In this job market, career consultant Sue Kaiden says, employers are looking for the Purple Squirrel. "They want the candidate to have a degree and a credential and be a team leader and have leadership skills, and most of the time, that employee doesn't exist," she said.

Neither does the Purple Squirrel.

But that doesn't stop employers from thinking that they can ask for everything, but the kitchen sink, says Kaiden, who runs her own business, CareerEdge, in Media.

Step one on the squirrel hunt is having the right credentials, she said. "Credentials have gotten more important because they are being used as a screening mechanism. "I 'm seeing that more and more."

That's particularly the case when companies use computers to handle their initial screenings. If the right credential — be it a college degree, or a particular certification — isn't on the resume, the computer casts it aside.

"No college degree and no credentials means you have no evidence of your skills other than your accomplishments in the workplace, which in a less tough market might be OK," she said.
"A credential means someone else says you know what you are doing," she said. "There is hard evidence so [hiring managers] feel more confident. Everyone is nervous. They don't want to hire the wrong person."

I'm finding myself more and more interested in this whole issue of credentialing. It has come up in three stories in a row that I've worked on over the past two weeks. One is credentialing in the green economy, another is credentialing in the court system as it relates to foreign language interpretation. The third is credentialing in the field of medical foreign language interpretation and translation, although that issue didn't end up making into the final version of the story.

The conflict is clear. On the one hand, a credential is powerful. If it is meaningful, it can reassure us about something we buy or someone we hire. On the other hand, it can often substitute for judgment in a way that leaves people out. I'm thinking of two people in particular that I met as I've covered unemployment. One is Philip DeMarra, from Lancaster County, an intelligent man who, over years on the job, has gained more and more engineering knowledge and perspective in medical device manufacturing. He's been a validation engineer and a quality engineer, and a senior test engineer. But, he doesn't have an engineering degree, i.e., the right credential. So he has been passed over for work that he can easily handle.

Another is Deborah Gallagher, one of the people I profiled in my Looking for Work series. She started out as an administrative assistant and gradually added more and more human resource responsibilities as her company grew. By the time she was laid off, she had done nearly every human resource function, making her very qualified and experienced as a human resource generalist. Yet, because she didn't have a degree, she couldn't get a job. Now she's back at school trying to get  the credential she needs to do the work she has already done.