Putting Your Education to Work on Your Resume Print E-mail

by Alesia Benedict, CPRW, JCTC

You’ve spent lots of money on tuition and endless hours studying to earn those degrees. Now it’s time to put that time and money to work for you to land a lucrative new job. Finding the best way to showcase this information on your resume, ensuring you make the most of your credentials isn’t so easy.

Even the most brilliant and educated candidate can readily get confused by the conflicting information offered by career experts. Rather than banking on educated guesses, use this quick “study guide” to test whether you’re maximizing your education background on your resume:

Where to Place the Education Section on Your Resume
Before even trying to assemble this information on your resume, a key step is to determine what type of candidate you are.

If you are a job seeker remaining in the same field and have at least five years of experience, emphasize work experience. This means detailing your work history first, followed by your education information. Employers greatly value contributions you’ve made to current and/or former employers, since they are the best indication of your potential in a workplace environment. Your studies, while important and often mandatory for consideration, are typically secondary to experience.

Entry-level candidates who recently finished college usually have little work experience. Employers are fully aware of this, so while they are interested in any related internships or experience, their primary interest lies in the candidate’s education. The best option for entry-level candidates, therefore, is listing the education section first.

Another type of candidate who would list education before work history would be a career changer who recently completed a degree or course relevant to the new professional path. For example, if a retail manager just completed an MBA in accounting, passed the CPA exam, and is now seeking an accounting position, the education section would be placed before work experience on the resume.

Listing Coursework
Entry-level candidates could expand upon some practical experience acquired in the course of their studies. Yet for more experienced job seekers, such details are not only unnecessary, but inadvisable. A more experienced job seeker offering specifics about coursework could inadvertently lend a lower-level feel to the overall resume presentation. There are exceptions, however. For instance, candidates seeking academic positions would list relevant coursework and publications.

Stating Year of Graduation
Only recent college graduates need to list the year of graduation since the candidate will want to account for lack of work history. It will make sense to an employer that the resume doesn’t go beyond 2008 if the candidate received a degree the same year.

Otherwise, it is not a good idea to include a year of graduation, as this will give employers a sneak peek of your age. Let your credentials speak for themselves and avoid any potential for age discrimination by omitting the year you completed a degree.

Using Designations
Some candidates include a representation of degrees and certifications earned following their names. This can be a great tool to convey a credential without taking up much room. Since one’s name appears first, at the top of a resume, it immediately highlights your professional qualifications, especially for industry-specific credentials.

However, there are some pitfalls you want to avoid. If too many designations follow a name, the overall impact is lost. It’s great if you have five professional certifications, but you don’t need to list all of them. Try to limit it to three for maximum impact.

Listing a very common degree could also turn off a reader. “John Doe, BA” really won’t impress the same way “John Doe, PhD” will.

Maximizing a Professional Summary
If there are facts you want to emphasize but you don’t want to risk an employer missing it in the education section, feel free to make a mention of it in the professional summary. As an example, you may need an MBA in order to apply for a particular position, so you want to make sure the employer sees right off the bat that you have one. If your extensive work history has pushed your education section to the bottom of page two, the perfect solution is to briefly mention your MBA in your professional summary.

The professional summary is also a great way to include a fact that really has no place in the education section. For example, if you went to an Ivy League school, you can easily incorporate that into your professional summary without sounding pretentious.

Of course, these are general guidelines. The best strategy to present your educational credentials is as individual as you are, so make sure you do your homework when it comes to preparing your resume.

About the Author:

Alesia Benedict, Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Job and Career Transition Coach (JCTC) is the President of GetInterviews.com, the country’s leading resume writing firm. They provide professionals with customized, branded resumes and career marketing documents. Her and her firm’s credentials include being cited by JIST Publications as one of the "best resume writers in North America," quoted as a career expert in The Wall Street Journal, and published in a whopping 25+ career books. Established in 1994, the firm has aided more than 100,000 job seekers to date. All resume writers are certified writers. GetInterviews.com offers a free resume critique and their services come with a wonderful guarantee -- interviews in 30 days or they'll rewrite for free!