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November 2002
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The Gold Star Syndrome

Qualification is not the same thing as credentials. This would seem to be obvious; however there are reasons why they are often treated as synonymous.

Firstly there are the needs of bureaucracy. It is easier and simpler to staff by hiring people on the basis of credentials. It means that everything can be done by routine formula, a prospect that delights the bureaucrats soul. It also means that the hiring process can be diverted to separate departments which need not be burdened with actual knowledge of requirements or evaluation of capabilities. One can rely on mere statistics to ensure that, out of a population of people with equal credentials, some percentage will actually have the requisite capability. Call it the Mandarin system.

It also meets the needs of people who are subject to the gold star syndrome. We all, I suppose, know people who have done A, B, and C, and have gotten a gold star, and feel, as a consequence, that they are entitled to a specific share of life's goodies because they have gotten their gold star. Life is not like that. Employers do not give you money because you are a deserving person -- they give you money because you are doing for them something that they need done.

It is my impression that women are more likely to be trapped into "gold star" thinking than men -- the "I want a better job for better pay so I will get still another degree" syndrome. I will speculate that this is a cultural difference in upbringing -- girls are taught to be "good citizens who follow the rules" and boys are taught to "be aggressive about getting what you want". The upshot is women get the gold stars and men get the gold.

Along these lines, those who live by their gold stars fare relatively better in the bureaucratic Mandarin world where the counterfeit of credentials are accepted more readily in lieu of the coin of achievement.


This page was last updated November 12, 2002.

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