III, famous character on TV sitcom gilligan’s island, who is not sophisticated, complaining, pretentious, lazy? Or, want customer service, dedicated, educated professionals who get the job done right the first time and earn your praise and smile? The letters after the name have meaning. They should be a prerequisite when choosing your next major.

the difference is in the details

The letters that follow the name are officially known as “post-noun letters”. They can be obtained through many achievements. Letters may be earned through academic education, certification, accreditation, designation and/or recognition. While the outcome is the same—professionals can add some letters to the end of their name—the prestige of achievement is different. There are distinct levels of achievement above the rest. To put it bluntly, some letters are more important than others.

Academic Education – While students should take great pride in earning a certificate degree, associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree, these degrees do not qualify for a student’s post-nomination letter. Obtaining a graduate degree, whether a master’s or a doctorate, is considered the highest and most prestigious level of professional achievement; therefore, it not only bears a letter, but is the most prestigious of all letters. Usually, if someone has a master’s and a doctorate in the same discipline, they will only show the highest level achieved. Therefore, when Mr. Makyo Feelgood received his BA in Finance, he was still “Mr. Makyo Feelgood”. He became “Mr. Makyo Feelgood, MBA” when he went on to study for a Master of Business Administration (MBA). And, when he reached his pinnacle in academia by earning a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), he not only replaced his post-nominal letter (DBA replaced MBA); however, we called him “Dr.” Hence, “Dr. Makyo Feelgood, DBA”. Interestingly, when the disciplines are different, both are listed. So, if he didn’t get a DBA and got a PhD in economics, he’d be “Dr. Makyo Feelgood, Ph.D., MBA.”

Accreditation and Certification – Generally speaking, these two mean the same thing. Typically, a training or education program is “accredited” by an external government or accreditation agency, and those who complete the program are then “certified.” While not as prestigious as academic education, certification programs require professionals to have years of professional experience, pass comprehensive tests, and complete continuing education to maintain their certification.

Designation – While training is part of earning the designation, and sometimes even passing a comprehensive test, the designation program does not require testing, nor does continuing education or experience. Therefore, it is a credible achievement; however, a lower level than recognition or certification.

Recognition – Still worthy of a post-nominal letter, recognition is the least prestigious of the four categories. It can be earned through training or simply by reaching career milestones that others in the same profession often cannot. Therefore, testing, experience and continuing education are not involved.

order means everything

When a professional acquires more than one set of nominal suffix letters, it is appropriate to display each set of letters after their name. This is in descending order, with the most prestigious letter first (closest to the name), then the comma, then the next set of letters, and so on. So when Snoopy gets his PhD in engineering, he becomes “Joe Cool, PhD.” When he passed the first set of exams on his way to becoming a Professional Engineer (PE), he was called an Engineer in Training (EIT) and became “Joe Cool, PhD, EIT”. Finally, when Snoopy went back to school to sharpen his design skills and eventually earn a Master of Architecture (M Arch), he became “Joe Cool, PhD, M Arch, EIT”. It is important to note that the titular letters of the positions do not appear in the chronological order in which they were earned; however, in order of achievement importance.

Once earned, professionals have the right to use all letters for each achievement earned, as long as they maintain licensure, continuing education, or other requirements for achievement. That said, under normal circumstances, more than three sets of letters are rarely displayed at the same time. Typically, professionals drop the lowest prestige achievement to show three or fewer.In some cases, it may be appropriate to present all of a professional’s accomplishments (more than three) in a later nomination letter; for example: when awarding an award, when mentoring or teaching a related topic, or in other exceptional circumstances (eg: when writing about letter after name as the author found here). However, achievements should always be shown on a resume, even if not used after the professional’s name.

impact on you

liar and want to be Can bring down the reputation of any industry. True professionals consider their profession honorable, take pride in their knowledge of the latest best practices, and maintain a high level of continuing education, as represented by the post nomination letter.

Don’t be a victim. Choose from designers, contractors, real estate agents, bankers, accountants and lawyers, or any other professional who takes their profession seriously by staying at the top of their field. A professional may cost more to hire upfront, or may ask you to wait longer to begin your project; but in the end, will serve you better.

The letters after the name have meaning. look for them. get to know them. Only hire those who earn them.

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