Mar 28, 2011

What is The Value of Paper Qualifications?

Unfortunately, that was not a rhetorical question.

It seems that in the process of moving house, I have managed to lose a box. In that missing box, there is a file. In that file, I have almost all my educational and professional qualifications.

That includes my O-levels; my A-levels; my university exam transcripts; my Dean's List certificates; my Postgraduate Practical Law Course certificate; my admission to the Supreme Court of Singapore; my Capital Markets & Financial Advisory Services certificates; my CCA certificates; and my certificates for having attended various short courses.

And also all the employment contracts and other documents which go towards establishing my job history over the past decade.

My wife and I spent five hours yesterday trying to find the damned file/box. My children helped too. To no avail. I suspect that the file might have been accidentally thrown away, during the unpacking process. Duh!

Now that the initial panic has died down, I am trying to think clearly.

In the worst case scenario, the file is gone for good. But I can try to write to the relevant organisations to get the replacements for at least some of the documents. And before that, I need to try to work out a list of all the missing documents.

As I am doing that, I start to realise that perhaps I've outgrown many of these documents. They may not serve any purpose any more.

Why would I need any of these documents? Really - only for three possible kinds of purposes.. The first purpose is an application for emigration. The second purpose is an application for further studies. The third purpose is HR verification, if I were to accept an offer for a new job.

I don't intend to do either of the first two things, anytime in the next five years. So there's no rush there. However, the third purpose is a possibility I can't ignore.

Yet I doubt that any prospective employer would be interested in my O-level or my A-level certificates. Certainly, my CCA certificates would be of zero interest to them. Certificates concerning short courses and seminars I've attended over the years would also be irrelevant for their purposes.

They probably do want to see my university degree (this document wasn't in the missing file, so I do have it). They will also want the formal proof that I'm an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore (I should be able to reapply to get this).

Once I get that proof, I probably don't need to show my Postgraduate Practical Law Course certificate. The PPLC certificate is really nothing but a stepping stone towards the advocate & solicitor status.

I would like to be able to show a new employer my "Dean's List for Academic Excellence" certificates. But perhaps that's just my vanity at work. With more than a decade of working experience, such certificates, at most, would be a small plus point. I could mention these achievements  in my resume, and if asked to show the documentary proof (and if I were not able to get the replacement documents), I could truthfully tell the HR department that I've lost the certificates. If necessary, I could give the HR department permission to contact NUS directly for verification.

I also lost my CMFAS certificates. I'm fairly sure that I could reapply for replacements. On the other hand, I don't intend to work in any job where these qualifications are a pre-requisite. They are, at best, little extra selling points about myself, not essential. Most people holding my current kind of job don't have CMFAS qualifications anyway.

In my missing file, I had a few testimonials. On the other hand, so what if I lose them and can't get the replacements? In the past 10 years, I've changed jobs several times and no one has ever asked to see any testimonials. A new employer would carry out its due diligence on me, but typically it would not rely on written testimonials.

Instead it would rely on its own network to informally contact my ex-bosses and ex-colleagues, to ask questions about me - whether I was reliable, smart, a team player etc. I would also provide a prospective employer with the names of persons that it could contact, to ask questions about me. That's how the industry typically operates.

It's also possible that I never change jobs again. I stay with my current employer for the next seven or eight years, and retire early (it is my ambition to retire early) and perhaps thereafter I may earn a small income trading stocks or via some kind of small, part-time business of my own. I wouldn't ever need to show any  educational or professional qualifications, to do that.

So what is the value of paper qualifications? Perhaps the most important purpose of a certificate is to help you get another certificate (for example, the PSLE cert helps you to get the O-level cert which helps you to get the A-level). At some point, however, the actual work experience outweighs the paper qualifications in significance, and then it seems that the certificates would cease to matter much.

Let me say that again, because the statement would probably surprise some Singaporeans. At some point, the certificates do cease to matter much.

