Resumè: Education or Professional Experience first?

Education and Professional Experience in resumè

Without a doubt, your studies are of the utmost importance. They say a lot about who you are and whether you’re an inquisitive, well-educated person. They may also help prospective employers to understand your background, your family, your social environment and how you were influenced by it.

Although it’s becoming increasingly common to start working before finishing school and, on the other hand, to continue studying throughout one’s career, people normally study before starting their working life, so education is usually listed first on a CV.


Have you ever wondered why?

Probably, the first time you wrote your CV you were so young that your studies were the most important part of your experience, so you put them first on your CV and never changed that.

Or perhaps you want to highlight the fact that you have a degree, or again, you might want to show that after your secondary school you’ve taken an awful lot of further courses and that you’re really well educated.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not questioning the importance of education here; however, from the point of view of the job market, your studies are definitely less relevant than your work experience, so the latter should come first. This is true indifferently if you use the European format, the chronological format or the skill-based one.

What should you write?

Nowadays, completing compulsory education is a matter of course, so you don’t need to mention that on your CV.

Your secondary school, on the other hand, should always be included, as in most cases it’s linked to your family origins and background, as well as your professional choices. It’s often possible to single out someone who had vocational training from someone who went to a grammar school, say, even after decades. So you should always indicate your secondary education, even if you’re over 40 or even 50.

Even more so, you should include your higher education. In particular, you should make sure you specify the duration of your studies to avoid misunderstandings. Confusion may arise because in the past some university courses did not actually award a degree (I’m thinking for example of a three-year course at the Polytechnic University of Milan that trained ‘engineering consultants’ as opposed to proper engineers), but also because today Bachelor’s degrees and Master’s degrees are two different things. Hence you’d better specify the degree you hold, the University, School or Polytechnic you attended, and the city you studied in.

Dates and grades are “data”. So you must be especially careful in writing them down, particularly when it comes to dates: making mistakes is easy and can raise uncomfortable questions regarding conflicting dates or years when you seemingly didn’t do much with your life. Moreover, your interviewer will automatically look at the years it took you to complete your degree, and that data will also remain on record for years to come.

Grades are a plus and something to be proud of, especially if they are first class;but specifying them is not necessary. Personally, I would only give the marks I’m proud of. If your sole source of pride consists in having finished school you don’t need to specify your grades.

What about your final dissertation? If you wrote your dissertation on a topic that is related to your job and don’t have much work experience, it’s OK to write a couple of lines about it. However, you should avoid writing the name of your supervisor.

If you started a university degree but didn’t complete it, you’d better include this information on your CV rather than leaving gaps in your records. Your prospective employer might think all sorts of negative things, and it is possible that you studied really hard for a number of years and then, because of an unforeseen event in your life (which may have been positive or negative), you had to drop out of university. In this case, indicating the number of years you attended university and the courses you took would be better than omitting this information entirely.

One piece of advice: don’t ever lie! Emphasising certain details and overlooking others is OK, but lying is completely unacceptable. Literally everything could fall apart because of a “lie”, as we’ve heard on the news several times in the recent past.

In fact, it’s to avoid awkward situations of this kind that employers in some European countries, like Switzerland and Germany, request you to produce all your study certificates along with your job application.

There’s then the issue of post-graduate studies. Let’s start with Master’s degrees, and let’s be clear about this too: in the 80s, a number of Master’s flourished under the name of MBA; they were one-year-long degrees that were offered by universities all over the world, in Italy, in the US or in the European capitals, and the high costs of these courses matched the excellent level of education they provided. Until a few years ago, this was the Master’s par excellence as it was well received in the business community and within the “upper classes”. What I’m driving at is that claiming to have a master’s from a prestigious university when all you’ve done is a business training course that lasted only a few days is not fair. News about politicians who have done so is instructive once again. A master course of this kind is very different from an MBA, which is a proper academic degree.

There are non-academic master courses available for all sorts of functional areas in business and also for every new market sector: they usually run for a number of months, though attendance is limited to a few days a month. There are also courses that take place over a number of weekends and others that you can follow entirely online. In all such cases, I’d recommend that you specify exactly which kind of course you attended.

Pay a special attention to the chronological order! Be careful to specify whether you’ve studied and worked at the same time or whether you took some time off to complete your course. If you’re currently studying, you should write “on-going” next to the indication of the course you’re following.

As for the subjects of your studies and any further comments, leave them aside: you’ll have the opportunity to discuss them during your interview.

About the author
Cristina Gianotti
For more than fifteen years Cristina Gianotti has been working in Coaching - Career, Executive and Business Coaching – supporting managers, professionals and entrepreneurs that are interested in investing in themselves and their own professional development. She comes from a management consulting, management and entrepreneurial background. In 2016 she published her fisrt book "E' facile cambiare lavoro se sai come fare" (It is easy to change job if knowing how) with bookabook. In 2018 the second one "Connecting Dots: il networking questo sconosciuto" (Connetting dots: the unknow professional networking").

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