Monday, August 13, 2007

Coursework Listed on Resume

Question
If you've only taken a few courses and they were at a community college, should you list this on your resume? Also, will a potential employer still verify that you attended the school, even though you are not claiming you have a degree?

Answer
by Wendy Gelberg, Career Coach and Resume Writer

You raise two interesting questions, which I will answer in reverse order. Will an employer verify information about non-degree community college courses? Simply put, some will, some won’t. But more important – and I can’t stress this strongly enough – all information on your resume must be accurate and honest. This is the one “black and white” rule about resume writing.

Even if a person were to get hired based on a claim made on the resume, false information is grounds for dismissal – at any time. Just this past April the dean of admissions at MIT was fired when false educational information surfaced 28 years after she first included that information on her resume. This happened despite the fact that she had proven she could do the job and, in fact, had a stellar reputation in her field. The school hadn’t checked her background initially but did so only after receiving an anonymous tip. Keep in mind that how you present yourself on your resume reflects on your character.

Regarding your first question, (Should you list non-degree courses on your resume?), like most questions about resumes, the answer is, “It depends.” Writing a resume is an exercise in strategy – determining what information will be important to an employer and how best to highlight that information.

There are three strategic reasons to include occasional community college courses on your resume.

1. To enable a computer search to find the appropriate keywords that match the job requirements.

Remember that most employers these days have computers scan resumes for keywords to help them sort through the volumes of resumes they receive for each position they advertise. For example, if your target job requires knowledge of a specific software application (e.g., QuickBooks or Dreamweaver) and you took a course in that application and you list it on your resume, the computer will find a match if it is programmed to search for the name of the software. Your resume will be put in the “yes” pile.

Or, suppose your target job requires a degree and the computer is searching for the name of that degree. It won’t find one on your resume and you’ll be screened out. But if it is searching for the word “college,” it will find you. So even though you don’t know what word it will be programmed to look for, you will still increase your chances of being a match if you include your courses.

2. To demonstrate to the person who eventually reads the resume that you can handle college-level work.

If the position does require a college degree, by including your coursework, you enable a human being to do what only human beings can do – exercise judgment. By seeing college courses on your resume, the reader can draw a logical conclusion that you have the intellectual ability that the job requires and can decide to make an exception to the requirement, if other information on your resume is compelling. I’ve known candidates who were offered positions even though they didn’t have the “required” degree listed in the job posting, simply because they had some college credits and their work experience in the field was very strong.

3. To demonstrate to the reader that you are up-to-date in your field.

Once again, people can use discretion in their decision making, and if your college courses are recent and relevant, that will go a long way toward supporting your candidacy for any target job. If you’re not up-to-date in your field, enrolling in a course now -- and indicating that on your resume -- can address that problem.

That said, if the courses are very old or involve old technology or irrelevant subjects, including them could potentially work against you. Suppose you took a bunch of accounting courses at one time but now are applying for work as a recreation coordinator for seniors. An employer would understandably be confused about your true career interest and your commitment to this new job.

In summary, to create an effective resume, include accurate and relevant information that supports your qualifications for the position you’re applying for.

Good luck in your search.

Wendy Gelberg, M.Ed., helps job seekers communicate effectively and confidently, in speech and in writing, to get unstuck in their job search.

Susan Ireland’s Two Cents
Evil HR Lady answered a somewhat relevant question in her post, Oops, I Did it Again. In the questioner’s case, he or she submitted an outdated resume that indicated a pending degree that was never accomplished. The employer did a background check and called the job seeker on it.

1 comment:

Working Girl said...

How lovely to see someone state clearly that all information on a resume must be accurate and true.

Things have been getting a little fuzzy in this regard.

I love Evil HR Lady!