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The Best Way to List Professional
Certifications on Resumes

Eric Ciechanowski
By Eric Ciechanowski
Last Updated: September 04, 2020
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Certifications on resumes help employers gain a greater picture of a prospective candidate’s qualifications. Thus, they definitely should be included when constructing this document.

“Including professional certifications on your resume acts as proof that your skills and expertise are up to par with the standards set by the industry,” says human resources expert Steve Wang. “Many certifications require holders to take an exam every several years to renew them. For industries that are constantly evolving, listing those certifications is a way of showing hiring managers that you are up-to-date with the current practices of your field.”

Follow these guidelines for listing and formatting your certifications so prospective employers knows you have the skills they’re seeking.

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Certifications Vs. Licenses

Certifications bear a close resemblance to licenses and are often found in the same sections on resumes. Both typically require demonstration of knowledge and the ability to perform certain skills. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, certification is awarded by a non-governmental body and does not convey a legal authority to work in an occupation. By contrast, a governmental licensing agency grants licenses, which convey a legal authority to work in an occupation. Think of it as the difference between earning a certificate showing competency in a given computer language valued by employers vs. receiving a teacher’s license that enables one to educate in a public school.

Where to List Certifications

Candidates want to make certain readers can spot certification information easily on a resume. Common way to accomplish this goal include:

  • Creating a separate section on the resume entitled “Certifications” or “Licenses and Certifications”
  • Expanding the traditional “Education” section to a headline that reads “Education and Certifications”
  • Including it under additional sections such as “Continuing Education” or “Professional Development”

Hold a certification that is a vital requirement to apply for the job at hand (such as a CSN — Certified Nursing Assistant)? Or do you possess an in-demand IT certification that may be your ticket to employment? In both cases, consider placing your credential top and center, both literally and figuratively.

“For some jobs where there is one predominant certification every employer is looking for, you can consider using it as your resume’s title right underneath where you put your contact information,” Wang says. “If you do that, it’s important to center it, bold it, and potentially increase its font size to make sure employers see it right away.”

How to List Certifications

Some industries have standard formats for the order in which credentials should be listed on a resume. Consult governing or primary organizations in your specific field for best practices. In the absence of such a structure, applicants usually list the certification most relevant to the desired job first, followed by others that support candidacy. Reverse chronological order (most recent first) could also be an option. Leave outdated or irrelevant certifications off the document.

When writing out certifications, Wang suggests using full, official names along with any abbreviations in parentheses. Such a strategy clears up unfamiliar acronyms, and it also ensures applicant tracking systems (ATS) detect your certification in whichever manner it has been set to search (such as Certified Financial Planner vs. CFP).

Some people choose to include the granting institution or organization along with the certification name.

Sample entries might look like the following:

  • Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP)
  • ServSafe Certification, National Restaurant Association
  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), Project Management Institute

Stating the year obtained is a possibility, especially if a certification requires renewal. Add the year you were certified to the end of your entry, like so:

  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), 2017
  • CPR/First Aid Certification, American Red Cross, 2018

Certifications and Your Industry

The type and number of certifications on a resume differ greatly by individual and by industry. Employers in a field such as computer science, for instance, may put a high emphasis on candidates with certifications in the newest technologies. Besides the actual skills involved, such accomplishment demonstrates a willingness to stay current.

Because certifications take time to complete and often involve a fee, workers should research which credentials will yield maximum results in terms of hirability and pay. Likewise, professionals need to be aware that many certifications require renewal on a regular basis, so examine what educational or work requirements may be necessary for upkeep. The objective should not be to present employers with an alphabet soup of certifications, but rather a thoughtful portrait of a candidate worthy of attention.