Have you spent the past few years studying a degree? If you can still remember the sleepless nights at the library, you’ll be happy to know it has been for nothing. You can – and you should – put your education to work on your resume and use it to land your dream job.

Now, you don’t even need to have gone to a top university to do that. In fact, you can utilize your education no matter how little or much you have it.

In this post, you’ll learn about the priority when it comes to experience over education, the way to format and present different academic backgrounds, how to deal with a lack of strong educational background and what are the mistakes to avoid when writing your education segment.

WHAT’S THE PRIORITY?

One of the key questions surrounding resumes is whether education matters more than experience or is it the other way around. This is an important question to settle because it changes how you format and construct your resume.

Now, in order to answer the question and to ultimately put your education to work on your resume successfully, you need to determine your situation. There are three different scenarios at play influencing the decision.

The three scenarios and how they weigh on the education or experience debate are as follows:

You are a recent graduate

If you’ve just come out of school or you are just finishing up your degree, your educational background is most likely stronger than your experience. If you’ve been a full-time student, you wouldn’t have much work experience aside from perhaps summer jobs and a few internship.

On the other hand, you have a fresh degree in your pocket and a ‘career’ in school, which you can talk about.

So, if you are a recent or current graduate, you most likely want to emphasize your education.

You are a seasoned professional

If you are currently working and you have an extensive work history behind you, the academic life is probably quite far behind you. Those who’ve been working for the past five or more years will want to emphasize these accomplishments and experiences.

The reason is not necessarily that their education would in any way be irrelevant. But it’s easier to highlight the skills you might have learned at school with real work experience – it shows you’ve put what you’ve learned to actual use.

It’s also about time. Your most recent behavior and experience can tell a lot more to the hiring manager about how you’d perform in the role. It’s the most recent look at your strengths and your education from way back might not be quite as revealing.

There is one exception here and that’s career in scientific and technical fields. Even with a strong work history, employers are still slightly more interested in your academic background because it plays such as important role in your career.

Therefore, for a seasoned professional with a lot of job history, experience should take centre stage over education in the resume.

You’ve changing careers

Now, it might be that you’re in the midst of a career change. Perhaps you have gone back to school and obtained another degree, relevant to the new role you want to get. In this case, you will want to prioritize education over experience. This is because your experience might not be directly relevant to the new industry – however, with your education you can show you’ve made the transition.

However, if you are looking for a career change without any re-education, you’ll still probably want to emphasize your experience. Now it’s just about showing the transferable skills you have to take with you to the new role.

In the event of a career change, you’d want to consider whether you have any new education to back up your change or if you’d be better at outlining your experience.

So, as a rule of thumb, if you have a lot of work experience, it will triumph your education. But if you don’t yet have a rich history of experience, you can always get your education to work for you. It is possible to present yourself as the right candidate for any role with a strong education segment.

HOW SHOULD THE EDUCATION SECTION LOOK?

So, what does the education segment look like? How should you start building it? A lot depends on your education background. Let’s start with two of the most common credentials you might talk about. These are:

  • Your university or other higher level education.
  • Your high school or other secondary education.

The information to include about your university or other higher-level education

You should start with your possible university degree or other higher-level education. The information to include when listing your degrees is:

  • The type of degree and the subject studied. This should also include the level of study.
  • The name of the institution and its location. There’s no need for the full address.
  • The year of graduation.

Here are two formatting options for you to use:

Education 

2015 MA in English Literature
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

2010 BA in Politics
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Education 

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
MA in English Literature
Graduated in 2015

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
BA in Politics
Graduated in 2010

These three are the must-have information you need. However, you can also add optional information, especially if you feel it’s relevant to the job position and helpful in terms of showing your value to the organization. This additional information can include:

  • The grade you achieved.
  • Any awards, honors, coursework, extracurricular activities and publications you might have done and achieved as part of the specific degree/time at the institution.

Here are a few formatting examples for you to look at:

Education

2015 MA in English Literature
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
4.0 GPA

Education

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
MA in English Literature
Graduated in 2015 with 4.0 GPA

Education

2015 MA in English Literature
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Relevant coursework: Business Communication, Thesis on Small Business Marketing
Extracurricular activities: President of the Debating Society

Now, in terms of the grades, it’s always best to list the honors rather than the GPA score you received (especially if you graduated with great honors). It’s more prestigious and therefore, matters more to the employer than your grades. Here’s an example for listing your honors:

Education

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Honours in MA in English Literature, Magna Cum Laude

Education

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
MA in English Literature
Recipient of English Literature Honours

The information to include about your high school or other secondary education

If you are relying on your education section (instead of work experience), you might also want to include information regarding your high school or other secondary education. This might also be your highest level of education and you can outline it in your resume with these simple tips.

The information you should include for each institution is:

  • School name and its location. Again, no need to add the full address.
  • The year of graduation.

Just like with the university degree, you can also list any honors, awards and extracurricular activities you feel are relevant to the role.

Here are two examples of what your segment might look like with the above information in mind:

Education

Strawberry Fields High School, Strawberry Fields, PA
Graduated in 2005

Education

Strawberry Fields High School, Strawberry Fields, PA
Graduated in 2005
Extracurricular activities: Student Representative in the School Council, Maths Tutor for first year students

What if you didn’t graduate or you’re still studying?

