When you’re applying to your dream job, the most important first step in getting hired is to prepare an effective resume.
Your resume might be the most important one or two pages that you write in your entire career. In most job application processes, the resume is your one and only chance to grab the attention of a hiring manager and get an interview. And if you’re going for a job in a trending industry like tech, your resume needs to stand out in a pile of thousands of others.
The basic structure is fairly simple. Start with your name and address, then add relevant work experience. Next is usually a section about your formal education: name your college, your major, masters. PhD. etc. A lot of people stop there, but this can be a mistake. Adding supplemental education and experience to your resume can make or break your chances of getting hired to a top job.
Why supplemental education is important on your resume
Imagine you’re applying for a software developer position at, let’s say, Amazon. At the moment, there are 9,474 open software development positions at Amazon, and that’s just one job category out of 33. So, you can imagine that they see a lot of resumes.
Okay, no problem, you went to a leading university, and graduated in the top third of your computer science class. Well, so did the other people in the top third of your class. And then there are the thousands of other universities around the world to compete with as well. That Amazon hiring manager will end up seeing a lot of resumes with almost the same exact formal education and experience as yours.
Differentiating yourself from the masses is extremely important in getting hired for a top tech job. Listing online learning, and other supplemental education on your resume can be a great way to stand out from your cohort.
Knowing what types of online courses are appropriate to list on your resume, and where to put them is important. Formatting your resume properly with the correct items in their ideal locations is a big part of getting noticed. Including the wrong online course can be as damaging to your chances as not including any at all.
Read on for helpful information on the how, what and when of including online education on your resume.
When to use (or not use) MOOCs on your resume
Knowing which of your online learning experiences to list on your resume is crucial to getting the right kind of attention from a hiring manager. You want to emphasize your interest, skill, and ambition, but you don’t want to signal your lack of advanced knowledge and experience.
What is a MOOC
Okay, so first of all what is a MOOC? MOOC stands for Massively Open Online Course. MOOCs have become popular in recent years for learners in all kinds of non-traditional education. This approach to learning allows professional certification organizations, private tutors, corporate trainers, and even accredited colleges and universities to deliver online courses and workshops.
There are tons MOOC platforms available these days. Some of the most popular include:
- Is one of the most flexible and diverse MOOC marketplaces available with courses ranging from tech certificates, to quilting, to yoga. Most of the courses on Udemy center on video lectures, with downloadable materials and interactive quizzes.
- Was founded by two former Stanford University professors to provide a formal platform for online education. Coursera‘s offerings focus on courses provided by top universities, professional certification organizations, and other formal entities.
- Is geared toward tech professionals. Their platform offers individual memberships, as well enterprise training packages for the delivery of corporate upskilling and other education efforts.
List only courses that are appropriate to your skill level
Let’s say you’re changing careers after 20 years in sales. You’re looking to get into software development, but you don’t know anything about coding. It makes sense to check out a beginner-level MOOC on the basics of programming languages. This is a great way to get your feet wet and learn the fundamentals that will support your new career.
Now, imagine you’re a hiring the manager looking at your resume. The employment section lists 20 years of progressive experience in sales. You have a masters in communication from a good university. You list several examples of your status as an industry leader. And then, down there at the bottom… “Participated in Programming for Beginners online course.”
The contrast between your professional experience and that beginner level online course is going to stand out to your potential employer. Listing this course will emphasize your lack of real-world knowledge in the role you’re applying for.
Even if you list several advanced level courses, the fact that you mentioned the beginner level course actually makes you look less attractive as a new hire than if you didn’t mention any supplemental education at all.
Where should you list MOOCs on your resume
Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are becoming more popular every day. MOOCs are an accepted method for learning new skills without interfering with your busy schedule. That said, they are not yet widely accepted in the way that a formal class offered by a university might be.
A good online course with an experienced instructor can offer the same quality of education as a much more expensive accredited university course. But it is not appropriate to list MOOCs on your resume the same way that you list your formal education. Online courses relevant to the position you’re applying for should be listed in a separate section below your formal education. You can title this section something like “Professional Training and Certifications”.
Attempting to use MOOCs as a substitute for education or job experience will send up a red flag for a hiring manager. Many hiring managers might see this as artificially inflating your credentials.
The quality of the course matters
Like with brick and mortar schools, there are good MOOCs and not-so-good MOOCs.
What credentials can you achieve through MOOCs?
Some online courses offer professional certifications or other official acknowledgement of the skills and knowledge you’ve developed. An online course that offers a certificate in your desired subject is a great addition to your resume. Certifications in your field show that you have a deep interest in the subject matter, and a willingness to participate beyond your day-to-day responsibilities.
Courses with lots of formal tracking of your progress
Even MOOCs that don’t offer a certificate can still be very valuable if they provide tracking of your progress. Courses that require a formal exam at the end, or track your progress and learning in other ways, do more to make you a desirable candidate than those with informal goals and milestones.
The instructor matters
Any instructor who teaches effectively has a place in your learning experience. But your resume will carry more weight if you list courses taught by experienced professionals.
Many courses on Coursera are taught by industry leaders and professors from the world’s top universities. Any diligent hiring manager is going to do some research on the courses you list. Finding that you studied under someone with a PhD in your field will likely make a difference in their decision to schedule an interview.
Experience is everything
No matter where you receive your education, whether it’s MIT or Udemy, most companies want to hire people with experience. You can list as many online courses as you like, but you’ll always lose out to a candidate with real-world experience. That is, unless you can provide practical examples of your ability.
If you’re changing careers, taking an interactive online course is a great way to prove your ability and interest to potential employers. Combining your experience from your previous profession with a few high quality MOOCs in your new career can look very attractive on a resume.
Classes alone are usually not enough
When you go to college, you don’t spend your entire time in the classroom. Most college degrees require some non-classroom activities such as an internship or an independent research project. Your online education works much the same way.
Say you want to launch a new career as a Python developer, for example. Learning to code is only the very first step to becoming a professional developer. You’ll also need a solid understanding of project management paradigms, best practices, and communication skills, to name a few.
Participating in professional development activities related to your new career, but not explicitly tied to specific knowledge about a single subject, can show your maturity, professionalism, and broad perspective. These are all valuable traits in a new hire in any field.
So, if you’re beginning your job search, hopefully you now see the value of adding Massively Open Online Courses to your education experience. Listing these courses on your resume properly will be a great way to differentiate your unique abilities and interests.
Armed with this knowledge, you can submit your resume with confidence. Go ahead and apply to the job of your dreams, knowing that you’re representing yourself in the best possible light.