If you earned a degree online, you may be wondering how best to present it to potential employers when looking for a job. And with a record number of students attending college and due to enter the job market this year, the competition is stiffer than ever for many professions. That's why it's important to craft an effective resume and cover letter that maximize your opportunities to explain your education and how it makes you a unique and valuable candidate.
There are a couple strategies you can use when presenting your online education on your resume and cover letter.
Strategy 1: Be direct about your online degree.
Your resume is your strongest tool to differentiate yourself from other candidates early in the application process. Potential employers will examine resumes and cover letters before deciding to move forward with face-to-face interviews. If you plan to be direct about your degree acquisition, then you will need to focus on how your online education will bring value to the workplace.
As an online student, you well know the unique skills and attributes online graduates gain in school. Before sitting down to write your resume and cover letters, take an inventory of these skills:
- Be sure to highlight your familiarity with distance learning and video conferencing software.
- If you led a group project in an online course, point out that you have experience in managing teams remotely.
- Explain that you are accustomed to troubleshooting technological issues on your own.
Employers are also looking for independent learners and people who are accustomed to managing their own time. If you're a disciplined self-starter who held a job down or fulfilled other duties while completing school online, make this clear in both your resume and cover letter.
Strategy 2: Omit the “Online” descriptor on your resume.
Online students are held to the same rigorous standards as students at brick-and-mortar campuses, but some worry that the “online” descriptor may handicap them early in the job application process. These students simply list the name of the university or school they attended, omitting the term “online” from the education section of the resume.
Using this strategy can help you bypass the issues you may face as a graduate of an online degree program. Of course, you should be truthful if asked whether your degree was earned on campus or online; if you are asked this question, take the opportunity to explain the ways that online learning makes you a unique candidate.
Statistically speaking, it pays off to mention your online degree at some point during the application process. In 2011, 74.5% of college graduates were employed during the same year they graduated, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their data shows that only 50% of those without a college degree are employed. Ultimately, it is usually best to be forthright with a potential employer during the application process. If you decide to omit your education from your resume, then you will want to prepare for interview questions regarding your academic performance.
Preparing for the Interview
Deciding how to present your online degree can be difficult. Your decision will depend on multiple factors – what kind of degree you obtained, what school you attended, the industry you'd like to work in, and what kind of job you're applying for. But once you've decided how you will present your online degree on your resume, it's important to prepare for the next step in the application process: the interview itself. Below, you will find sample resumes and interview questions to help you practice explaining your education.
Strategy 1: Resume Tips and Sample Interviews
If you decided to use Strategy 1 of fully disclosing your online education on your resume, you can model the “education” section of your resume on this straightforward depiction of an online degree:
Education and Activities
Washington State University Online
– M.B.A. with a Marketing concentration, 2008-2010.
– B.A. in Business and Marketing, 2004-2008.
WSU Academic Honors
– Dean's List, 2006-2010.
– Graduated Summa cum laude, 2010.
– Phi Beta Kappa, 2010.
WSU Organizations and Activities
– Editor in Chief for the WSU MBA Webinar on Administrative Policy, 2010.
– Tutor for the WSU Center of Advising and Career Development, 2008-2010.
List distinguishing honors and in-depth volunteer or leadership experiences that set you apart from your online degree program peers. If you've participated in online group projects or assisted faculty with Web-based meetings, be sure to mention it. This shows prospective employers your online education has given you greater technical fluency than many traditional schools would have.
Sample Interview Questions
When you are called in for your interview, you will need to emphasize how your distance learning experience gives you an edge in the workforce. Here are some practice questions and answers.
Q: How would you say your experience at Washington State University has prepared you to work with clients?
A: Businesses seek marketers with a good balance of interpersonal savvy and technical knowledge. At WSU, I was selected to coordinate a webinar from the administrative level, allowing my peers to speak with our dean, alumni, and internship partners through a streaming conference. I was responsible for the audio-visual instructions, participant scheduling, and social media broadcasts, all done remotely.