A final tidbit for thought. The next time the PAP tries to portray a candidate as impressive and voteworthy because he was a scholar blah blah blah, do pause for a moment to reflect.

Should we really give a hoot about the guy's exam results and CCAs, from a long, long time ago when he was 18 years old? In Singapore, exams and CCAs are what makes a scholar, a scholar. Yet why should his certificates matter that much? Perhaps we should be scrutinising his real-world experience instead.


Anonymous said...

Talking about PAP candidates, they are achievers and high flyers in the public and private sector, some even at a very young age!
For instance PM Lee was already a 32 year old Brigadier General when he was first fielded in the 1984 election.

Now isn't that real world experience, and solid too?

How often do you see PAP field ordinary Joes or Janes as candidates? In fact there was only 1 non graduate among the current PAP MPs.

That may be one reason why majority of voters always support PAP.

Anonymous said...

@anon 28 Mar Want to guess where the acusations of not understanding the ground comes from?

Anonymous said...

@Anon 3:14 PM

And didn't you know? Senior Lee invented the President's Scholarship just in time for his son to win it! What a remarkable coincidence!

mjuse said...

assessing real world performance of scholars is one thing. the problem is when a scholar's pedigree itself makes the assessment a foregone conclusion.

the CEP itself is a raison d'etre for giving a good assessment of performance. Confirmation bias writ large.

the other issue is that scholars sometimes have their paths smoothed for them in a way that no other workers experience. better opportunities, more resources, even easier tasks that make it difficult to fail.

e.g. teaching scholars generally don't get sent to the most problematic schools with wayward kids and large class sizes. you would think that would be where the they could have the greatest impact.

Alvin said...

Hear, hear Mr. Wang.

I can attest to the truth of what you say in at least one discipline.

I used to work in 3D animation, my brother is an art director and my girlfriend is a designer. In the field of 3D animation and design - we can generalize to mean the creative graphic fields - a certificate is really not important and is the last thing a prospective employer wants to see.

What's more important instead is a designer's portfolio, which showcases their body of work. Having high marks from a prestigious university is a bonus for sure, but an employer in this field prefers to see the proof in the pudding - your portfolio - rather than a piece of paper - your cert.

Roy said...

I cannot help but laugh when people gets promoted to the rank of general without seeing actual combat. In war, when leaders die, I can understand why some young man gets drafted to the position of general at that age.

In time of peace, general at an age that is <40 is laughable, unless you led Desert Storm or the smaller military skirmish or at least participated in.

To become a general at 32 without seeing combat is just wrong, bacause at best you are very talented in writing papers and planning NDP - wrong skills-set for army! I saw the Straits Time state that an achievement of the out-going COA being managing the NDP. I just laughed so hard.

Even in the banking industry that is famous for fast tracked promotions, you dun see actual talented bankers who does actual banking - right alignment of skills and job - becoming the CEO at 32.

People who use the achievements of the Generals are just embarassing themselves and the generals. Tell that to the generals of other countries that my COA planned NDP and see their reaction. No really, tell any major of NATO forces serving in Libya that NDP and writing papers makes our officers Generals.

Anonymous said...

paper certificates will only get you a job

being private secretary, or even the wife of one, in the prime minister office will get you into parliament!!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it shd be:-
"Past Performance is not a guarantee of future success"

Anonymous said...

i always remember the newspaper hyped abt MBT has better O level result than CST.
After the defeat, he dare not even go back to contest Potong Pasir again..

Anonymous said...

I feel that both qualifications and experience are equally important.
As for qualification, the most importance is your highest level attained qualification.
Let's say, if your highest qualification is 'A' level, then PSLE and 'O' level are not that important and it is optional whether you want to mention them. It is because if a person has 'A' level, then logic and common sense tell us that the person should also have 'O' level and PSLE.

Anonymous said...

