What does “Certified” mean in the etiquette business?

What does “Certified” mean in the etiquette business?

I am concerned about the “Certified” designation etiquette consultants have given themselves which demeans our field of training. It seems every day a new website goes up with the owner touting that they are a “Certified” Etiquette Consultant or Trainer.

The public would naturally believe that since they have “Certified” among their credentials, that they have passed an exam administered by a respected certifying organization proving they know a majority of what they need to know to be among the most knowledgeable in their field. After all, CPAs (Certified Public Accountants), CFPs (Certified Financial Planners) and Board Certified Physicians have all taken and passed a grueling examination to earn their “Certified” status.

You would assume that a CET (Certified Etiquette Trainer) or CPC (Certified Protocol Consultant) or similar acronyms after the name of someone who teaches etiquette would mean the same. But, the truth is, they most likely paid for and attended a three to five day Train the Trainer course offered by someone in the industry who has been teaching the subject for a while and has devised a method to teach others to do the same. Taking the course is a great start but it does not mean the same thing as proving you know the material by examination.

It started with the Protocol School of Washington advertising to prospective etiquette teachers that they could earn their “certification” credentials by taking their Train the Trainer course for a fee and three or four days in the classroom listening to their instructors teach. This started in the 1980’s and since then several other professional etiquette trainers have devised their own Train the Trainer “Certification” courses. At the end of the courses, the students could then tout that they were “Certified” etiquette consultants. I believe that these training courses are valuable and wish there were more. But… they need to be promoted as what they really are – training courses with a license to use the company’s materials in the students’ own business.

In early 2002, the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals was started by me and a wonderful group of protocol and etiquette professionals I asked to be advisors after a string of phone calls from companies which had hired “Certified” etiquette consultants to teach their employees business etiquette. To a one, they told the same story. The consultant taught the course as if it were scripted and at the end could not adequately answer specific questions about situations the employees were up against. Their question to me was, “How can I tell if an etiquette consultant really knows his or her subject? I assumed since they advertised that they were “Certified” that they were at the top of the field.”

I explained that up until then there was no professional designation for true professionals in the field.I explained that up until then there was no professional designation for true professionals in the field. That fact was why I started ISPEP.

Our field of training was growing exponentially and there was no way to tell the newbies from those of us who have been teaching the subjects for 15-30 years. The designation of “Certified” needed to mean what other professions respected – examination proof that the individual knows a great deal about the subject. With the assistance of professional certification writers, the CEP (Certified Etiquette Professional) and CPP (Certified Protocol Professional) exams were written and classified. They are four-hour long exams and difficult even for professionals who have been in the field for a while. There are minimum requirements to take the exam including at least 3 proven years of involvement in the field and positive feedback from clients whom they have taught.

There is another organization which offers a portfolio based certification but examination of a portfolio doesn’t prove the individual knows the proper material – just that they have been paid to teach or use their knowledge of it. The companies which came to me in 2002 had hired teachers from their websites and from references in the media. These teachers had worked for others and grown their portfolio but proved in the classroom that they didn’t have the level of knowledge to take care of the needs of their audiences. They were all “certified” however.

In the past six months, 98 people have taken the Sample Certified Etiquette Professional Exam (50 questions and free to take) and only two have passed. 90% of those who took the Sample exam I know are practising etiquette trainers/consultants. (I don’t recognize the other 10% but they also could be teaching the subjects) Of those 85% state on their websites that they are “certified” etiquette consultants or trainers. I believe the public deserves better when it comes to being presented with a professional’s credentials in our field. If the trainer/consultant attended a train the trainer course, they are not “certified” – they are no more than licensed to use the materials from the course to enhance their own business. The Sample Certified Protocol Professional Exam is also available free for the taking. 139 have taken the CPP Sample exam and only one has passed. ISPEP has 7 CPPs and 6 CEPs since the exam has been offered. There should be more and I hope the experienced professionals in our business will take the exam and earn their CEP or CPP.

I am also pleased that international governments and multi-national organizations have come to me and ISPEP and stated that they want their protocol officers to be certified by ISPEP because it means to them that their employees really know their business. Professional certification in protocol especially is more important it seems outside of the United States. I hope that changes with time and saturation of “experts” in the field.

I would love to hear from you if you have any comments about the certification of etiquette consultants and the growth of professionalism in our business.

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