In the hiring process, how do you stand out among other qualified candidates? That’s the age-old question. Employers (and applicant tracking systems) look for something extra—a special skill, unique work experience, or certification. Sometimes, certifications aren’t just nice to have: they might be essential for the type of work you’ll be expected to perform.
What does it mean to have a certification on your resume, and how should you present it to prospective employers? Read on to find out.
Should you put certifications on your resume?
It is a good idea to include a professional certification on your resume if (and only if):
• It’s relevant to the job to which you are applying
• It’s a real, recognized certification
• You have actually earned and have proof that you did
In short, there are many types of certifications that belong on resumes and can give you a boost in your job search.
What counts as a certification?
Certifications are indications that you have certain knowledge and skills that have been verified by an authority on the subject or area of expertise.
Most certifications are administered by third-party organizations, such as professional associations and societies, colleges and universities, testing companies, and others. Many certifications require training, tests and exams, and courses, but not all these vehicles result in or are synonymous with a certification. You should include the following types of professional certifications on a resume, assuming they are appropriate for the position to which you are applying:
• Professional licenses and certificates earned through and authorized by a professional association or academic institution
• Advanced degrees, including doctorates and master’s degrees
If you are looking for a certification to earn, consider what will truly help you get your foot in the door of or advance your career. For example, if you are a current or aspiring project manager, Project Manager Professional (PMP) is a good one to have, since it is highly regarded by people in the field and given by the professional association Project Management Institute.
You can earn many certifications online, some paid and some for free. Keep in mind, however, that an online course does not equal a certification. Simply taking a course online, even if there is a test, does not necessarily mean you are certified in a professional skill. (You may, of course, receive college credit for these classes, depending on your program of study.)
When can you put free online certifications on a resume?
If the free online certifications you have are granted by a legitimate organization and relevant to the job to which you are applying, then, by all means, add them to your resume.
While many certifications do require money (sometimes a lot of money), there are also many free ones that are meaningful and attest to real knowledge and skills. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers free, certificate-bearing courses in areas like managerial safety and health, hazardous materials, defense priorities and allocations, and more.
Where do certifications go on a resume?
Important certifications should be highlighted on your resume, rather than tacked on as an afterthought. Here is how to put them on your resume:
For Certifications that Are Essential for Your Job
If you are, say, a nurse, accountant, social worker, or other professional who can’t actually practice your field without your certification, you’ll want to make it very obvious, usually mentioning it more than once. It should go in both your header next to your name and in an education, skills, or training section. For example, if you’re a licensed social worker, you would list Your Name, LSW.
If the certification is required but doesn’t have a title or degree associated with it, then put it near the top in your resume objective.
For Certifications that Are Not Essential but Helpful
Certifications that are not a requirement of your job but are still relevant to the work may be included just in your education section. If the certification is prestigious or important, you may still want to highlight it in your objective as well. Include:
• The name of the certification and the abbreviation next to it in parentheses (if applicable)
• The certifying organization
• The date you earned it
If the certification is specific to a state, such as bar associations, you should also include the state or location where it is applicable.
If you have multiple certifications, you may want to create a dedicated certification section for your resume, but remember to be selective in including only the truly important ones. List them in reverse chronological order according to the date you obtained them.
For Less Important Certifications
If you have a non-vital certification or course and aren’t sure if you want to include it, consider noting it in your cover letter instead. That way, you can discuss how you’ve invested in your career without special knowledge or recognition that may seem like a reach if listed on your resume.
Certifications on a Resume vs. a CV
Since a curriculum vitae (CV) is more often used for professionals who work in academic or research settings, certifications are generally essential to the professions associated with CVs. You should include them in your education section, offering the same information as is listed above.
Below are some examples of certifications across different industries. This list is by no means comprehensive.
Health, Safety, and Emergency Management
• Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
• First Aid
• Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP)
• Six Sigma Belts
• CME (Certified Marketing Executive)
• Hubspot Inbound Marketing Certification Course (Marketing)
• Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
• Project Management Professional (PMP)
• A+ Certification
• Certified Scrum Master (CSM)
• Safety and Chemical Engineering Education (SAChE)
• Professional Engineering Manager Certification (PEM)
Gastronomy and Food Services
• Food Handler Certificate
• ISSA Personal Trainer Certification
• Registered Nurse (RN)
• Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)
• Public Notary
• English as a Second Language (ESL)