I recall my late father has three boxes of photographed certificates in 3R sizes. As a young boy I would look through those photographs in amazement at the multiple degrees he had. Now I do not even know where these three boxes are as they cease to matter anymore.

Anonymous said...

I like this article very much. Most part of the article seems innocent enough talking about educational and professional certificates. Then the knock-out punch came right at the end, telling us that when casting our votes come GE we should disregard the past achievements of the pigs from the pigs and piglets party.

Anonymous said...

Reputation is not based on what you say you will do in the future; it is based on what you have done in the past.

Anonymous said...

"Reputation is not based on what you say you will do in the future; it is based on what you have done in the past."
Anon March 29, 2011 10:34 AM

For PAP, the past is no cause for worry because the future has been assured.

Anonymous said...

LOL.For someone who played down the importance of "highfalutin certificates", he sure gave a very detailed account of his achievements.

Moral of the story: Losing it doesn't mean that you have lost it. And having it doesn't mean that it will mean much either.

Be real.

Anonymous said...

I think that one of Mr Wang's achievements must be his creativity. He draws on his personal events and experiences from everyday life, and turns them into political commentaries! This is a neat way of protecting himself from getting into trouble with the authorities (it is hard to imagine how the PAP could take action against him, over such posts, which read like an entry in a personal diary). Yet the political point is clear, and well-made.

Retired and Young said...

Paper qualificarions are useless unless you are a fresh grad. It is always your network, your backer or the secrets you know that will get you a nice overpaid position.

I mean Headhunters are willing to sleep with you if they know you got a high margin, hign churn portfolio of clients each with a pre sign letter of instructions to switch bank accounts to follow you.

End of the day you are nothing more than a pretty prostitute in the banks eyes. Private bankers who failed to realise that and fail to capitalise always end up the biggest loser in the end.

People who are hung up on paper qualifications usually end up driving a camry and struggling to finish their 30 year loan for their outback condos with their wives.

Value people for the benefits they bring you not how good they are in surviving a system not designed by them.

WingLeeCheong said...

As a retiree I firmly believe that having a tertiary education and other professional achievements is definitely an advantage getting into the job market, especially in Singapore. However, beyond that the playing field is more level, maybe not so much in Singapore but certainly in other 1st world countries.

There are ample examples of people who have highly recognized academic degrees but by the time they reach their mid life careers or retired, they were no better off than those who have lesser or no tertiary education. The bottom line is having people's skill play a much bigger role than just academic excellence. We should focus more on the quality of life than having tertiary education or not.

I was expelled from school but managed to enjoy my working life and retirement. I may be a nobody but certainly a happy and grateful somebody.

Many people will say that it is easier said than done to have a decent life without tertiary education. We must look beyond the Singapore government spin and heavy emphasis on academic education. You will be surprised that we are more capable than what the government portray us to be.

Anonymous said...

>>>Talking about PAP candidates, they are achievers and high flyers in the public and private sector, some even at a very young age!
For instance PM Lee was already a 32 year old Brigadier General when he was first fielded in the 1984 election.<<<

Poster at 2011 3:14 PM obviously has not heard of the White Horse system in the SAF where sons of high ranking/rich people are treated differently than the ordinary folk. A BG at 32 years old also casts a lot of questions about the SAF.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang, it is ironic that in the prior post you wrote on how a good resume can influence a job search and yet here you are stating that paper qualifications are somewhat over rated. The basis of a good resume is actually physical evidence to back the facts. And without those physical papers what good is a well written resume anyway? But your argument was well done. Not surprising since you are a good lawyer. It goes to show that sometimes it is not what is really true, but your perspective on it and how others view it or present it that matters more.
The next time someone writes something or says something, sit back and think what the writer or speaker's motivations and inspirations might be for doing so.

WingLeeCheong said...

