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posted: 1/27/2013 6:28 AM

Work advice: Skills matter more than degrees

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Editor's note: Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. Each week she will answer one or two questions from readers.

Q: When I applied for my current job, the ad asked for a specific nursing degree -- registered nurse, or RN -- that I don't have. I sent my resume anyway and mentioned that, although not an RN, I had the skills and experience to do the job. After a couple of interviews, I was hired. My supervisors have told me repeatedly how well I am doing, and I even received a promotion.

Recently, I have heard them refer to me as an "RN manager." (I manage a team, but they are not RNs.) And now my supervisors will hire only RNs for my position.

I never misrepresented my lack of a license on my resume or in the interview. The job I am doing does not require a nursing license. But I am fearful that if I don't say something and then one day am asked for my nursing license, I could lose my job.

A: There's a lot of this going around. Hold on while I get my white lab coat.

Symptoms: Despite positive feedback and rewards, subject lives in fear of being "found out" for failing to meet an irrelevant standard.

Diagnosis: Excessive conscience, with a dash of impostor syndrome.

Rx: Chill pill, stat.

You told no lies to land this job. It wasn't your responsibility to try to talk your supervisors out of hiring you. And now -- unless patient welfare is at stake, or you're being asked to do something illegal -- it's not your responsibility to make them second-guess their decision.

Employers often use degrees as shorthand for "candidate has appropriate skills for this position." This doesn't mean your hiring was a fluke; you're an exception because you're exceptional.

For protection against any future changes in management, you can ask for a formal written description of your job that focuses on duties, not degrees, and suggest expanding the hiring ad to request "RN or equivalent experience."

Q: I have a new intern who gets tongue-tied every time I ask for his opinion. He does good work, and I don't want him to feel anxious. What can I do to help him feel more confident?

A: I kind of want to hug you. Try asking questions by email or saying, "When you have time later, I'd like your thoughts on ..." Give him opportunities to prepare and deliver presentations to small, friendly groups. And, because I will be hounded if I don't mention this: Suggest Toastmasters.

Karla L. Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office.

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