Profesional Certification: Do you need more letters after your name?

letters-jumbleBy Kathleen Iverson

Once you complete your M.A. in Training & Development, it’s time to decide whether to pursue additional training or education. Most agree that it is important to continue learning after graduation to stay current with developments in research and technology. Many graduates seek professional certification to enhance their resumes. Profession certifications are universally recognized designations that communicate the mastery of a specific skill set. Most consist of lengthy knowledge tests and either portfolio or work projects that demonstrate expertise. Professional certifications may include continuing education credit, but typically do not include college credit that can be applied to a degree.

Kathy Iverson is an associate professor in Roosevelt University's Training and Development graduate program. She teaches organization development, cultural diversity, research methodology, training foundations, consulting, and evaluation.

Kathy Iverson is an associate professor in Roosevelt University’s Training and Development graduate program. She teaches organization development, cultural diversity, research methodology, training foundations, consulting, and evaluation.

The most widely recognized certification in the field of training is the CPLP or Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (see a previous post on this topic) from the American Society of Training & Development. To receive the certificate (and a lapel pin) you need to sit for a lengthy knowledge test and submit a work sample.  MATD graduates pursue this certification after locating a job in the field and completing a study session. How beneficial is this CPLP? In a quick search of the ASTD job bank, I located more than 100 jobs with the word “training” in the search, and of those, 25 mentioned the CPLP designation.

Although training is much different from the hiring, firing, benefits and salary administration of HR, many training professionals work within the human resource division. If you plan to branch out beyond training to HR, you might consider a certification from SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management) like the PHR (Professional in Human Resources) or SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources).

Depending on your career focus, there are specialized certifications that can be beneficial to you. Project Management is a desirable skill in today’s team-based and technical workplace. If you plan to specialize in project leadership or in project management training, you might consider a PMI certification. There are various levels of certification and most require additional training (beyond our Project Management for Trainers course).  If you plan to specialize in training technology, you might consider IT certification in the area that you will train. For example, if you are training Apple products, you might consider the Apple Certified Trainer Program or if you train Adobe products you can become an Adobe Certified Expert. If you have a background in information technology, the MCS, Microsoft Certified Trainer designation is in high demand. Finally, if you plan to focus your career in a particular industry you may consider a designation in hospital administration, real estate, or banking.

When talking about certification, it’s important to include a buyer beware caveat. Not all certifications are equally beneficial and some providers are charlatans. Before choosing a certification program, ensure that it is administered by a widely recognized association or organization (like ASTD, SHRM, or PMI) as opposed to an obscure provider that simply sounds official. For example, here is a coaching certificate that I am not familiar with. It’s from the Center for Coaching Certification and costs a whopping $1495.00. The website looks official, and there is an ICF (International Coach Foundation) logo, but note that this certification is not provided by the more widely recognized ICF.

Once you have the designations, the next issue is how you communicate them to potential employers.  Avoid the “alphabet soup” mentality of adding as many letters to your signature as you possibly can (*like my signature at the top of this article). You don’t want to sign every e-mail and letter as:

Sincerely, Jane Doe, M.A, CPLP, PHR, CAPM, MCS, etc. etc.  Instead, limit yourself to no more than two (three if you must) designations and include the remainder in your resume. Most signatures include only your highest degree (either M.A. or Ph.D.) but not your baccalaureate degree if you have not completed graduate school.

What are your plans for continuing education after you graduate? Is anyone planning to pursue the CPLP, additional degree programs, or even a doctoral program?


  • This is a helpful post. I have seen many instances where individuals have several credentials after their name and this clears up how to make it simple and professional! I may look into a SHRM certificate in the future.

  • I like this blog as I know several individuals what have many HR certifications and list PHR, SPHR, GPHR, SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP. As the blog states you should put your highest degree if any behind your name. There is no need to have your signature contain both PHR and SPHR as the SPHR is of a higher status.

    I also like how the blog mentions that not all certifications are beneficial. I’ve noticed there are many companies out there that are not very reputable with it comes to certifications. We all should be doing our homework to find out on these organizations as not all are equal or of value.

  • I found this incredibly helpful as I am graduating soon with my MAOD and was looking into options for further study or perhaps certifications. Since my future will will lean more heavily towards organization development than training and development I’m not entirely sure the CPLP is most applicable for me as it is my understanding it is not easily obtained. My hope is to go into Change Management consulting after I graduate.

    I have been looking into certifications on Leadership offered by NU. I also have been toying with the idea of pursuing an MBA from either NU or UC though those are not small commitments either and extremely expensive. All I know is I love pursuing higher education and hope I find reason to do more once I graduate and who really knows where my career will take me in time.

  • Pingback: Do The Letters After Your Name Really Matter? | Ernie's HR Project

  • Thanks for the information, I am currently looking into the PMI certification.

  • Kathy
    Thanks for the post. Great info. I am interested in the CPLP. IT seems like something that would fit into what I want to do with coaching/consulting. I am also pursuing right now, the ACC with ICF. I am building up my hours right now.

  • This is a great article. Definitely something to explore for myself. I am about to finish my MATD and balancing both work and school as been a challenge. I thought to myself: “finally a break.” However, I’m now reconsidering. I might still take at least 6 months but i think I will explore the CPLP one from ASTD. I want to make sure I’m always up to date in my field.

  • Very informative, thanks Kathy. The ASTD’s CPLP seems to be the most applicable to me. When I attended their event, I heard about the “Master Trainer” designation which seems like something for a more seasoned CPLP credentialee? I’ll have to read up on this. Fraser Smith

    • Hi Frasier:
      Although the Master Trainer content looks pretty similar to our 400, 411, and 451 classes, it does serve as a stepping stone toward the CPLP and is recommended for newcomers to the industry. Thanks for pointing this out!

      • Thanks Kathy,
        It sounds like we are well on our way with the amount of coursework we’ve done, we could gain experience and aim for the CPLP in time. It’s great that there is more and that the WLP profession and the broader T&D field is so active. Fraser

  • Hi Renie: I applaud your commitment to learning! Which certificate have you found most useful and valuable?

    • After the MA – which is SUCH an endeavor and accomplishment – I would say the CPLP has been both useful and valuable. It is a professional certification – another big endeavor! But, there are only 2000 ish CPLPs in the world now, so it is still rather in the early adoption stage. I have several Certificate classes from ASTD – Creating Leadership Development was really insightful and has been helpful. Thanks for asking!

  • Good information here, Kathy. My plan as a Global Learning Consultant has been to pick up a credential each year. This may be a Certification or a Certificate (Certificates tend to be courses, Certifications tend to be more involved with demonstrating skills learned). The CPLP is one of my credentials. The one I am working on now is a graduate Health Care Certificate in Gerontology. Companies now can be very choosy about the talent they hire – whether it is an internal position or an external consultant. When I started in the Learning and Performance (T&D) field 20 years ago, there weren’t formal programs to learn it. There were just workshops. Now it is credentials, credentials, credentials.

    Renie McClay, MA, CPLP

Please post a comment

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s