A resume does not necessarily means a summary of one's academic achievements. What is more important is the writer's working experience and peers recognition. My resume has zero academic achievement because I have none. My resume was simply a summary of my work and projects backed by photos. For example, I built my own house that was highly rated without an architectural degree, my drawings were recognized although I have never attend or train by any art school. You are too brainwashed by Singapore government's complete emphasis on academic excellence.

mr wang said...

Yes, Wing Lee is right.

Paper qualifications are most important, when you've just left school (and have no work experience to speak of).

After that, the paper qualifications (relative to your work experience), steadily shrink in significance (unless you're working in the silly civil service of Singapore - but you see, the civil service doesn't function in the real world).

Further illustration. What are the biggest selling points in my own resume? Stated very simply, they would be:

(1) Very good experience across the Asia-ex-Japan region (I've worked on legal matters concerning Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, China, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea etc)

(2) Very good experience across four major asset classes in derivatives (rates, FX, credit & commodities).

Neither of the above is actually certifiable by a paper qualification. It's 100% work experience.

(May I add that when I was in law school, there wasn't a single subject or module about derivatives.

Nor did I take a single subject about the laws of Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, China, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea etc ... I am a Singapore-qualified lawyer, which means I studied mostly Singapore law).

So, this is how it goes -

in my resume, I mention the kind of work I've been doing. Prospective employers who are interested will ask me to come for an interview. There, they will ask further questions about what's stated in my resume, and this is how they verify my experience. They may also talk about legal issues in their own organisation, and how I would handle them. Also, they may ask questions about current legal issues in the industry, across Asia. Based on my answers, they can verify my claims of having particular sorts of knowledge, experience or skills.

Nothing to do with paper qualifications.

In my earlier post, I mentioned that it's important to update your resume regularly. I suggested that one should do it at least every six months. This should already show you that the emphasis is on work experience. No one acquires a new paper qualification every six months. But everyone can aim to acquire some new and useful work experience every six months. That's why the update is important.


I really don't know why my post seems to strike some people, as debatable.

What you need to do is think about how you yourself purchase goods and services.

If you wanted to buy a car, you would first take it for a test drive. (But you wouldn't ask to see the engineer's paper qualifications).

If you wanted to book a hotel for a wedding banquet, you would first go for a sample meal at the restaurant to try the food (you wouldn't ask to see the chef's paper qualifications).

If you wanted to renovate your house, you would ask the contractor/designer to show photos of other houses that he has worked on, or to produce sketches to show what he can do for your house (but you wouldn't ask to see the contractor's paper qualifications).

In other words, you would be interested in the actual work experience and ability. Not the paper qualifications.

That's pretty much how it goes too, as far as jobs are concerned. Companies want to employ people with the experience and skills to get the job done.

Paper qualifications matter much less, unless the role is for a young person who has just finished school and has little or no work experience to speak of, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Going by that argument, there is no real need for a "good resume" then. For the matter you can see why there are many cases of people with "great resumes" but turn out to be frauds.

Point taken. I agree that in life paper qualifications mean nothing until you prove your worth in the market place. But there has to be some system of checks and accountability.

Case in point, why don't we just hire doctors who say they are good doctors with lots of experience in third world countries without having them take any exams or assessments? Would you like to be treated by doctors in a system that allowed them to enter the profession?

There has to be some form of balance in all this. Talk is cheap. Perhaps a better system would be an extensive reference check. But even then you can have people pulling a fast one if they prepare their references beforehand and prepare deep enough.

So in essence what I am saying is that it is not that paper qualifications are everything nor is it worth nothing. And similarly experience and achievements in the real world can be everything but is not easy to verify without extensive research. The two go hand in hand.

Mr Wang's post came about because he lost his documents and he started to reflect upon it and justify to himself and in the process console himself on that loss. If he had not lost it, I doubt he would start to think that his file was not important at all.

No one in his right mind is going to throw away such a file anyway. So why is that? Of course it is important to have it. But it alone cannot be the end all and be all.

I hope that clarifies my position.

