If you’ve earned a degree of some sort, it may seem like it is the most important thing to list on your resume. Why? Because its importance was drilled into our heads when we were growing up, you worked hard to get it, and it probably cost a lot of money (which you may still be paying back, student loans). However, as you progress further into your career, what you decided to study at 18 years old becomes less important, especially if you have some job-specific certifications to flaunt instead.
It’s not to say your degree is worthless because it certainly isn’t. A lot of jobs still require candidates to have a degree of some kind, but as you grow your expertise, your major, GPA, and alma mater don’t always hold as much weight as they did back when you were an entry-level employee (depending on the industry, of course). However, what will stand out are professional certifications, especially the ones you’ve acquired in the last few years. By making space on your resume to include them, you’re showing potential employers that you are continuing to invest in your education and career, which implies that you take your role seriously and are highly driven.
But, how do you know which ones to highlight? Where should they go on your resume? And, how do you discuss them during an in-person interview? Here are some tips to help.
Why, When, and Where to List Certifications on Your Resume
Since some industries require employees to enroll in continuing education classes regularly and others don’t, the number of certifications you may have can vary wildly. Still, whether you have 30+ certifications or you have three, it’s a good idea to include at least some of them on your resume.
Unlike degrees, certifications are usually earned throughout anywhere from a few days to a few months. Even so, they can take up a bit of your time, which becomes more valuable as your success grows (and especially so if you’re a parent). Including job-specific certifications on your resume helps emphasize your commitment to your job and becoming an expert in your field.
This is especially true if you work in an industry or role that doesn’t require continuing education to stay current on a license, such as in the medical field.
Arguably, you should always include your certifications on your resume, but since space is limited and you only want to show the very best, it makes sense to have them in some situations more than others.
First, if a job ad lists a certification under “requirements” or “nice to haves” and you have that specific certificate, you need to make space for it on your resume. It should even take priority over your profile/summary because it will undoubtedly help you get past the gatekeeper.
Another time when it makes sense to include a certification on your resume, even if it’s not explicitly listed on the job description as a requirement, is if it’s standard in your industry. Maybe it’s a Google certificate of some kind that is so common it surely won’t help you stand out from the other candidates, but not having it would set you apart from the rest of the talent pool, and not in a good way. Just because it’s standard to have a certification doesn’t mean recruiters and hiring managers will just go ahead and assume you’ve earned it.
If you’re trying to make a career pivot and you don’t have a lot of practical experience quite yet, including job-specific certifications will help give you some authority. They will show that although you haven’t done this work full time, you have invested in learning how to do it (and how to do it well), so you may not have to be trained as an entry-level employee.
Finally, there are all kinds of different professional certifications and programs that you can find from a quick and simple Google search. However, they are not all created equal. Make sure whatever certifications you include on your resume are accurate and recognizable. You have some kind of proof that you completed the training and were awarded the certificate.
There are cases where you shouldn’t include certificates, too. For instance, if you’re in a field where you’re constantly taking continuing education classes, then you can’t exactly fit all of them onto your resume. So you should just pick a few of the most recent relevant ones to list within the education portion of your resume. If you’ve earned a certificate in the past, but it’s outdated or no longer relevant, and there is an updated version available that you haven’t earned yet, it may be a good idea to skip this as well. It could imply that you’re no longer as invested in your career as you once were.
Specifically, where you should list your certifications depends a lot on your industry, role, and experience. For instance, several functions in the healthcare industry have the same title, but a certification puts you in a higher pay range. Additionally, having this certification makes such a difference in this situation. In this case, you’d want to include “Certified” when listing previous titles in your job history. You’d also want to have that information, such as where and when you earned it, near the top of your resume so that it’s sure to be seen by a recruiter or hiring manager.
Other situations where you’d want to list your certification at the top are listed as a requirement or a “nice to have” on the job description or if you’re relying on it to make up for lack of practical experience in a career pivot. Remember, you want to list the essential pieces of information at the top of your resume, so make sure that certification is documented in the top third section.
As previously mentioned, the longer you’ve been working, the less relevant your degree becomes, so it gets moved from the top section of your resume down to the bottom to make space at the top for what you want to highlight. If you have a few certificates that are older (but still relevant) or are an expectation in your industry, then you can list them in this lower section as well, since they don’t carry as much weight as other career achievements may.
Discussing Certifications in an Interview
You’ve made it to the interview stage, perhaps partially thanks to the certifications you’ve earned. Now it’s time to find a way to highlight them during your conversation. The easiest way to do this is when you’re answering the classic prompt: walk me through your resume. Here’s what to do:
Tailor your response to the specific job (it’s a good idea to plan/practice this before the interview)
Skip the traditional chronological narrative. Instead, focus on sharing highlights and achievements first, no matter when they happened, including any notable certifications
Be sure to share the items that are most important and relevant to this opportunity first, just as if you were verbally delivering the top third of your resume
Use this as an opportunity to highlight your skills
Remember, this prompt usually happens during the first part of the interview, so you don’t need to go in-depth at this point. As the conversation evolves, that’s when you’ll be able to discuss key career achievements and highlights where it’s harder to mention any professional certifications you’ve earned casually.
Put Your Certifications To Use
Whether you earned a certification because you had to or wanted to, you still put the time into learning the content and passing the course, so it deserves a place on your resume if it’s something that will help you get ahead in your job search. Having a certification of some sort on your resume tells a recruiter that you’re willing to put in the extra work and you’re invested in your career, both of which are highly desirable traits in employees.
It’s about more than jobs. We’re making progress.
The Mom Projects connects skilled, diverse talent with family-friendly employers that respect work-life integration and provides career support and connection to our community of talented moms and allies.