Expertise and Credentials: When Different is Good
Expertise and Credentials: When Different is Good

Have you ever considered applying for a job or promotion, but thought the better of it because your qualifications and/or experience were different than what the employer was asking for in the job posting?

different type of applicantA recent experience was a vivid reminder of how, when applying for certain jobs, we should apply even when our credentials are different than what is ‘required.’ Sometimes employers are not aware of alternative ways that candidates can be qualified to fill a particular role. When presented with unexpected, but appropriate qualifications, education, and skills a well-written cover letter or a simple conversation can prevent a strong candidate from being screened out.

Sometimes, different is better

Over the years, several people have asked me why I don’t have a coaching certificate offered by the International Coach Federation (ICF), the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) certificate, or one of the others. I always enjoy answering those questions. On the one hand, it’s smart that organizations and consumers are starting to insist on certain credentials. The Business, Life, and Career Coaching industries are unregulated so it’s helpful that some minimum standards are being imposed. The problem is that these minimum standards don’t always match up with the needs of people who are searching for services. There are times when people can qualify for a certificate yet still not offer an effective service to their clients. Moreover, there are times when a different foundation is an even better match for a client’s needs.

So, here’s why my qualifications are different from most Career Coaches (and HR Consultants). Several years ago, I made the strategic decision to continue to base my professional services on my PhD in Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology, commonly known as Work or Business Psychology. I know that it’s a clunky title, but when you scratch the surface and consider the implications of my degrees and 20 years of experience, there’s plenty of depth and versatility there that suits my clients’ needs and interests.

So, back to my story. I was approached by a company based in another country that provides specialized telehealth services to clients via computers and/or mobile devices. This is a modern business model that’s growing in popularity. They are expanding into Canada and wanted to have a local Career Coach to provide services to its clients. In principle, I was very much interested.

different can be better

This company was searching for Career Coaches who were qualified, so they wanted to find someone who was ‘certified’ since that was their proxy for competence. That made good sense. They started the conversation by insisting on a popular coaching designation. I explained my alternative designations and the rationale for them. I clarified that although my qualifications (a PhD in Psychology and registration in a professional College) don’t match their expectations, my credentials and expertise are actually harder to acquire. More importantly, I achieve desirable results when working with my clients. I also explained what it means to be a member of a professional College and the implications in terms of liability and accountability (plus coverage by insurance under certain circumstances).


Would you ask a physician if they have their first aid certificate?

If you’re curious about how my story ends, the company has now re-evaluated, and they want to bring me on board. Assuming it all works out, I’ll be making announcements in the future.

So, I’m sharing this recent experience for two reasons. First, sometimes when you apply for a position your credentials may be different from what’s expected but that doesn’t mean that the story must end there. Sometimes, different is better.

If your unique background is truly a good fit for an employer’s needs, you should make your case. For example, imagine that a university was looking for a professor to teach creative writing to a first-year English class. All the typical applicants with PhDs may have studied all the great works and many will have published academic articles. In practice, however, are they the best choices to instruct on how to be an effective creative writer?

What about a successful novelist with over 10 books published who has offered writing workshops – but has not earned a PhD? If I was a creative writing student, I suspect that I’d prefer to learn from someone who has done what I aspire to do.

being different can make you stand outTo me, the screening out of a potential candidate because their qualifications did not match up with the anticipated requirements can be problematic and short-sighted. In this example, students would probably learn more from a successful writer who has applied their talent rather than one who is well-read on the subject but has no relevant applied or lived experience. If that writer said to me “I’m not sure I should apply for that instructor position …” I would definitely encourage them to apply.

Second, if you don’t make your case, you’ll never know what could have been possible … and there’s not much to lose by explaining how your alternative qualifications meet an employer’s needs. If the novelist doesn’t approach the university to express their interest, it’s a missed opportunity for the novelist, the students, and the university.

Many business owners, hiring managers, and HR personnel are in the habit of looking for the same types of candidates that they have always hired. In many situations, that’s a reasonable starting point, but it’s also very limited. I’ll also say that when strong candidates who are ‘uniquely qualified’ never present themselves, to some extent, they share some blame for restricting their own opportunities.

I hope this blog highlights how I am different from 98% of other Career Coaches (and HR Consultants) but it should also show how I’m uniquely qualified to help others who have atypical qualifications. Sometimes, different is good … and taking a different approach with me might be the answer you’ve been searching for.

Note – While I stand behind the arguments made in this blog, I fully understand that there are some situations where being ‘uniquely qualified’ isn’t adequate because of laws and/or regulations that govern specific professions (e.g., many health-related occupations, law, engineering, teaching, etc.)


Do you need help navigating the world of work? Contact Dr. Helen today for a free and confidential initial consultation by phoneemail, or via direct message on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. If something urgent comes up, I’m also available by a voice or video on Magnifi, an expertise-on-demand app.

Have you ever wished you could get inside the head of a hiring manager? You can. Dr. Helen Ofosu is a Career Coach/Counsellor with a difference. She has worked for organizations to create hiring and screening tools. She’s created countless pre-screening tests, interviews, simulations, and role plays for organizations of all kinds.

Dr. Helen’s training in Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology means she is a genuine expert in evaluating work-related behaviours. She uses those skills to help hiring managers tell the difference between people who say the right things during interviews and people who actually deliver on the job. In other words, Dr. Helen understands first-hand how job candidates are assessed.


More than career coaching, it’s career psychology®.


I/O Advisory Services – Building Resilient Careers and Organizations.


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