Anonymous said...

"But everyone can aim to acquire some new and useful work experience every six months. That's why the update is important."
Mr Wang

I suppose that also depends very much on nature of job and level.

And I would think majority of people, substance wise, would have nothing to positively update on.

Unless they are creative in saying the same thing in different, more positive, and attention grabbing ways.

Much like saying "half full" rather than "half empty".

Or "Bus Captain" (but for OMO where are his crew?) instead of "Bus Driver".

mr wang says so said...

You could be right. Possibly, the months or years have gone by, and you have still learned zero; achieved nothing at work; and gained no new experience.

As I mentioned, the process of seeking to updating your resume regularly should therefore alert you to the fact that you are stagnating; and the risk that you will soon become obsolete or redundant, or at the very least, that you are not going to be paid more.

So that's an indicator that you may need to change jobs; or change your thinking; or find ways to value-add.

For example, let's consider your bus driver who initially starts off just driving a bus.

In the next six months, he might take on the additional duty of arranging the duty roster for other bus drivers.

Another six months, and he could be responsible for ensuring that the bus drivers attend their refresher safety training.

Yet another six months pass, and perhaps he has become involved in designing a schedule to ensure that the buses are regularly serviced, or perhaps involved in supervising renovation works at the bus interchange.

And another six months pass, and he is tasked to help in investigating bus accidents .... or replanning bus routes; or to give feedback on a HR policy for bus drivers' pay ....

And eventually, he is promoted to a managerial role in the bus company, or takes on such a role in another bus company.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"Going by that argument, there is no real need for a "good resume" then. For the matter you can see why there are many cases of people with "great resumes" but turn out to be frauds."

Frauds are an entirely different issue.

You might as well talk about people who fake their paper qualifications. Those are frauds too.

mr wang says so said...

"Perhaps a better system would be an extensive reference check. But even then you can have people pulling a fast one if they prepare their references beforehand and prepare deep enough."

I did mention how this is done, within my industry.

You apply for a job, and go for an interview. In your resume, you say that you worked at Bank XYZ from Year [ ] to Year [ ]; and that you worked at Bank PQR from Year [ ] to Year [ ].

Generally, the interviewers aren't interested in YOUR references. What they will do is rely on their own network of contacts; they will identify the persons they know, who would or should or might know you, from your stints at Banks XYZ & PQR; and they will contact those persons directly, without telling you, to ask these people about you.

I have been involved in these sorts of processes, from all the different angles. I have been the interviewer, the interviewee and the reference too.

Anonymous said...

So Gilbert, does the need for paper qualifications make it easier or harder to be a fraud? Food for thought. My view is that having a paper qualification is a first step for someone to then verify if the paper qualification is indeed authentic from its source eg University. Of course there are various ways frauds can work around this. But not having paper qualifications might just mean having no head or tail when it comes to trying to verify the candidate's qualifications.

You wouldn't advise your readers to throw away their paper qualifications would you?

WingLeeCheong said...

Paper qualifications are like cosmetics. Expensive genuine cosmetics are like authentic paper qualifications. Inexpensive imitations are like fraudulent paper qualifications. Using either one would attract the attention of most men initially. However, those using cheap imitations may not last long enough to establish a friendship because their true facial features would be exposed much earlier than those women using genuine cosmetics. Having said that, women with true beauty and good character will outshine most women with questionable characters despite them using expensive cosmetics.
The moral of the story is that even if you have the best university education but you cannot perform, you are not going to climb up or last long in most well managed organizations. No matter what genuine cosmetics you used it could not hide your true character forever.

Fellow lawyer said...

The most valuable aspects of one's resume will never be paper qualifications, unless you are either an academic, a civil servant or a recent school leaver.

Davinder Singh and Lucien Wong are the two most respected lawyers in Singapore's legal profession, yet neither has anything more than a basic law degree. In other words, no masters, no doctorate etc.

