How to List Online Courses on Your Resume the Right Way (Because Yes, There Is a Wrong Way)
So you’ve been taking some online courses. You’ve learned a ton, and you’ve even been using your new skills at work or to develop a side project.
But now you’re contemplating a career move and wondering how (and even whether) to include your continuing education on your resume. You’re right to approach this task thoughtfully. Online courses are still relatively new, recruiters can be skeptical, and in certain cases, listing your online education can actually make your resume worse.
I spoke to several recruiters and hiring managers to gather insight on what they think when they see online courses listed on candidates’ resumes. So, whether you aced your marketing MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), killed it in coding bootcamp, or taught yourself graphic design; here are some of their tips on how to tell that story in your application:
1. Put Them in Their Proper Place
Across the board, the hiring managers and recruiters I spoke with agreed that MOOCs and other online courses can help make the case that you can do the job. However, they also think these classes shouldn’t be the star of the show. As Anne Lewis, the Director of Sales and Recruitment for Betts Recruiting, a firm specializing in recruitment for technology companies, told me, “In general, MOOCs can help to make candidate profiles stronger, especially junior candidates that don’t have as much experience.”
If you’ve taken courses that have taught you something that will help you on the job, by all means, include them on your resume, she says. Just keep the list of courses short, and confine them to a single, small area, such as a “Professional Training” section under your work history.
2. Keep it Relevant
Kudos for being a lifelong learner, but in all honesty, no one cares that you studied Ancient Greek Art when you're up for a job in the sales department. You wouldn’t list every course from your college transcript, so why do it with your online learning?
Instead, include only those courses that are relevant to the work you expect to do. Lewis suggests editing the list of courses on your resume depending on the job for which you’re applying. “It’s all about positioning these certifications as relevant to a particular role and outlining how [they] add value," she says.
3. Skip the Intro Classes
Multiple recruiters mentioned that listing introductory-level online courses can make a candidate look bad when the expectation is that he or she will be an expert. For example, Sham Mustafa, the CEO of Correlation One, a company that recruits for data science positions, told me a story about a candidate whose current title is "Senior Data Scientist." The candidate holds a PhD and has worked in roles requiring advanced quantitative skills for the past 25 years. “Yet,” Mustafa says, “Under his education, he lists introductory MOOCs in Machine Learning and Data Science.” Rather than helping him, these courses making him sound less experienced and actually decrease his competitiveness for the job.
Muse Master Coach Erica Breuer takes it one step further: “I advise my clients to include details about their professional development—including online courses—only when they've completed a major certification or other notable credential.” You want anything on your resume to bolster your credibility: Don’t waste lines on a low-level course that’s not adding to what you’d bring to the table.
4. Show How You Put Your Skills Into Practice
Recruiters were also in agreement that providing evidence of how you put your skills into practice can help strengthen the case that your continuing education meant something. While your education is important—whether we’re talking online courses or a university degree—it’s how you’ve put that education to work that really counts.
Breuer says, “It's crucial for candidates to demonstrate that they're keeping their skills fresh. So, don’t just list a class you took, include a special project, or pro-bono work with your favorite charity to provide context around the results you’ve brought using that new skill.”
Mustafa, of Correlation One, shared a story of a candidate for a data science position. The candidate’s degrees are in unrelated fields, but he has listed several data science courses on his resume. He has also successfully completed several projects and competitions on Kaggle, a popular data science site. “The reader of the resume can see that he is putting his newly acquired skills to work,” Mustafa says.
5. Prepared to Be Quizzed
OK, this one is kind of a bonus, because it’s about your interview—but hopefully your stellar resume gets you to this point in the process! If you list online courses, expect an open-ended question like, “Your resume lists a digital marketing class. What can you tell me about that experience?” Or you may have to field more specific questions, especially if you are claiming technical expertise.
So, while you’re thinking about your answers to common interview questions, also make a list of some you might be asked about your studies and come up with answers for each of them.
Listing online classes on your resume is a definite do. Just make sure you do it thoughtfully so you’re sending the right message about your continuing education. After all, you worked hard to complete all these courses in your free time, you owe it to yourself to make sure they count.
Laurie Pickard is the founder of No-Pay MBA and is passionate about helping people get a world-class business education without breaking the bank. No-Pay MBA attracts readers from nearly every country in the world and has been covered by Fortune, the Financial Times, Bloomberg Business, Entrepreneur, and CNN Money. Laurie runs No-Pay MBA from Rwanda, where she moonlights as an international development professional, focusing on building public-private partnerships. She is also hard at work on a book about the future of business education. Laurie can be found on Twitter @NoPayMBA.More from this Author