Our Marketing webinar went off without a hitch, and over 260 students attended the live stream. Over 12 people in my Marketing 402 class, including myself, began internships from company connections they made during the webinar. The experience I gained with digital communications can translate directly to the marketing responsibilities here at your company.
Q: Do you feel like your school's online format prevented you from developing business social skills?
A: No. I exchanged dozens of communications daily via voice chat, email, message board, and video streams. After the remote webinar earlier, I was able to make a significant connection with the marketing firm SynthCo, and become their marketing intern in 2009. I worked on-site with them, managing their online brand image. At SynthCo, I was able to raise customer satisfaction by over 80% through an aggressive social media and email campaign. I don't think my technical skills would have been up to par without the experience I gained daily working with WSU Online.
The interview samples above highlight two main college experiences – the Marketing Webinar and the SynthCo internship, which are also mentioned in the resume. The interviewee shows how their technical knowledge and social media netiquette have benefited both their academic peers and SynthCo. Before your interview, think of your greatest academic accomplishment and how your earned skills will be useful to an employer.
For example, was your college a flagship institution that offers both online and traditional degree programs? Or are they strictly a distance learning institution? Schools with greater brand recognition, such as the University of Phoenix, are known to offer online degrees and many employers regard them favorably. However, the reputation of your school shouldn't impact your resume presentation too much. In a recent survey conducted by Zogby International and Excelsior College, 83% of company executives polled acknowledged that online degrees are as credible as traditional degrees. Online degrees are by no means rare amongst applicants, and they are constantly gaining recognition in hiring departments.
Before deciding how to present your school's online format, you will want to also consider the type of degree you have. If you have majored in a field that relies on technology, such as digital photography or computer science, you may find that employers are more receptive to an online degree. However, if your field requires a lot of experiential learning or social interaction, then you will want to bolster your interview by discussing internships and other professional opportunities, in addition to your academic credentials.
Strategy 2: Resume Tips and Sample Interviews
Here is an example of how you might structure the education section of your resume if you decide to use Strategy 2 for your resume, where you omit the mention of online schooling from your resume.
– Master of Public Administration, 2007-2009.
– BA in Communications, 2003-2007.
Since this academic institution offers both campus-based and online courses, an employer may not even bring up your school's format. However, it is critical to arrive at your interview prepared to explain the format of your online degree. It's difficult to predict employers' reactions during an interview when they learn that you have received a degree online. The best way to counter resistance is to inform prospective employers of how online institutions work and how your degree brings value to the workplace.
Sample Interview Questions
This interview scenario illustrates how you can tell potential employers how online schools work, and how to explain the unique value of your degree.
Q: How did your experiences at Villanova inform your professional aspirations?
A: Actually, I earned my MPA through Villanova's online program.
Q: Ah, I see. I'm sorry, I actually don't know too much about how online programs work. Are your credentials still the same as other MPAs?
A: Yes, online academic institutions must earn accreditation and meet the same academic standards as brick-and-mortar schools. The Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools granted accreditation to Villanova online programs.
Before you attend an interview, you will want to brush up on your institution's credentials, notable alumni, and industry-specific programs. If an interviewer seems unsure about an online degree, you can highlight your school's achievements and connect your academic experiences to your prospective role at a company.
If for some reason, you decide to omit your educational background, then you will really need to emphasize other parts of your resume, including your career experience, volunteer work, skill sets, and awards. You will need to set yourself apart from other applicants who disclose their education histories. You can do this by emphasizing your non-academic experiences and your interest in the organization by asking questions of your own. Study the organization before your come in so that you can ask intelligent and informed questions about their work environment, company culture and the company's greater mission and directions.
No matter how your present your education on your resume, an employer may ask you unexpected questions about your degree. Research your school's credentials, make lists of relevant skill sets, and learn to speak about your education with confidence!