should you list coursework on your resume?

A reader writes:

I’m finishing up an advanced degree after being out in the working world for 10 years. This would be jumping into an entirely new career track (from marketing into data science) with no real world experience. My question is twofold: First, should I list all of the relevant coursework to show what I have done or is that overwhelming? Second, should I put this up-front and just sort of lightly enumerate previous experience?

My concern is to get past the dreaded ATS but also still have a functional resume. I’m having a really hard time showing that I have real world, soft-skill experience and that I do have knowledge of the potential job. I don’t know what this should look like. Help!

It depends on what you mean by coursework. Summarizing the curriculum of courses you’ve taken — no, leave it off. But if you did practical project work that’s similar to real-life work, then yes, in this case that makes sense! If you had jobs that demonstrated the same sorts of things, I’d say to leave the school project work off — but in this case you don’t, so go ahead and include the school stuff.

The exception to this, of course, is if you’re in the rare field that truly wants to see coursework listed, in which case your field’s conventions trump the broader ones.

Generally, though, the lens to look at this through is: What can you list that demonstrates talents related to the job (which is distinct from knowledge related to the job)? It’s not just a matter of showing that you learned something or are familiar with something; you want to show what you’ve done with it.

So, listing that you took a class on data science that taught you X, Y, and Z— not helpful. Listing that you did a pro bono project for an urban planning organization where you built a model that successfully predicted traffic patterns in your region — helpful.

By the way, one side note: You mention a “functional resume,” by which I think you mean “a resume that functions as it should.” But if by chance you’re using the term in its official sense — where it means a resume organized around a long list of skills and abilities, deemphasizing the chronological job history — don’t do that! You want a traditional, chronological resume where what you’ve achieved is listed under the job you achieved it at. Otherwise hiring managers think you have something you’re trying to hide (which is generally the reason people use functional resumes rather than chronological ones). You probably weren’t using “functional resume” in that sense, but heed this warning if you were!

{ 112 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Just Another Techie

    I disagree. In some fields (like mine) we would look askance at a resume that didn’t list relevant classes taken. I’m not saying list every class in your graduate program, but list the titles of four or five that are directly relevant to the job. This is mostly because the degree most of our job applicants have has about eight gazillion sub-fields, and it’s nearly impossible to get meaningful hands-on work in internships (although internships are definitely useful for proving you can function in an office and have all those soft skills any employer would want) so knowing what academic knowledge you’ve learned is a useful first-pass screening mechanism. This is definitely a “know your field” thing though.

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    1. OP

      This is similar to what I was thinking of doing on my resume. Listing out the coursework with classifications. The program uses the standard 3 statistical tools of SAS/R/Python. I was thinking I could include a section that lists for example “Practical Machine Learning (taught in R)” to show the frequency of coursework in the various tools.

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      1. Fabulous

        Two ideas:
        1) Have an “Education and Training” section where you can list proficiencies in those particular programs.
        2) Send the hiring manager a link to your LinkedIn profile where you keep the full list of all your classes. That way you aren’t cluttering your resume with the details. You can either include the link in your cover letter, or I have it right below my email address on my resume’s header.

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      2. insert witty name here

        Why don’t you just have a section called technical skills and list SAS, R and Python there?

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      3. themmases

        You should consider just having a section that lists technical skills/languages or software used.

        I have a data analyst-type job and this is where I put SAS. These skills are worth listing because, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, job ads will often list specific stats packages they want you to know how to use. Both because these packages are expensive (except R without commercial add-ons) and you may be collaborating with others, the specific program(s) may not be negotiable.

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      4. Just Another Techie

        I’ve taken it out now because it’s been ages since I graduated, but when I was looking for my first job out of grad school I had one lines, below my work experience that said “Relevant Coursework: Optical Interconnects, Radar Engineering, Power Systems Design, Microwave Systems.” I switched it up a lot depending on the job I was applying for. It doesn’t have to take a lot of space or be a big thing, but if the person screening resumes is looking for a specific course, they should be able to find it. I don’t think you’d need to specify what language each course is taught in — that risks cluttering up the section and making it harder for the resume reviewer to skim for what they’re looking for. Just list a seperate line that says “Software Skills: R, SAS, Python.” If they want to know how much you’ve used each tool, they can ask in the phone screen, but honestly. For jobs at this level, it doesn’t matter which tools you’ve used. What matters is that you’ve used any of the tools, because it’s expected that you’ll have to learn a new language or a custom toolkit or (if you’re unlucky) some godawful home-brew monstrosity on the job.

