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4 Tips to Highlight Experience
over Education on a Resume

See also: Transferable Skills

In today's job market, much is made about the value of higher education, vocation-specific training, and certifications as a means of establishing your bona fides in a particular field. In reality, however, those aren't the only factors that determine whether a candidate is a good fit for any particular job. In fact, it's fair to say that the great majority of successful job hunters end up landing a position for which they weren't the most qualified candidate based on educational attainment alone.

Time and again, HR managers from some big businesses have confirmed this. A notable example came from MasterCard's Chief Human Resources Officer Michael Fraccaro, who claimed in an interview that his company prized skills and culture fit, personality, and agility above simple qualifications in finding ideal candidates. For job seekers, that means that communicating who you are to a potential employer is at least as important as demonstrating you have the knowledge you need – and that having a particular degree isn't the only way to get your foot in the door.

All of this makes it vital for job seekers to know how to craft a resume that communicates the totality of their experience relevant to a particular position, especially if they don't have volumes of educational achievements to list. Here are four tips to help those in that position to do exactly that.

Find Your Angle

The first thing to do before crafting a resume is to put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter or hiring manager. Think about your prior work experience and other related achievements, and try to figure out how they relate to the position you're applying for. This step is more important than almost any other part of the process. A survey of over 50,000 employers even found that companies of all types and at all hiring levels considered work experience and internships over academic credentials, so finding ways to highlight that experience is critical.

Once you figure out how to construct a narrative that demonstrates how the sum total of your experience makes you uniquely qualified for the job, lead with it on your resume. If you do a good enough job at it, the recruiter or hiring manager will be more likely to forgive any weaknesses in the education section of your resume.

Realize That Professional Development Counts

After considering how your experience plays into the position you're seeking, the next thing to do is to augment your educational background with any on-the-job training or professional development you've done. This is something that is often overlooked when constructing a resume, but this can be a real game-changer. For example, if you've done any job shadowing, or received one-to-one training in a former role, it's a great idea to highlight that to the greatest extent possible.

If you have enough to do so, consider creating a stand-alone resume section for this information. This helps to draw attention to this valuable experience and can help to ameliorate any educational shortcomings that come later in the document. Plus, hiring managers understand the difference between practical knowledge and classroom training, and will consider your efforts when making their decision.

Highlight any Relevant Education

It's also important to consider that, when it comes to listing your education on a resume, the degrees you've earned aren't all that matter. If you, for example, began to study for a degree related to the position you're trying to attain, make specific mention of that fact. List how many credits you have toward that degree, as well as any academic recognition you received in the course of that work. This demonstrates to the employer that you have more than a passing interest in the field and that you're not as much of a neophyte as your resume might suggest at first glance.

There are a variety of ways to organize this kind of information. As a general rule of thumb, it's best to use a hierarchical structure that begins with the degree program itself, followed by as much specific coursework information as is relevant. Try to limit what you include to only the courses that you excelled in so you can also highlight things like your grade point average or any recognition you received.



Use Your Cover Letter to Sell Yourself

Since so many hiring managers are looking for candidates with the right personality and temperament to fit in with their existing work culture, it's a good idea to find a way to give them an idea of who you are as a person, too. As you might imagine, it is incredibly difficult to accomplish this within the bounds of a resume. The good news is you don't have to. That's what your cover letter is for.

To maximize the chances that a potential employer will give you due consideration for a position, you should craft a specific cover letter for every single job you apply for. You should use the cover letter to tell a story about how your experience and skills connect with the job you seek and offer some perspective on why your specific background has prepared you for it. Remember, the person reading your resume will likely have to sift through hundreds more, too, so if you set your personal narrative for them, they will see your resume through that lens – which can only help your chances of getting the job.

The Bottom Line

It should be clear by now that there are plenty of ways to turn your specific experience into a compelling resume that will help you get whatever job you seek. It should also be clear that degrees and educational attainment aren't the last word on whether you'll be hired for a particular position. In fact, there's ample evidence to suggest that applying the tips set out here may be the best approach, even if you have the education to back up your experience.

The bottom line is simple. If you can find a way to demonstrate to a potential employer that you're a good bet – and that you'll fit into their organization without much difficulty – you'll go far. After all, if education were everything, the world would now be short of some very wealthy and successful people.

So, don't be afraid to put your resume up against those with a more extensive educational background – and you may well land the job you're after.


About the Author


Philip Piletic closely follows the impact of technology on education, and its evolution from traditional to modern methods that include e-learning, courses, gamification, and others. He has also helped the Sydney-based IT & Business school in developing their IT courses.

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