Super Bowl rings, Congressional Medals of Honor, and Nobel Prizes are hard to win and most of us lack the star power needed to clinch an Oscar, Tony, Emmy, or Grammy.
Nevertheless, more and more these days, Americans who toil in everyday professions are bringing home the gold. In advertising, they can win Clios, Addys, Effies, or Andys. Landscape architects can vie for the LaGasse Medal and other honors. Librarians have the chance to win a Futas.
There are so many awards, in fact, that some human resources professionals are growing numb to all the accolades.
"Many awards are given out so frequently that, given enough time, everyone has won them," says Colleen Manzer, a human-resources consultant in San Diego. "Too often, awards are résumé padding, and in the worst cases, where someone has a laundry list of them, it may point to an ego issue."
Many companies say they are looking for more than gold statuettes when they hire.
"If someone has received meaningful recognition, it's nice, and it speaks well of that person," says Bob Ellis, vice president of human resources for The J.M. Smucker Co., a packaged-foods manufacturer in Orrville, Ohio. "But that alone wouldn't prompt me to bring them in. What we really look at here are: What are the capabilities needed to perform the job, and how do this person's values work with our beliefs and culture?"
While awards don't automatically open doors, they can help job candidates in an interview. "An award becomes a talking point, a pivot point," says Bill Heyman of Heyman Associates, a New York executive search firm. "If a company's interested in rebranding itself, and the candidate won an award for a successful re-branding campaign, this becomes a valid point of conversation in the interview."
The real value of professional recognition lies elsewhere, these experts suggest. Sometimes, it's personal.
"People have a deep need for acknowledgment," says Reni Witt, president of Mercomm Inc., a New York company that administers awards programs in marketing and public relations. "We all want respect for the work we've done and an acknowledgment that we've made a difference. Awards programs help address that need."
Sometimes it boosts business. "People will come to us and say, 'We'd never heard of you guys, but we saw how many Addys you won, so we thought we should check you out,' " says Tony Pearman, chief executive officer of Access, an advertising agency in Roanoke, Va.
The company's awards have brought no fewer than five new clients through its doors in each of the past seven years, he adds.
Competing for recognition also keeps a creative team from becoming too insular, Mr. Pearman says. "Entering awards shows is vital because it exposes us to other agencies' creative work. The worst thing any of us in this field can do is work in isolation. For me, entering these shows is like going to the YMCA at night to keep my body fit."
If professionals find awards worthwhile despite the hassle of filling out detailed entry forms and paying the requisite entry fees, trade associations and other organizations have their own reasons for handing them out.
Money is one. Entry fees can more than offset the cost of certificates, trophies, luncheons, and other rewards. Mercomm charges between $120 and $235 to participate in its programs, the best-known of which attract as many as 1,800 entries per year.
The American Society of Landscape Architects, which hands out the LaGasse and other awards, charges its members $250 and nonmembers $500 for the privilege of submitting their work for evaluation. "You hope the program pays for itself," says ASLA spokesman Dan Sullivan. "We're a not-for-profit organization, so these revenues are cycled back through our efforts throughout the year."
The chief value of ASLA's awards program, however, is the promotional hook the winning entries provide to promote the profession, Mr. Sullivan adds. "The awards are really a cornerstone of our PR outreach."
Just make sure you've got something else to hang your résumé on. "We don't target awards specifically," says Audrey Hollingsworth, a senior vice president at Synovus, a financial-services firm in Columbus, Ga. "We're interested in the complete person."