Soft Skills

8 minute read

How to Present Your Informal Education to the World

Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

It’s easy enough to present your traditional professional qualifications, such as your formal education and job history.

You know exactly where it should go on your resume, and hiring managers explicitly ask about them in interviews. Hey, there are even designated fields for them in the overwhelming majority of job applications.

But while those traditional details are important, they only offer a glimpse into your professional qualifications. Like so many others, the big picture of what you bring to the table extends well beyond your formal degree and past couple of jobs.

Maybe it’s that comprehensive online course you took that transformed you into a total Excel whiz. Or, perhaps it’s that side-project during which you coded an entire website by yourself—despite the fact that your career is in sales.

Those things? Well, they’re a little tougher to weave into your overall professional brand. How do you share those skills and qualifications in a way that makes sense? And, when they aren’t the tried and true standards that everybody has come to expect, should you even share them at all?

Here’s everything you need to know to effectively present those not-so-traditional professional qualifications to the world.

1. Add a special section to your resume

In some cases, you can add online courses you’ve completed to the “Education” section of your resume. However, that approach is only recommended if:

  • It’s a highly recognized program or instructor in your industry.
  • That skill or course is a formal requirement within your career field.
  • The course resulted in a tangible qualification—such as a certification or other designation.

But where exactly should these courses go on your resume?

Consider adding a dedicated section to it. You could call it “Professional Development,” “Additional Training” or something similar.

With this method, you call attention to all of the valuable skills you didn’t learn in college — without pushing them directly into the spotlight. In most cases, your formal education and professional experience still deserve the majority of your resume real estate.

2. Leverage your cover letter

Sharing everything that makes you a desirable candidate in your resume is tough. You only have a few short bullet points and limited real estate, making it tricky to connect the dots and tell your entire career story.

This is why your cover letter can be such a huge benefit to you.

It provides the opportunity to fill in the gaps, expand on your qualifications and elaborate on the skills you didn’t include on your resume.

Here’s an example.

Shannon is applying for a graphic design job that she’s excited about. But, she’s a little nervous about her traditional qualifications. Sure, she has her bachelor’s degree in graphic design, but she’s had a tough time gaining entry into her field—meaning all of her previous positions are in customer service.

Because of this, she wants to make sure to emphasize any and all design-related experiences she has under her belt—including an online advanced Photoshop course she completed—so her resume doesn’t instantly get tossed into the trash.

In her cover letter, she could call attention to her design experience while also touching on a requirement of the job by writing something like:

“I was especially excited to see that you’re looking for a candidate who possesses strong Photoshop skills. That was an area of study I really enjoyed when pursuing my B.A. in Graphic Design at Full Sail University. In fact, I found such a passion for photo editing that I decided to further refine my skills after graduation by independently completing an advanced online course about Photoshop.”

3. Use LinkedIn to your advantage

Your resume and cover letter are important but don’t forget the many benefits of LinkedIn.

Chances are, a hiring manager will head straight to your profile if they like your resume. Not to mention, it’s also a place where recruiters actively hang out -- in fact, 93 percent of recruiters scour the site for potential candidates.

Fortunately, LinkedIn offers far more flexibility (not to mention space) than your resume and cover letter. There are numerous sections that you can add to your profile to showcase those skills you gained from online courses.

How do you do this? It’s easy.

First, view your own LinkedIn profile. On the righthand side, you should see this big, blue “Add new profile section” button.

Click that, select the “Accomplishments” section, and then you’ll be met with a drop-down of different sections you can add to your own public profile.

Online courses you want to emphasize? There’s a course section. That super impressive side project? Create a projects section. Receive a noteworthy honor or award? You guessed it—there’s a section for that too.

Utilizing these special sections shares all of your skills and qualifications with interested hiring managers (even the stuff that didn’t make the cut on your resume!) in a way that’s streamlined, organized and easy to digest.

You can even apply this same “show, don’t tell” approach to your job interviews. Let’s look at another example to add some clarity.

Josh is interviewing for a role as a marketing specialist, and the job description explicitly asks for someone who is able to analyze large datasets in order to identify trends and use that information to inform future campaigns.

4. Show rather than tell

Ask any kindergarten classroom—showing is always better than telling. That same rule holds true in your professional life.

Listing a course or an accomplishment on your resume is one thing. But, in most cases, hiring managers are more interested in seeing how you applied that knowledge or those credentials to real-life situations.

On your LinkedIn profile, for example, add some pieces to your portfolio that showcase the relevant work you’ve completed in the past. Or, post updates with announcements about your various projects and achievements.

 

In his interview, Josh could say something like the below to prove he doesn’t just talk the talk, but also walks the walk:

“In the Google Analytics course I completed, I learned a lot about setting advanced filters in order to drill down to the information you really need. I put those into practice with a freelance client I worked with, and we saw a huge increase in engagement on their website. I think implementing something similar could produce great results for the social campaign we discussed earlier.”

A statement like this doesn’t just remind the interviewer of Josh’s qualifications but also proves that he knows how to step beyond the textbook and utilize that information to achieve results. Ultimately, that’s what employers care about.

5. Stay focused

You bring a lot of different experiences to the table—and that’s great! But, as tempted as you might be to describe, in detail, every single course, credit or accolade, it’s typically better to stay focused on only the things that are most relevant to your career goals.

You want to put a cohesive brand and career story in front of prospective employers. So, while it’s undoubtedly impressive that you’re an accomplished salesperson who is also a talented watercolor artist with a knack for whipping up pivot tables in Excel, throwing too many varying skills into the mix will only leave people scratching their heads.

Before actively promoting something, take a minute to ask yourself:

Is this something that employers in my desired field or industry will care about?

If you hesitate for even a moment, it’s probably not worth emphasizing. Separating the wheat from the chaff will allow you to really shine the spotlight on the things that will impress recruiters the most.

Over to you

Knowing exactly how to present your not-so-traditional experiences and qualifications to the world is tricky.

There isn’t an instruction manual or a one-size-fits-all approach, which makes it that much tougher to figure out.

Fortunately, you have plenty of options for ways you can present those valuable experiences to the world. Put these tips and strategies into play, and you’re sure to make a positive and lasting impression.

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Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a writer specializing in career, self-development, and productivity topics. When she escapes her computer, she enjoys reading, hiking, golfing, and dishing out tips for prospective freelancers on her website.

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