After you read this article, why don't we have dinner together. Let's go Dutch. Meet me at Skipjack's Restaurant in Massachusetts. It is world famous for fine fish.

Try the tuna.

At least that is what the Skipjack menu says. And you will be paying for tuna.

There is a catch: You will be eating escolar, an oiler, cheaper fish. It is banned in Japan because it makes people sick.

Can You Trust What You Think You Are Buying?

The issue is not just one restaurant.

In a story published on October 23, The Boston Globe collected fish samples from 134 restaurants, grocery stores, and seafood markets in New England. It then had an independent DNA lab validate the species served in relation to the item on the menu.

48% were mislabeled.

In a related story, two customers at a Chicago restaurant were hospitalized in 2007 for eating a toxin found on puffer fish: They had ordered monkfish.

When customers purchase "Grade A" beef you do not depend on the seller to affirm quality. The United States Department of Agriculture makes that decision. You are putting your trust in an external verification organization and not in the seller.

Like customers in fish restaurants, buyers of professional services must rely on the good faith of sellers.

Is that a good plan?

Next time you purchase professional services from a psychologist, consultant, attorney, or physician, ask "Who sez?" you provide quality services?  "I say" or "check out the references I provide you" are not sufficient reasons for you to write a check.

Many Professional Service Firms Do Not Require Licensure

Some professional services (psychology, river boat captains, law, nursing, medicine) require licensure to insure buyers that minimum standards have been met.

Most services do not require licensure: Buyer Beware!

To protect buyers, some professions have established external credentialing services to officially certify competence/excellence. Like the designation "Grade A Beef," the external certification is designed to remove some of the risk in making purchase decisions.

Thus psychology offers the Diplomate; surgeons can get the FACS; career consultants have Career Management Professional/Fellow; lawyers have Martindale Hubbell ratings.

When purchasing professional services, ask the provider the name of the professional agency that conducts certification of excellence and the provider's status with that agency.

Checking Out Those Who Check

Of course, the rating agencies themselves may have their own flaws. For example, the Standard & Poors Credit Rating service gave an excellent designation to mortgage-backed financial instruments in 2008.

The following are some questions to ask of any certification body that claims to rate quality:

1. What are the sources of revenue? The more a certification body relies on commercial accounts to continue as a viable business, the more it can be compromised. This was the problem at S&P.

.2. Are the standards for certification clearly stated and easy to find on the organization's web site? Complexity can fog to hide problems.

3. Are the standards based on demonstrated professional competence, completion of education course work, or some combination?

4. Is the certification a generalized one (e.g. Certification as a Consultant; Certification as a Coach) or is it focused on a discipline with a shared body of knowledge (Certification as a Career Management Consultant; Certification as a Board Director in a public company; Diplomate in Child and Adolescent Treatment of Drug Abuse).

"Trust me" is poor way to spend your money buying fish or professional service.

Dr. Laurence J. Stybel is President of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire, an Arbora Global Company. He also is Executive in Residence at the Sawyer Business School at Suffolk University. Disclosure: Dr. Stybel is on the Board of Governors of the Institute for Career Certification International.

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