Resume Tips – What’s next: Education or Experience?

Once we have formatted the top section of our resume, which identifies us and shares how we wish to be contacted by prospective employers, we move on to the next section of the resume. Some people list EDUCATION next while others list EXPERIENCE or WORK HISTORY (both of these section titles are acceptable). Which one should I list next? While there isn’t really a wrong choice, we always recommend to lead with your strength. You have to ask yourself, “which shines the brightest light on what I have to offer an employer?”, and keep in mind the type of jobs you are seeking because that can influence your decision as well.

Let’s talk about EDUCATION first. If you are a recent college graduate and have minimal work experience, it is appropriate to list your education up front so the employer sees what you have accomplished and that you have a degree. These two things are a plus for many employers who are looking for raw talent to bring in and groom. If you do not have a degree, but have substantial coursework completed you can also lead with education but you will want to “tell your story” in your cover letter about how much longer you expect to be in school before receiving your degree. You will also want to share whether you plan to continue your education on a part-time or evening basis, or if you intend to put your education on hold. If you are going to continue as a student and are applying for a full time (day hours) job, you will want to show the employer you are available to work the hours they need someone, and assure them that your studies will occupy your time only after hours and on weekends. Some employers will be attracted to this kind of ambition but some may shy away if they believe the job they have to offer will be too demanding and that you won’t have the energy to do both.

If you are not a recent college grad, and have 5 or more years of related experience, you may still want to lead with your education IF your degree is specific to the job you are seeking, and IF the institution where you received your degree is held in high regard to those working in that field. This often applies to very specific degrees like engineering, the sciences, international business, but also for some creative fields.

We recommend listing your education in a descending chronological order for any degrees you have obtained. If you have additional training or certifications, you can list those under education but after your degree, even if they are more recent. To identify your learning institution, you should list the full name of the institution, the City and State, and the proper name of your degree (and any minors). You do not need to add the date of graduation, that it is optional. Potential age discrimination can come into play here so please consider that as you make your own decision about listing any dates. Certifications, on the other hand, sometimes require a date especially if it has to do with technology that is constantly changing. A date on those types of certifications can inform a potential employer how much experience you have with that tool, so it may be very appropriate to add a date. Also, adding dates to ongoing general training matters can show an employer you are committed to ongoing education. In today’s workplace, “always learning” has become a requirement for success in almost every field.

If you do not have EDUCATION that you feel will “rule you in” automatically for the job you are seeking, and you have appropriate work experience, you will want to lead with EXPERIENCE. Be sure to list all your positions (if you have 10 or less years of experience) and make sure they are in descending chronological order. It is our recommendation that you list the dates of employment first and should be formatted with month and year, not just year. As recruiters, we look to identify gaps in employment and years do not help us quickly assess this, which means you may be creating work for us and you know what that can mean – getting put aside for “later” or never. Then list the name of your employer (or former employer) next, and we like to see company names in all CAPS, followed by the City, State where you worked. (For remote roles, you can list “Remote position. Company office located in Xxxxx, XX”) This information can come into play when recruiters are conducting your reference checks so there is value in providing it. After the employer name, you should list the TITLE of your position, followed by your duties and/or responsibilities in that role, and any significant achievements or accomplishments you experienced while in that role. It is best to use past tense verbiage for all former positions and present tense for your current position. But the most important thing is to make sure you have consistent verb tense in each listing. Your writing skills are on display here and you want to shine, right?

There is not a right or wrong choice on how to format this list section of your resume, but once again be consistent and descending chronological order is most preferred. If you choose bullet points, dashes, indentations, or the like for your duty listing – just be sure to use the same method throughout all of your job listings. Also, please note that if you are not currently employed, you should not list “to Present” for your most recent position. Some career counselors recommend you leave your employment status as “active” but prospective employers and recruiters will eventually learn that you are no longer working if they interview you – and then the question becomes, “Are they a liar or just lazy?” and didn’t take the time to send me an updated resume. In our opinion, neither one makes you shine, and that is the goal of your resume, right?

This will help you get the bulk of your resume in shape, but there are a few other sections you may what to add, based on the job you are seeking, what you have accomplished and what you have to offer a prospective employer. Stay tuned for tips on those sections which we will share in next week’s post!

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