As you write your resume, many of the things you need to include may have an obvious place: Your past jobs go in your work experience section, your education goes in your education section, and your skills go in your skills section. But what about certifications? They’re not quite experience or education, but they can be just as—if not more—important to you landing your next job.
We’ll tell you exactly when to include certifications on your resume and how, but first...
What Are Certifications?
A certification is a standardized professional credential—that is, everyone with a certification must meet the same requirements—issued by professional associations, organizations, or companies. You often need to pass exams and may need to meet certain education and experience requirements to obtain one. For example, a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is issued by the Product Management Institute, and in order to receive it you must have a minimum number of months of experience leading projects, complete a minimum number of hours of project management training or a lower-level certification from PMI, and pass the PMP exam.
A certification that checks all of these boxes but is issued by a government or regulatory body and/or is legally required in order to do a certain job is called a license, says Heather Yurovsky, Muse career coach and founder of Shatter & Shine. For example, to legally practice as a nurse in New York State you must have a NYS nursing license, which requires completing an approved nursing degree, undergoing background checks, and passing the NCLEX exam. Teachers, doctors, social workers and other mental health professionals, accountants, and lawyers are also among the professionals who often need licenses to practice. Licenses are also more likely to require ongoing education and training to stay current in your field and can expire if you don’t keep them current, Yurovsky says.
Meanwhile, certificates and online courses are not certifications. They’re not standardized and are often education-based rather than experience- or assessment-based. Certificates might be issued by universities, colleges, or vocational schools and show that you completed a set of classes (usually fewer than a degree) or they might “showcase your completion of online courses and learning and development trainings,” Yurovsky says. For example you can get a certificate in Cybersecurity Technology from the University of Maryland Global Campus or a Front-End Web Developer Certificate from edX. Individual companies may require certain certificates when hiring for roles, but you generally aren’t shut out of a career without one. When relevant, certificates still belong on your resume, but you might consider putting them in your resume’s education section (especially when issued by a school) or otherwise distinguishing them from your certifications. If you want to include online courses and certificates on your resume, read more here.
When Should You Include Certifications on Your Resume?
If you have a certification or license that is required or preferred for the role you’re applying to, definitely put it on your resume. Beyond that, “like with all information in your resume, you want to feature certifications that are relevant to the role you're pursuing,” Yurovsky says. Think about whether a certification shows how qualified you are as a candidate for this specific role. For instance, if you’re applying for a help desk or other IT support role, a CompTIA A+ certification that proves you’ve been tested on your IT skills will add to your resume even if the job description doesn’t ask for it.
Think about what each of your certifications is saying to a recruiter or hiring manager who reads your resume and what transferable skills it communicates. For example, that PMP certification will show that you can manage teams through complex projects and that you likely have strong leadership, communication, and organization skills, which might add to your qualifications not just for a project management job, but for any role where you have direct reports or are overseeing complicated processes. And, as the name suggests, a Google Analytics Individual Qualification shows that you’re an expert in Google Analytics, which might add to your value when being considered for a marketing, content, or data role.
Use the same principles to decide what to leave off your resume. You want your resume to be tailored so it’s clear to recruiters why you’ve applied to this job. Irrelevant qualifications could leave them confused or make them think you applied to a job that’s not in your field accidentally or indiscriminately. So that CPR certification from your summers as a camp counselor can probably come off your resume as you look for a full-time sales role, and the fact that you’re licensed to teach in Florida probably doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a job in tech—unless you want to pivot to edtech.
How Do You List Certifications on Your Resume?
If you’ve decided to list your certifications or licenses on your resume, there are a few places you can do it. You might consider making a “Professional Certifications,” “Licenses,” or similar section or, Yurovsky says, you can include them in your “Education” section—which you might consider renaming “Education and Certifications” for clarity.
Generally, your certification and license sections should go at the bottom of your resume—below your work experience but above education. However, you always want to lead your resume with the most important information, so if you’re an entry-level candidate, you might consider moving your certifications and licenses up to the top of the page.
For each certification and license that you list on your resume include:
- The full name of the certification (any common abbreviation can be included in parentheses)
- The issuing organization (or state)
- The date you earned the certification
- The location (if applicable and not implied by the issuer)
- Additional additional details or add-ons (if applicable)
If you’re still working on the certification, give your reader the proper context and avoid any awkward interview moments by including “In Progress” next to the name of the certification and/or “Expected” before the month and year you’re on track to complete the program, Yurovsky says.
How would this look in practice? Here are a few examples:
Project Management Professional (PMP), Project Management Institute - June 2020
Certified ScrumMaster (CSM), Scrum Alliance - January 2017
Professional Educator License (PEL) | State of Illinois | Expected: January 2021
Endorsements: Elementary Education, Special Education
You can also immediately signal that you have your most important certification or license by including it in a resume summary or headline. Particularly in the case of licenses or certifications that are “key to the position at hand,” Yurovsky says, you might also include the abbreviation next to your name at the top separated by a comma. For example, if you’re a registered nurse applying for a nursing role at a hospital, you might write, “Priya Anand, RN” at the very top of the page; or if you’re applying to a position that requires a CPA, go ahead and put “Timothy Oluwa, CPA” as your header. When you literally can’t do the job without that qualification, making it crystal clear that you’ve already jumped that hurdle will only help you.