Artwork by: Stas Podgornov
Professional certifications can give you a leg-up in the job search process by demonstrating that you are qualified and committed to success in your field. Make sure you include them on your resume to stand out from the crowd and get the job you want. This article will show you how!
Whether you're crafting a brand-new resume or polishing an older one, it's important to make sure it’s organized, detailed, and up-to-date. Contact information at the top, professional summary, work experience, education — you’ve got that covered. But what about certifications?
You need to include them, of course, but where? They’re not exactly education details or job experience. Finding the right way to list your certifications and the best place to list them on your résumé isn’t complicated; it just requires a little thought. Obtaining career-related certifications took time and effort — make sure you show them off in the best light!
In this article, we’ll discuss the best way to place certifications on your resume, including
What are certifications, and why might you need them?
How and when do you list certifications on a resume?
Examples of resume certifications
Certification is different from a college-level degree. It's a standardized professional credential, which means that everyone getting the certification has to meet the same standards and criteria, and they’re issued by companies, accredited professional associations, or boards. You often need to take courses or seminars, pass exams and have particular experience prerequisites.
For example, to obtain a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification, one must have at least one to two years of experience in a human resources position and a Bachelor's degree or higher and take a two-hour, 115-question exam. To remain certified, one would need to earn 60 HR professional development credits over the next three years or retake the exam.
Gaining certification is not to be confused with being granted a license, which is generally issued by a state government or regulatory organization and is required by law before you can perform a job. For example, to be a public school teacher in Illinois, you need an Illinois state teaching license, which includes obtaining an education degree or state-approved certification program, getting background checks, and passing both content-area and general skills exams. Plus, a certain number of ongoing professional development credits are required to keep a license current, as it expires every four years. Other professions that require licenses are nurses, lawyers, medical professionals, and accountants.
And remember, online courses and online certificates are not the same as a certification. Those are not standardized or issued by a professional association, and are generally education-oriented. Certificates are used to demonstrate that you completed a series of courses, or that you completed specific online courses for educational purposes. They're still valuable, however, and can be placed under the "Education" section of your resume.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, 43.7 million people in the United States held a currently active certification or license, and people with an active certification or license had a higher overall employment rate — 87.7% — than people without one of these credentials.
Some positions require certification of all candidates (such as medical professionals or CPAs), but even when it’s not required, there are several important reasons to include your certifications on your resume, including
To demonstrate your experience
To show your skills over and above the basic job requirements
To make up for having less practical experience
To pass the ATS (Automated Tracking System) scan
To establish credibility
However, you should leave certifications off your resume if:
They’re not relevant to the job you’re pursuing
It’s a short, online course
Your certification is expired and you have no plans to renew
Completing certification courses on your own shows your commitment to your field, as it requires an investment of both time and money. Appropriate certifications, along with a great resume, help show hiring managers you’re the best person for the job.
Obviously, if you have a certification that is relevant to the position you’re applying for, it should be featured on your resume. For example, if you’re applying for an HR position, you would feature your SHRM-CP certification, but it wouldn’t be relevant if you were changing careers and getting started as a social worker.
Align your resume to the job you’re seeking, and keep in mind how it would look to a prospective employer and what skills it implies. For example, a Scrum master certification shows the hiring manager that you have solid coaching, teaching, and organizational skills, and can facilitate streamlined work processes, which might make you stand out from the pool of candidates.
Remember, certifications should only be included on your resume if they increase your value as a candidate. Certifications that don’t apply to the job you want might cause hiring managers to think you’re not serious about the job or that you applied by mistake. So unless you’re applying for a healthcare job, for example, you can leave off your First Aid certification if you’re looking for a job as an accountant.
Fortunately, you have some flexibility as to how you list your certifications on your resume. You can mention them in your professional summary, create a separate "Professional Certifications" section on your resume, or place them in your "Education" section (although you might want to rename it "Education and Certifications" so that it doesn't get overlooked). Depending on the template you’re using, certifications (and licenses) should go at the bottom of your resume, above your education but after your job history. However, if you’re new to the workforce or a fresh grad, you might want to place your education/certifications at the top.
Depending on your chosen career, you might want to consider obtaining more than one certification to list on your resume. For example, in 2021, 66% of global IT professionals are planning to or actively pursuing their next certification. To make strides in your career, establish a timeline for gaining additional, relevant certifications.
You have a few options on where to place your certifications on your resume, from “Education and Certifications,” to a separate “Certification” portion, or even placing them under an “Other” heading. However, as to what information you should include when listing your certification, it is pretty straightforward, and should include the following:
Full title of the certification (if there’s a common abbreviation, include it in parentheses)
The Issuing association or organization
Date of certification
Certification expiration date
Location, if applicable
Any additional details about the certification, if space allows.
To avoid any confusion, if you haven't completed all the requirements for certification yet, put the words "in progress" next to the certification name, as well as your expected completion date.
You can also highlight your main certification/license by placing it in your professional summary, or after your name in the contact section, such as “Maria Lopez, CPA” or “Robert Kai, LSW.” You’ll still need to list the details in the certification section, though.
SHRM Certified Professional (in progress)
Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
Expected completion: January 2024
Certified Administrative Professional (CAP)
International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP)
March 2015 (expires March 2020)
First Aid and CPR Certification
American Red Cross
June 2022 (expires June 2025)
Relevant skills: Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and pediatric resuscitation
Notary Public, Delaware
Delaware Department of Business
Renewal date: September 2022
Certifications can benefit you monetarily. For example, according to a survey of recruiters, the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification results in a 22–25% higher salary than peers who don’t have the certification.
Certifications can indicate your skill level, emphasize your qualifications, and help your resume stand out. Listing them in the proper place will make sure they get noticed, increase your chances of getting an interview, and demonstrate the value you bring to a potential employer.
A certification is a standardized professional credential, which means that everyone getting the certification has to meet the same standards and criteria, issued by companies, accredited professional associations, or boards.
Align your resume to the job you’re seeking, and keep in mind how your certification would look to a prospective employer and what skills it implies.
Unsure where to place certifications on your resume? Depending on the format, you can mention them in your professional summary, create a separate "Professional Certification" section on your resume, or place them in your "Education" section.
When listing your certification, be sure to include the full title of the certification, the Issuing association or organization, the date of certification, the certification expiration date, the location, if applicable, and any additional details about the certification.
Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator with extensive professional expertise in advertising, media analysis, teaching, writing, and literature. Prior to working for Career.io, Jennifer was a public school teacher, teaching courses in college and career readiness, writing, and public speaking. Jennifer has a master’s degree in Teaching, and is the author of two published novels.