We’ve found that three major contributors to career success—our formal education, professional certifications, and continuing education—often take the smallest amount of space on a resume. Yet decisions about how much information to include can be confusing. Sometimes the issue is that the jobseeker has a plethora of degrees, certificates, and continuing education classes. And other jobseekers raise concerns because they have great experience, but little education or training.
Sadly, we cannot offer jobseekers one-size-fits-all answers to the issues we’ll cover. For example, we cannot say that everyone should list their education near the top of a resume or near the bottom.
The formal education section of your resume may give you more “bang for the buck” than any other section. It can be as little as one or two entries—perhaps even one or two lines depending on format–, yet the information presented here will land interviews for you and a higher starting salary in many cases.
A resume I used some years ago had these brief education entries:
Master of Business Administration, Information Systems, NYU Stern School of Business, New York, NY
Bachelor of Arts, Economics, NYU Washington Square & University College, New York, NY
The education section, although brief, has many nuances that impact job search results. A few of the most common questions include:
- Should I include the year of graduation,
- Need I list specific coursework?
- What if I did not finish a degree?
- Should education be placed above or below my professional experience?
The answer for the first two questions is “no” in the vast majority of cases. Employers know the common courses you’ve taken to get a relevant degree—or they care only that you have the degree.
Your prospective employer may be curious about the year you finished school. We recommend that only recent graduates include this information because it may give away your age. For example, would I want an employer to know that I received my B.A. in 1979 and my graduate degree in 1986 before they met me?
Another issue that arises frequently is that “life happens.” Many jobseekers I’ve spoken with started college or graduate school and did not have the opportunity to finish. Often, we recommend an entry such as:
Coursework in Liberal Arts, Community College of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
This strategy works best when you have a transcript showing a substantial number of college credits. It is unwise, of course, to claim a degree you did not complete. Employers can readily verify school attendance.
Some jobseekers are currently completing degrees. It’s okay to include statements such as “Bachelor of Arts, expected 2024” when you are matriculated, have a transcript, and employers can verify that you are now attending school.
Another common question is whether education belongs above or below the professional experience section on a resume. For jobseekers with several years of relevant work experience, we place education below the experience section.
Consider whether your experience or your degree offer more unique value to the prospective employer. For example, a recent grad I worked with last spring thought his marketing communications degree offered more value. His job target was to work in a fitness center—he had a certification and six years of fitness center experience—so we placed his B.S. degree below his experience.
While US Department of Labor statistics suggest that accredited college degrees continue to be the gold standard for education, industry certifications are now widely accepted, too. According to a recruiter I spoke with several months ago, certain companies he works with now require certifications and consider the college degree “preferred.”
Certifications are more time-sensitive than degrees, and may have expiration dates. As a result, it is appropriate to include the year you received a certification.
You can include certification training that you are currently pursuing. Make certain prospective employers will be able to verify you are currently enrolled in the program, and include the date you expect to be certified. And remember that employers will probably test your skills themselves, too.
Another recent phenomena is the rise in short webinars and online classes. Many of us “attend” dozens of online programs every year, so there will not be room to list them all on a one-page or two-page business resume.
Consider including your most relevant webinars or online classes when they add keywords that would not be on your resume otherwise. Your resume may pass through the ATS filter with the added keywords. Once again, though, the employer will probably test you on the skill. It’s doubtful that short webinars will bring you to a level of proficiency you would get from a degree program.
Employers screen resumes with ATS software and eliminate those lacking required education and training. And they could also eliminate you from being considered if you show degrees dating from many years ago, or expired and irrelevant certifications. In other words, include the degree you earned in 1990, but don’t include the year. Don’t include your expired certifications you received back then, either. And don’t fret when you run out of space for some great online courses you recently attended. There will be space for these on your LinkedIn profile. Next week, we will consider the unique issues related to adding education, certifications, and other training on your LinkedIn page.