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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Properly Listing Education on a Résumé

Oftentimes, I see some awkward management of how people list their education on their résumé. Here are some tips and tricks to help effectively convey your investment into your educational career to prospective employers:

1) Understand what constitutes education. The EDUCATION section of a resume actually is composed of two parts: your formal schooling (with an accredited institution), and then everything else, which should be listed under a separate subheader (not 'training', 'coursework' or 'classes') called "Professional Development." "Professional Development" constitutes any kind of educational coursework that you've taken that enhances/updates your knowledge, hones your skills, and helps you do your job better. This can include workshops, trainings, classes, CEUs, industry certifications, conventions, conferences and the like. Many people can have a lot of listings under this area from years of being at conferences/workshops. Two dimensions that you want to use to cull this down to a shorter list include relevancy towards the job target you are pursuing, and going back no more than 5-7 years. Anything more than that is going to be fairly obsolete - we simply don't do business now the way we did 10 years ago, and you definitely don't want to look like an ancient dinosaur who hasn't keep their knowledge up-to-date!

2) Don't be afraid to list degrees that weren't completed. Many people hesitate when told it is okay to list educational degrees that they started but didn't finish. "It makes me look like I can't finish something," is a common concern. Look at it this way: ANY type of learning beyond the high school/GED level shows initiative and an interest in bettering oneself. Give yourself credit for the time, effort and money you've invested!

3) Beware the most common educational deception - a 'perceived' graduation date. Did you know that the EASIEST thing to check on backgrounds is education? Many people don't realize this. Several clients of mine have come to me with résumés that, when in our consultation, turn out to be listing a school attended rather than a degree earned. "Bachelor of Science", the document reads. When I probe a little further, the person clears their throat uncomfortably, and says, "Well... I didn't REALLY graduate...." If you are playing this game, thinking you are smart, you need to stop. Human resource people are all over this little tactic. Either you graduated or you took program coursework. It's just that black or white. And believe me, you'd rather hear it in this blog than not to hear that you didn't get the job for 'fibbing' or inaccurately portraying your credentials.

4) Don't fall into the educational credibility trap. Unless you are seeking employment in an educational or highly technical field which requires constant educational commitments, avoid needlessly listing scholarships, honors, GPAs and for pete's sake, what year you graduated. The harsh reality, unless you are pursuing the above-mentioned fields, is that employers only care about this: Did you graduate? Yes/No. They don't care about the other details. And by listing a lot of irrelevant information, you appear desperate to justify yourself. Sure, if you graduated Magna cum laude or similar, you can list this, but the rest of the info just isn't going to make or break you for the most part!

5) List EDUCATION later in your résumé. Résumé writers and school career centers have a running battle going on about where to list EDUCATION on a résumé, believe it or not. Schools (including colleges, universities and institutes) tell students to put EDUCATION right near the top of their résumé. But again, most employers put more weight on experience versus education. Professional résumé writers advocate listing this section later in the document because you need to address the employer's priorities first. My own humble opinion is that the school career centers are rather self-serving in that respect- OF COURSE they want the school front and center on that résumé! But is that what the employer really cares about? Not really- experience first, education second (except for educational/technical fields, of course).

6) To include or not to include unrelated educational experience? Good question. The key is to know your audience. If the target company culture values education and adult learning, listing unrelated educational background might make sense. Other times, job seekers are shifting fields, and their formal educational field is incongrous from their new career direction. It's acceptable to list just the degree (i.e. Bachelor of Science) only if the emphasis going to distract employers.

7) Spell it out! There's an alphabet soup out there of degree names, and you can't assume that your intended audience is fluent in the language of academia. Spell out (not abbreviate) every degree.

8) How MUCH education to list? Again, knowing your audience is important. There are lots of articles online that talk about 'dumbing' down your résumé, but the truth is, many employers are on a talent shopping spree. They are able to afford top industry talent they couldn't have just five years ago. Sure, there's the risk that you'll jump ship as soon as the economy improves, but if they can hire you now at the top of your game, they stand to benefit. So at least do some research on what the corporate culture is like to find out how you should approach listing your educational background.

1 comment:

McLaughlin Education Consulting said...

Good suggestions. Having worked as a college administrator, I would add that if you are applying for a position at a college or university, particularly as faculty or an administrator, you would want to list your education up front on your resume.