How to Highlight Your Online Education on a Resume: The Do’s & Don’ts to Make it Perfect
Finishing your degree as an adult takes an incredible amount of commitment, and you’re proud that you dedicated the time to this accomplishment. Now it’s time to set your sights on a new career, and a thorough sprucing of your resume is in order. Read on to learn more about how to highlight your online education, and some general do’s and dont’s when trying to make the perfect resume.
How You Should Highlight Education on Your Resume
1. Don’t be afraid to speak about your graduation
Much of the counsel out there warns against including your graduation date once “past a certain age”—but that recommendation is neither helpful nor relevant to someone who earned a degree at a later point in life. In short, you should include it—but do so strategically. You went back to school for a reason. You wouldn’t have invested the time, money, and grit into your education if you didn’t believe it would improve your career trajectory. Now you just have to show that. Also, remember that your degree is a big qualifier in moving into a role, but not the only thing you will need. You will also need to gain experience in your field, and you can do so prior to graduating. This experience includes jobs, internships, clubs and organizations, and volunteer work.
2. Use your online education to better market yourself
Think of your resume as a marketing tool demonstrating the best things you have to offer the professional world. As an adult with experience, work ethic, and a degree, there’s a lot to choose from. Depending on the position you’re applying for, consider tailoring your resume to include the jobs, experiences—and yes, your recent graduation date—to show how you’ve intentionally shaped the direction of your career. Even if you haven’t worked in your industry or field in the past, there are transferrable skills you can pull from your work experience.
In addition to including your graduation date, you might also consider elements such as GPA, extracurricular involvements, and projects that speak to skills such as time management, communication, and organization that going back to school requires. Highlight the abilities, experiences, and education that demonstrates your preparedness for the job you want. Volunteering can also be an excellent way to add some of these important skills to your resume.
3. Highlight your key strengths
Let’s say you’ve always had a passion for health care and that your experience shows that you’ve pursued jobs in that field ever since high school. That passion is what led you to recently complete a degree in health care. Your resume may be full of health care experiences varying from top-notch, impressive responsibilities to that two-month stint you held when you were younger. There’s limited space on a resume to market yourself, so share only the strongest and most relevant experiences.
You went back to school for a reason, so your resume should both reflect that reason and demonstrate how that education further prepares you for your industry. Completing a degree at any age is an impressive accomplishment, so let your resume highlight this accomplishment.
How to Make a Perfect Resume: General Do’s and Don’ts
Now that you know how to highlight your online education, it’s also important to know some important things to include on your resume to make it stand out further. With time and attention spans in short supply today, just six seconds determine whether a hiring manager will give your resume further consideration or not. Every word counts, and your resume should include strategic details that draw attention.
Make Your Resume Stand Out
Are you sending the same generic resume and cover letter to each position for which you apply? This mistake is common. Job seekers who take the time to tailor their cover letter and resume are more likely to get noticed. Recruiters and hiring managers are skilled at spotting generic resumes; they tend to throw them in the rejection pile. By submitting a unique resume and cover letter that are well-tailored, you demonstrate that you have carefully considered the requirements of the position. Showcase your knowledge of the company in the opening paragraph of your cover letter. Be sure that your resume reflects how you are the perfect fit for this specific position. A well-designed resume is more likely to get noticed. Even the least computer-savvy job seeker can create a streamlined, pleasing design for the information they include. Think carefully about how you use space on the page. A few techniques that draw attention include flipping the page orientation from portrait to landscape, choosing a bold color for section headings, and picking a modern font that is both beautiful and highly readable.
Keep It Concise
Which resume format do you prefer? We don't recommend using a template from MS Word. Are your resume and cover letter longer than one page each? Don’t succumb to the pressure to explain everything you have done in your career. Instead, communicate only your most relevant experience. The job description for the position you are seeking will serve as your guide. Familiarize yourself with the requirements of the position and be selective with what you include. Your resume should only include the experience that relates to your target position. Use your cover letter to dive deeper and explain two or three of your most relevant accomplishments and how they match the job you seek. Stuffing your resume with words may seem impressive, but verbosity is actually a big turnoff. If a hiring manager gets tired just looking at your resume, none of your carefully chosen words will actually get read. Compose a resume that describes the details of your achievements in as few words as possible. Editing for brevity takes more time, but it's well worth the effort.
Prove Your Relevant Experience
Your resume format should build a case for why an employer should interview you above all other candidates. Don’t forget that relevant experience can include both paid and unpaid work. If you struggle to come up with some related experience, maybe you are not quite ready to pursue this particular role. At this stage, it is time to think about how you can gain relevant experience through a volunteer opportunity or a more entry-level role. As mentioned earlier, volunteering can be an excellent way to add important skills to your resume. A charitable organization might be more willing to take a chance on an eager volunteer looking to build his or her skill set. In fact, volunteers at charities frequently find themselves taking on new tasks simply because resources are limited. Volunteer work can be a pathway to a slew of new skills.
What to avoid when creating your resume
The most common errors typically regard the formatting of the resume. Often, the content of the resume is not aligned properly or line spacing is inconsistent. The key is to have a consistent format throughout the resume that is easy for the reader to locate the information they need. For example, avoid using paragraphs to describe your previous work history. Instead, use aligned bullet points that briefly describe your job duties and accomplishments. Consistency is critical. Additionally, when it comes to including links to your social media accounts and your portfolio (if you need/have one) you do not want to include a personal website if it is going to raise a red flag or cause the potential employer to make a judgment about your character or personality. In regard to social media accounts, we would recommend including a link to your LinkedIn profile if the profile is complete.
Lastly, triple-check the spelling, details, and grammar in your resume for accuracy, then ask a professional mentor or a person who's already working in your desired field, to proofread it for you. Be sure your contact information is complete and up-to-date, especially if you're working from an old template. Make it easy for the hiring manager both to contact you and learn more by including hyperlinks to your email address and LinkedIn profile, which should be updated with all the details you can't always include on your one-page resume such as awards, volunteer experience, and secondary job responsibilities.
Keep in mind that your resume is always evolving. For every class you take, every project you finish, and every job you start, you’ll need to update your resume by giving it a review from top to bottom, and tailoring your experience to your specific goal.
Fortunately, you can rely on the resources of Ashford’s Career and Alumni Services team for resume writing tips, webinars, and other job interview preparation tools throughout your time in school and beyond.
Written by Ashford University Staff