They don't need it. Instead they are remembered for repeatedly handling the biggest litigation cases and corporate deals in Singapore (that is, their actual work experience).

Davinder for instance handled the NKF case; Lucien handled the acquisition of POSB by DBS. Actual work experience .... No paper qualifications to prove it.

Anonymous said...

I like your insight. And thank you for the encouragement.

Doctor said...

Hi fellow lawyer, I suppose the same can't be said for the medical profession. You can't call yourself a specialist without a FAMS. And GPs with years of experience and expertise in aesthetic medicine cannot be called "aesthetic medicine specialists". Your logic doesn't apply to all sectors.Not to say that good doctors are good because of their paper qualifications but if they are specialists they will have the paper qualifications.

Cheong Wing Lee said...

I worked 20 years for an inventor called Arthur Jones. He did not make it through high school let alone a medical degree but did surgery and managed to invent medical equipment from his garage with hardly any capital. His medical inventions are used worldwide and in Singapore hospitals and clinics. He was well
recognized and respected in the medical circle and conduct extensive lectures throughout USA and Europe. More than 100 papers and articles were published and reviewed by peers and supported by the American College of Sports Medicine. In December 2004, the American Society of Exercise Physiologists recommended that academic recognition for Arthur Jones was long overdue. He was listed by Forbes Magazine as one of the richest man in USA. It was a remarkable feat for a man without much education and money.

The following are links to obituary by the New York Times for Arthur Jones upon his death 4 years ago.

I agree with the doctor that in our modern society there is a need to regulate the medical profession. My point is that there are exceptions to the rule, admittedly Arthur Jones would never make it in Singapore.

Doctor said...

In our modern society if one who has not made it through high school performs surgery on another HUMAN BEING........I think in any modern country will be thrown in jail. There are no exceptions to this. At least I hope not! Ironically Mr Wing, you state that you agree that the medical profession needs to be regulated but yet advocate and champion those who pushed the barriers by doing stuff that they were not allowed to do under regulations. So which is it for you? For every one Arthur Jones, I can give so a few hundred examples of those who had the same "philosophy" as Arthur Jones but failed and cause permanent harm to their victims.

Cheong Wing Lee said...

@doctor, you insisted that in your profession nothing could be done without the proper paper qualification. I cited to you Arthur Jones as the exception. Your negative opinion of Arthur Jones and that he should be jailed is not a matter to be debated in this forum. You challenged for an exception and I provided one. Period. It is surprising that you could jumped into judgment without doing due diligence about Arthur Jones. It is not easy to be listed in the Forbes Magazine nor is it easy to be accepted by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am a senior executive in the corporate sector. I would say that paper qualifications are just part of the paperwork process.

For example, when I hire people, first I look at the CVs that come in; then I shortlist candidates for the interview; then I interview them.

Because I tend to be involved in hiring senior people, I really don't care very much about their educational qualifications. Actually I care much, much more about how well they have been doing in the past 5 years of their career, than how well they were doing in school (which could be 10 or 12 or 15 years ago).

For those people whom I do choose to hire, I guess somewhere along the way, my HR department does want to check their certificates and so on. But the hiring choice is made by me (and I don't check certificates). Checking certs is the kind of thing you would expect a secretary in the HR dept to do.

The certificate-checking process is just some sort of administrative formality. Of course, I expect most candidates to be able to produce their certs.
But if I had a candidate who said, "Gee, I lost a few certificates while moving house, I need to apply for replacements" , it really wouldn't be an issue.

Anonymous said...

I learnt a new skill over the last 6 months during my own free time. As this skill is not learnt on the job, how do I specify this learnt skill on the resume?

I mention I have this new acquired skill, would interviewer believe what I mentioned?

If I get my new skill certified by a third independent party and I receive a certificate through this certification, then this new paper qualification is useful. Otherwise, how am I going to prove that I have this new acquired skill?

joe said...