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        1. Desdemona

          I had the same section on my resume, featuring my upper level math and CS coursework; I did let it take some space, describing not the languages used (I listed those in my skills section), but had a few bullets under each one, discussing the projects I’d completed and the skills I’d obtained. I got at least a screening call on probably 80% of the resumes I submitted, and was ultimately hired by my employer of choice.

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    2. TK

      I’m glad I don’t work in a field where you can’t get meaningful hands-on work in internships. I’m certain the only reason I got a job in my field straight out of school was because of my experience with meaningful projects in internships and work-study jobs!

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      1. Just Another Techie

        I didn’t feel like I really knew what I was doing in my current job until I’d been there a year. At my job before this one it took about ten months before I was really contributing productively. And every intern experience I’ve had (as both an intern myself and as a mentor) the companies try very hard to give the interns a reasonable learning experience, but you just can’t jump in and start designing parts for a satellite before you’ve finished the relevant coursework and gotten many hours of supervised training under your belt.

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    3. AnotherHRPro

      I rarely disagree with Alison, but in this particular case (advanced data science degree) I do. I recently was hiring individuals for analytics roles and resumes that did spell out particularly relevant courses were helpful. I think this might be a section that you would customize based on the job you are applying to so that you are only showing the relevant courses.

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      1. Zillah

        I’m not sure why either of you disagree with her – her answer included:

        The exception to this, of course, is if you’re in the rare field that truly wants to see coursework listed, in which case your field’s conventions trump the broader ones.

        It seems to me that what you’re both talking about falls into that category.

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  2. Will

    I will have to respectfully disagree with Alison here, in regards to listing what you’ve learned is not helpful. Data science is one of those newer fields where your specific knowledge of individual things is a great discriminator. Just knowing something like HADOOP or noSQL is a big deal. I feel like in OP’s situation, 10 years since working and going into a new field, OP is essentially a new college hire that does not have a ton of data science related real world experience and should tailor his resume as such, by emphasizing what languages/programs/data science concepts you’ve learned, with his marketing experience and skills as a bonus.

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    1. Calacademic

      I read the letter as the person has been working for 10 years, then went back to school, not that they’ve been out of the workforce for 10 years. They have both real-world experience and coursework. (I could be wrong!)

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      1. Will

        Ah you’re right, I misread it. Still, I think for data science, I’d much rather care that you know how to do X with tool/language Y, rather than a marketing related real world experience.

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        1. OP

          This was exactly what I was thinking. I was hoping to add a section that talks about the various tools used in the various classes as well as the modeling techniques taught. So “Generalized Linear Models (taught in SAS)” could be tossed on with some of the more relevant coursework.

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          1. Dan

            I’d actually reframe it. AAM and I can debate the semantics of “functional resume” somewhere else, but what you want to do is put a “work experience” section at the bottom, and have a chronological listing of your experience. (This keeps the “what are you hiding” at bay.)

            But at the top, instead of focusing on your coureswork and listing the tool, I’d do it the other way around. BTW, I don’t like the “taught in SAS” language, because I don’t know if that actually means you sat down and wrote your own SAS code, if you copied/pasted stuff from the instructor, or if the instructor did live demos but you never wrote any code.

            So if you write, “Skills: SAS”, and then in bullets write, “Implemented Generalized Linear Models”. That makes it clear to me that you claim to actually have written code in SAS, *and* know a concept. These are important to me. Bonus points if you can describe projects you did. You can get away with canned course work stuff if you format it the way I described.

            (Side pet peeve of mine. Many languages are really broad. I hate places that ask for generalized self assessments, ie “on a scale of 1-10, rate your skills in X area.” Tell me what you want me to know; I can tell you if I know them.)

