Value of Kennedy School Public Leadership Credential?
November 4, 2019 10:22 AM   Subscribe

I'm giving thought to this qualification, and I'm interested in soliciting opinions as to its value (or lack of it). Snowflakes below the fold.

I have a career of sorts doing project work in the international development sector. I have over five years experience as a project manager and also some complementary experience as a subject matter expert or a consultant on similar projects. I have my PRINCE2 practitioner cert and I've worked in both for-profit and non-profit contexts within the sector, as well as in five of the seven continents and across plenty of different thematic areas, so I can spin my experience in different ways when tailoring my CV to different positions. I'm currently managing a medium-sized (low seven figure) USAID grant and would like to move onto larger (high seven figure / eight figure) projects or portfolios.

However, I didn't start off doing this. I have a good Master's degree from a good school, but it's in the hard sciences. I feel like this holds me back, as 99% of the specifications that I'm otherwise a fit for require a Master's in the social sciences, or a Bachelor's in the same plus extra experience. I'm pretty sure that I'm missing a lot of opportunities because I don't make the first pass on that basis.

So I'm now looking into going back to school. I'm interested in a couple of part-time distance Master's that I could do while working (or possibly taking a year off and doing a full-time program). However all of the programs that interest me so far are due to start in September/October 2020 with the regular academic year. Meanwhile, the Kennedy School at Harvard offers a "Public Leadership Credential" that would start in January and can be completed remotely in under a year.

I'm under no illusions that this is equivalent to a Master's. As far as I can tell, it has no formal academic weight at all (I don't believe it can be counted as credits under any system, US or otherwise). It seems like kind of a cynical cash-in, to be honest: pay five thousand dollars to be able to put "Harvard Kennedy School" prominently on your CV. However... that might actually be a deal that works for me right now?

- Get to put "Harvard Kennedy School" prominently on my CV for 5k;
- As anecdata, I'm acquainted with somebody who did something similar, maybe even the same credential, and is now a UN P4. They don't have another Master's, as far as I know;
- Supposedly helpful in getting into the Mid-career Master's program at same school, although I'm not considering that for the time being;
- Might actually be quite interesting and professionally useful!

- Not accredited and not technically "worth" anything at all;
- Actually quite demanding - it requires 10-12 hours per week for the better part of a year, including weekend commitments, so 350-450 hours total, as far as I can see;
- No opportunity for networking, although the same is true of the distance programs that I'm also planning to apply for.

I have an internal sense of whether I'd be willing to pay 5,000 dollars and do quite a lot of work in my evenings and weekends for the sheer joy of learning (the answer is "hmm, maybe"), so at this stage I'm interested in the external value. Does anybody have any experience with these sort of qualifications, either from the perspective of a recruiter who would / wouldn't consider it an asset, or from the perspective of someone who has done something similar and found that it did / didn't open doors for them?
posted by chappell, ambrose to Education (5 answers total)
You're describing this perfectly. Harvard has a ton of these certificates and executive programs because although it should be fairly obvious that these are things that one purchases and are not competitive, the shininess of the Harvard name comes through. You know that this thing is sort of bullshit and it sounds like this particular one actually involves some work.

Do you think that this would advance your career at least $5000? If so, yes, do it. But know that it is sort of bullshitty.
posted by k8t at 11:10 AM on November 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure I buy into your assumption about your hard science degree. I've worked (not led!) on a number of eight and even nine figure programs, and none of the program directors had backgrounds in social science or mbas, mamy of them had hard science backgrounds or computer tech degrees - not that it really mattered; at this stage of a person's career work experience is far now important.

If you think you're missing a skill the degrees/certs would give you, by all means go for it. But from a recruitment perspective your degree is immaterial by time you have the track record to lead projects this size.
posted by smoke at 11:54 AM on November 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks to both of you for the responses so far - it's really helped me clarify my thinking about this.

I've worked (not led!) on a number of eight and even nine figure programs, and none of the program directors had backgrounds in social science or mbas, mamy of them had hard science backgrounds or computer tech degrees - not that it really mattered; at this stage of a person's career work experience is far now important.

I get what you're saying here, but I think this may be industry specific. While I've never worked for them, the 800lb gorilla in my field is the UN, and the rest of the industry tends to follow their practices to a greater or lesser extent. The UN is a massive, worldwide institution that operates in countries that may be accustomed to less formal hiring processes based on interpersonal relations, and so to avoid corruption they have extremely literal processes (these still get gamed by writing job specs tailored to specific individuals, but that's another story).

At my current level, I'm competing against a pool of driven high achievers with similar resumes to my own for every opportunity, and there are normally orders of magnitudes more applicants than positions. My impression is that I'm an easy "no" for many HR departments, because I don't fulfill one of the basic criteria, regardless of my fit otherwise.

The certificate that I'm considering still isn't a Master's, of course, and if I follow my plan it will be a stopgap until I get a Master's and a resume padder thereafter. I think k8t has a clear approach to whether this makes sense for me - will this add [>(5,000 USD + value of my time invested)] to my career? One successful application that I'd have otherwise failed to get would clear that bar... but will it provide that, since I'm planning to start a full Master's before even completing the certificate in question, and therefore I'm unlikely to rely on the certificate alone for any particular application?
posted by chappell, ambrose at 1:51 PM on November 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh right, yes I can see how that would be different at the UN (my field is finance and tech).
posted by smoke at 4:20 PM on November 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Although I am not in your industry, I work with a lot of high achievers with advanced degrees. Many people in my industry to tend to look down on "HARVARD extension school" types of things on resumes. Ok - I have no room to judge since my degree is from a pretty mediocre university, but I must say it does feel kind of cheesy, like a candidate is trying to impress those people who do not realize there is a significant different between HBS and "HARVARD extension school". When I see these things on resumes that come across my desk, it does not help the candidate.

I know next to nothing about the development field, but everyone who I have met who does that type of work has a Master's degree (which you already possess) and those in the most prestigious roles have a PhD. The instances where I have seen certificates work well is when an individual wants to pivot his/her career toward a new or tangentially related area. It sounds like you are already in the field that you desire and want to move up the ladder.

Last but not least, if this is something you decide to pursue make sure that you can articulate your reasons for doing this. You can be sure that if you have this on your resume, that people will ask about it and you want to have an explanation beyond that you wanted HARVARD on your resume and that your friend did something similar. Good luck in whatever path you pursue.
posted by seesom at 5:17 PM on November 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

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