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I thought this might be an interesting topic and I can’t find much out there regarding this. I’m in the USA, but I’m interested in viewpoints from across the globe.

What is the etiquette regarding using post-nominal letters for professional designations. I know a lot of people will put educational designations after their name e.g. “John Smith PhD” and the etiquette for that is to display the highest degree earned within a specific discipline.

When it comes to professional designations or certificates, I see a lot of people put them after their name in a similar fashion e.g. “John Smith CPA”. Some have them on resumes like this, others have their names on LinkedIn formatted this way, some even use it within their email signature.

My question is two-fold:

  1. When/where is it appropriate to place professional designations after your name? To me, it seems like using them in every email may come across a bit “overzealous.” Hence, the etiquette part of the question.

  2. How does one decide what professional certifications are “prestigious” enough to place after your name in the appropriate situations from part 1? I could see CPA being relevant if you’re providing a service, for which it qualifies you, but I can’t imagine when CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) would be relevant, or to take it to an extreme, when you would ever need to announce you possess an MOS (Microsoft Office Specialist).

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    It does vary a lot between cultures. In Oz+NZ I've never included any letters in my work email, but when I was looking at working for a US consluting company they all did, and wanted me to. Job titles seem to go along with that, I work with a couple of "Engineers" and a couple more "Programmers", but in a different cultural environment they'd be "Senior Hardware/Software Engineers" except for the junior (there's only one with less than 10 years experience) – Móż Dec 17 '13 at 2:54
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These are some areas:

  1. Academia - getting degrees and supervising others trying to do the same is pretty important in this area and very common.
  2. Required License - in many areas you cannot do a particular job without being licensed. Medical doctors, lawyers, CPA, and some engineers should always use these in professional settings.
    1. Industry Specific Known Certifications - many technologies (Microsoft, Cisco) provide certifications for their products so when dealing with clients and others, it is professional to show you have these credentials.

This is why it is important to separate personal and professional email accounts. Of course you can change signatures and do what you want, but replying to a friend with a bunch of letters after your name and some lengthy disclaimer at the bottom about the confidentiality of your message, isn't appropriate.

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When/where is it appropriate to place professional designations after your name? To me, it seems like using them in every email may come across a bit “overzealous.” Hence, the etiquette part of the question.

If they are professional emails, sent from a work account where you actually work as an accountant or lawyer, then putting such designations after your name is completely legitimate. In personal emails, I can see how it might come across as being overzealous. I mean, if you're sending an email to a group of friends trying to organize an outing, designations after your name, coming from a personal email address might be a bit much. In general, I think a good rule is "is it relevant in this context for people to see the designation?"

How does one decide what professional certifications are “prestigious” enough...

It might depend on who you're communicating with and again, in what context and capacity. Putting "CPA" and "CFE" after your name is probably relevant if you're emailing in a professional context and the other parties might actually be interested to know if you are a CFE. Maybe the subject of the email thread is, in fact, a fraud investigation. That would lend authority to your voice. Similarly, putting "MOS" after your name might be relevant if you work in an IT department supporting Office, or are chatting on a forum about office.

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