Now, you might be faced with two scenarios when it comes to building your resume with the above in mind. First, you might have left school without graduation. The other scenario is that you’re applying for jobs while you’re still studying. How do you include this incomplete information to your resume?

In these scenarios, you want to list both your university or high school education. But instead of saying when you graduated, you just talk about the years of attendance. For example, you would outline your education like this:

Education

Strawberry Fields High School, Strawberry Fields, PA
Attended school from 2004-2006

Education

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
2009-2010 Completed 50 credits towards BA in Politics

Strawberry Fields High School, Strawberry Fields, PA
Graduated in 2005

Furthermore, if you attended university or are still at university, you can also include any relevant credits you might have already obtained. For example, you can write:

Education

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
2009-2010 Completed 50 credits towards BA in Politics

Education

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
BA in Politics in Progress

Education

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
BA in Politics
Expected Graduation in 2018

You can also talk about any other relevant coursework and achievements you’ve obtained during your time. Perhaps you received a stipend or you took special courses that would be relevant to the position you’re applying to.

Now, if you are still studying, then you should also include the expected year of graduation, as in the above example. Don’t include any expected grades at this point – speculation doesn’t look that good.

Quick formatting rules

With the above in mind, here are the quick formatting guidelines to follow when editing your education segment:

  • Your highest degree should always go first. Your PhD trumps your second Bachelor’s Degree, even if the latter is more recent.
  • The rest in reverse-chronological order from the most recent to the latest.
  • If you’ve finished higher secondary education, you don’t need to mention your lower school levels at all.

WHAT IF YOU’RE EDUCATION BACKGROUND IS LACKING IN CREDENTIALS?

The above tips and examples will help you create a beautiful education segment that works for your benefit. But you might still be feeling a little concerned. Perhaps you don’t have enough substance – perhaps your education background is patchy and shaky. What can you do?

It is possible to create a strong education segment even when you don’t have much to show. You don’t need to worry or think you are doomed – there are always ways to make your resume stand out.

If you don’t have a lot of things to talk about and you feel the education segment lacks substance, you can instead include a different segment. This is called the “Professional Development” section. It’s a good alternative for those who’ve struggled to get through official academic institutions and gain degrees.

So, what to include in your “Professional Development” section? You need to include information like:

  • List of courses you’ve taken – You don’t need to include just full degrees but you can mention any courses you’ve taken and passed during your time. This can also include online courses or other such individual courses you’ve attended.
  • Training you’ve been part of – You might also have trained in certain relevant ways. For example, you might have trained as first aid person or attended a training course for managers and you can list these in this segment whether they’ve been official or not.
  • Seminars and conferences you’ve attended – You should also list any seminars or conferences you’ve attended. It’s especially good if you’ve spoken in these or taken part of the workshops.

The idea here is to show your passion towards the industry and your relevant knowledge about the field. You essentially want to show that despite not having official academic qualifications, you’ve still been obtaining information and training to perform well in the role. It’s just about showing that willingness to work hard.

Now, here the important point is to include relevant information. You don’t want to list courses or seminars that don’t have anything to do with the position you’re applying to. The whole point of a resume is to show why you’re the best person for that role. Whether it is listing your academic institutions or your online courses, the key is to always ensure they show your match for the role – it’s not just a meaningless list of things you’ve done.

Here’s an example of the segment:

Professional Development

  • Certified Associate in Project Management, 2009
  • Attended Leadership Seminar Training in Cambridge, 2008
  • 30 Credits in Open University Management Course, 2006

WHAT ARE THE MISTAKES TO AVOID?

The above tips and tricks will help you focus on your education in a positive light. You will be able to present your education as a strength and benefit. By following the tips, you should create a clean and crisp section for education upon which to build your resume.

However, you need to avoid a few things when putting your education to work on your resume. These can destroy all the good aspects of your education segment and end up ruining your resume – the hiring manager won’t enjoy reading the education segment but rather cringes to it.

So, if you want to avoid mistakes and problems with your resume, you need to keep a few things in mind. The most important rules to follow are to:

  • Never lie or fabricate things. Everything on your resume should be the truth but it’s especially important to speak the truth about your education. Attendance, graduation and even scores are all knowledge your potential employer can check – if you fabricate the information, you’ll end up hurting yourself more.
    As the above shows, it’s not the end of the world if your education background is patchy and less-than-perfect. You can present it in a better way to make up for these problems but if you lie, you will set yourself up for failure in the job hunt.
  • Always reverse the order. Your education segment should always start with the most recent institution and degree. Even if certain achievements or schools might look better, you need to list the things in reversed chronological order.
  • Only include relevant information. If your education background is extensive and you have attended a range of schools and taken many courses, you can limit the list to the relevant information. If you’ve obtained a vocational degree in animal care, but you are applying for a marketing position, you definitely don’t have to mention this degree – given that you have other more relevant qualifications.
  • Add a separate section for honors and achievements if needed. If you have achieved a lot of awards and honors during your academic career, you might want to consider adding a separate section for these.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Everyone can put their education to work on their resume. The key is to strike a balance between your education and your experience and harness the one that’s more beneficial in your case. Furthermore, you need to include relevant information – researching that job description is important because it helps you understand your strengths regarding the role.

Don’t be afraid if your education history isn’t perfect – your resume doesn’t have to reveal it all. You can include as much or as little information as you want – just make it work with the above tips.

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