The Washington Post

Your skills matter more than your degrees


Reader: 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 résumé 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 résumé 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.

Karla: 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 imposter 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.”


Reader: 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?

Karla: I kind of want to hug you. Try asking questions by e-mail 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 is ready to hear your work dramas and traumas. Send your questions to You also can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork, or Facebook,

Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. Miller, of South Riding, Va., was the winner of the 2011 @Work Advice Contest. E-mail your questions to Karla at



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