For most of us that have had to go on the job market at least once in our lives, we all know how the pre-employment process works. Part of this process is writing an impressive resume that can get your foot in the door towards the job position you want.
You might have noticed in plenty of articles and how-to’s online that one of the things you have to write down is your educational background. If this is the first time you’ve heard that term, it’s fairly simple: write down your educational attainments and certifications for courses related to the job you’re looking for.
But why is this a necessary part of your resume and why are employers asking? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is My Educational Background?
When you’re asked to write your educational background, it simply means to write down all the types of formal education you’ve attended that make you qualified for the job you’re applying for. The information you add here usually includes your highest form of degree, the schools you attended, and your majors and minors. You may also add your GPA if you are currently enrolled in college (otherwise known as post-secondary education) or if you’ve graduated and you think your high GPA can impress your employer.
If you’ve graduated with Latin honors, were on the Dean’s List, or had any significant awards in college, feel free to mention it on your resume as well. However, don’t expect that these awards are a sure ticket to the job you want.
For students or fresh graduates with little to no experience, you’ll want to place your educational background towards the top of your resume. But for people with extensive experience in the field of the job you’re applying for, it’s more strategic to place your work experience at the top so that employers will know that you have experience working in a related job and will require less training.
Educational Background vs. Educational Attainment
When asked for your educational background, you’re going to want to put everything I just mentioned in the previous section. Here’s a good article explaining what to do in the educational section of your resume. However, if an application form asks for your highest educational attainment, that’s a slightly different question.
While your educational background lists down your history, your highest educational attainment is the highest form of formal education you’ve received. For example, if you are a high school graduate, your highest educational attainment is a high school diploma. If you went to college and dropped out or are still in the process of studying, your highest educational attainment is a college undergraduate. If you graduated from college, your attainment is a college graduate.
Does Informal Education Count?
While there are some things you just can’t learn in a classroom, unfortunately, informal education does not count in this section. Informal education is learning experiences that happen spontaneously and naturally, so there’s no way to qualify, quantify, or even prove this type of education since there aren’t any measures or diplomas to certify it is true.
However, while not all counts of informal education can be added to your resume (you’re just going to have to find a way to mention it in passing during the interview stage, should you ever get that far), there are other ways to mention key things you learn through informal education. For example, if you’re working in copywriting in the advertising field, you can write that you’ve written for all types of digital media. You can’t learn this in most colleges, but employers would love to know that you have this skill mastered from your last job.
Trimming the Fat on Your Educational Background
However, while you may have an extensive educational background and want to add as much as possible, take note that there’s a sweet spot to how short or long your resume should be. Remember, you have six seconds to make a good impression with your resume. If it’s too short, you could be cutting out important bits that could have impressed. On the other hand, if it’s too long and bloated, your employer will get annoyed and not bother with trying to read everything to find the skills they’re looking for.
Ideally, you should keep your resume to one page if you’re an entry-level worker, a fresh graduate, or those making a career change. For seasoned employees, a two-page resume is ideal. But for high-ranking positions that require you to pull out the big guns and show off your long track record, it is acceptable to have more than three pages.
When trying to cut down your resume to make it fit, sometimes this requires you to trim the fat on every section of your resume – including the different types of education levels you have attained. Sometimes, what you think is necessary may actually just clutter your employer doesn’t need to read.
For people who have taken courses and are certified, don’t bother putting these certifications on your resume if they aren’t related to the job you’re applying for. You might think that it’ll show your potential employer that you’re a hard worker, but in reality, all it does is take up space. If you’re applying for an executive marketing position, don’t add that you took a vocational course in cosmetology and hairstyling (unless you’re applying for a job in the beauty industry or any business where your certification can come in handy).
For seasoned individuals with over 5 years of experience, your educational background matters a lot less than the experience you can bring to the table. Keep it short and simple – remove the GPA, special awards, extracurricular organizations, and unrelated minors that aren’t necessary to mention.
For fresh high school or college graduates, try not to mention irrelevant awards (e.g. Prom Queen or Most Likely to Be Successful, 1st Runner Up in a Charity Bake Off). Also, if you were part of an organization but weren’t very active in participation, it’s best not to mention it in your resume. I’ve heard stories of business graduates drawing blank faces when the interviewer asks them about their participation in organizations. Likewise, if you’re an active member of an organization, feel free to put it on your resume, especially if you were in a leadership position.
You may be tempted to fluff up your resume by writing as much as you can, but you will find that a dragging resume that takes three pages to say what you can simply say with one is counterproductive and is likely to turn potential employers away. This means being concise about each section of your resume – including your educational background. Analyze the context of the job you’re applying for with your relevant experience before listing down the formal education that can make you an asset to the company you’re applying for.