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          2. Will

            Rough outline of what I might do:
            – contact info
            – summary of qualifications
            – list of data science languages/programs that you legit know
            – coursework with bullets on what projects you did using what languages/programs
            – your marketing experience with heavy emphasis on stuff that can translate to data science (presentations?!?!?! explaining tech stuff to non-tech people, etc)

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            1. AnotherHRPro

              This is a very good outline. Data science is so new and the skills are very specific based on the role, so you do need to outline what you know, what you can do (languages/programs) and a few examples of actually doing it (even if it was a project for your degree).

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    2. Dan

      It’s interesting, when you write “I disagree”, I don’t see it as much of a disagreement. There’s very much a difference between “course titles” and “skills I learned in class”. For me, I have a skills section where things like HADOOP and noSQL belong. That’s useful info. But titles such as “Data Analytics I’ and “Advanced Data Analytics” have no business on a resume.

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      1. Will

        It was mostly this sentence: “So, listing that you took a class on data science that taught you X, Y, and Z— not helpful.” that I thought would actually be helpful, especially for data science.

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        1. Dan

          Fair enough, I glossed over that one. What’s most helpful is if you can demonstrate the ability to execute the concept. When I was at my last job, I was building some optimization models. I had a PhD say to me, “I took a course in that stuff, so I know what you’re doing, but I’ll be damned if I can actually write the code to make it happen.” This is the distinction that I want the OP to make if possible, and I think AAM is asking for as well. But there is a lot to be said for knowing a variety of techniques; I work with people who only know one tool, so for them, that’s the solution to everything, even when it’s a poor one. Knowing about a lot of things at least helps you know when you’re using the right tool for the job — which is huge.

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          1. Will

            Oh yeah you’re absolutely right. If I were to rank candidates from best to worst:
            1) can execute concepts in languages/programs I want
            2) can execute concepts in some appropriate language/program but that I don’t use
            3) knows languages/programs I want
            4) has neither but shows he can learn fast enough

            Problem is, for a new person to the field, 1 and 2 is hard to tell off a resume (better during the interview), and school does a poor job teaching concepts. Showing #3 at least gets OP past the ATS and in front of you.

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      2. LBK

        Yeah, agreed. I was actually just going through resumes for interns today and a lot of them listed huge paragraphs of course names that didn’t mean anything. Okay, great, you took Finance 101 – I kind of assumed that already from you saying that you were going for a finance degree.

        List relevant skills if you’re in a field where specific technical skills are important. Don’t list courses.

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  3. TotesMaGoats

    I’m going to disagree in two places.

    Listing coursework: For my senior interns who want to go into direct care (human services) roles, listing that you’ve taken abnormal psych or early childhood dev or something like that is appropriate. You wouldn’t know that they took such a heavy psych load by the program name alone. I make sure they don’t list the whole curriculum but tailor the list to the job they are applying for. Sometimes a list isn’t appropriate at all. YMMV by field of course. In general, I would agree that for an experienced professional it’s not appropriate.

    Functional resume: From the personal experience of my dad, I know that a well-crafted functional resume can help someone switch fields. My dad was a protestant minister for 30+ years until he left full-time ministry. If you looked at his resume and you had no clue what a minister did, you wouldn’t guess all the administrative, HR, budget, event planning and other skills he would have. So, in his case, it really worked to be able to elaborate in a way that other fields would understand. Again YMMV and generally I don’t like functional resumes but they can have a place.

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    1. AMT

      Re: the functional resume, I can see how that may have worked, but my first instinct is that the risk of totally turning a prospective employer off with a functional resume — and this IS something that turns a lot of employers off — is greater than the advantages.

      Besides, wouldn’t it have worked just to list relevant duties and accomplishments in traditional chronological resume format? Stuff like, “Oversaw a $X budget” or “Planned events with 100+ attendees”?

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      1. TotesMaGoats

        Given that he was getting no traction with a chronological resume, I’d say that his experience (clearly the outlier) was that a functional resume worked.

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        1. AMT

          I don’t know — the claim was that if you “looked at his resume and had no clue what a minister did, you wouldn’t guess all the administrative, HR, budget, event planning and other skills he would have.” But you wouldn’t need to guess if he just listed all of his administrative, HR, budget, and event planning duties/achievements. I can’t imagine how a functional resume could have done it better.

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          1. AMT

            In other words, maybe the problem was that his chronological resume just wasn’t selling his skills well, not that the whole format wasn’t working.

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        2. Reverendish

          I am actually doing that now, as a chaplain/Protestant minister switching to LPC counseling in residence programs. While functional resumes typically not helpful, it really can be the way to go if you are moving away from a field that people don’t understand or has (unfortunately) a LOT of stigma. The only feedback I am getting is from the combo style resume; functional as I separate into two parts: one for jobs I had in research and another section for jobs I had in chaplaincy. Each of these sections is then chronological within that specific job field. It just helps emphasize I’m not going to whack people upside the head with a bible just because I have a master of divinity degree. I reserve such antics for creepy coworkers who don’t know the meaning of personal space.

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    2. HRG

      I just want to speak up here and say that I recruit heavily in the human services sector and strongly prefer not to see coursework listed on the resume. If you have a degree in social work, psychology, human services, etc. I’m going to assume you’ve taken some kind of psych or child development course along the way. I don’t need the specific course names. It clutters the resume.

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    3. Renee

      I did a functional resume when I switched careers, although I did include a chronological list of jobs as well. I know it’s frowned upon, but there’s not much in the way of accomplishments when you’re a divorce attorney and there’s not a lot of point in listing nearly identical details for three different divorce attorney jobs. What were relevant were things that I did for all three jobs that translated to the administrative management job I was looking for — forensic analysis, contract review, loss mitigation, writing, editing, negotiating, etc. Despite the risks, the approach worked really well. I did get interviews, I did get a job, and I did change careers.

      Now I would just do a chronological resume because I’ve been where I’m at for almost three years, but at the time the risk was worth it. I was already taking a risk by applying to jobs outside my field, and the skills were more compelling than the experience because that experience was not at all direct. It was clear I wasn’t hiding anything, because all of the jobs with dates were still listed, but the duties and accomplishments would have been identical anyway.

      I can see where being a minister would be similar.

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      1. LisaP

        I did the same thing and I don’t know why it is frowned upon. It was hugely successful for me (landed a job within a month after graduating, and unfortunately laid off 6 months later, but found an even better job within a few weeks after that) My career change was into graphic design and I had limited work experience when I graduated, but quite a few accomplishments (freelance, extracurricular, etc). So I emphasized those and my skills, while less space was dedicated to my work experience.

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  4. Dan

    “I’m having a really hard time showing that I have real world, soft-skill experience and that I do have knowledge of the potential job.”

    I work in data science. First and foremost, if I were interviewing you, I don’t care about your coursework. (“Data Science” is a bit of a buzzword, with no particular accepted definition yet. So you can take courses, and even then they’re not going to tell me anything.) I care about what you can do. For example. Did you take a course in regression? Great. Here’s what I need to know: As part of your coursework, did you use SAS or R to build regression models on real world data? If the answer is no, then you won’t make it past the phone screen.

    Here’s the thing: The real world is about understanding what problem needs to be solved (no easy feat), what approaches are appropriate, and what data there is to solve the problem. Whatever data you have isn’t going to fit the nice theoretical model, so you’re going to have to munge it up and do a bunch of prep to get into the model. THEN you have to actually program said model, either in SAS, R, Python, or something like that. Rephrased: Your resume better show me use of SAS, R, or Python.

    I need to know that you can check those boxes in the last paragraph. If it doesn’t, it’s almost guaranteed to be a show stopper. What is guaranteed is that your resume goes to the bottom of the pile. I don’t care about the titles of your courses per se, other than that you have a “survey” of techniques/algorithms that you understand. (I work with too many people who only know one thing. In that world, they own a hammer and everything is a nail. Drives me nuts.)

    Your soft skill experience is most relevant if A) You’re interviewing to be a manager, or B) You’re in client facing (either internal or external) roles. If you’re mostly an IC and deal directly with your boss and your team, it’s almost guaranteed that you will spend your time doing data pulls and formatting and things like that, and some model building. That’s the skill I need you to have; I don’t want to train you for it if I don’t have to.

    TL;DR: If you used real data and software such as SAS/R/Python, then it is an absolute must that you highlight those skills on your resume, most preferably through project work.

    I should add: If your skills are mostly in the Tableau/MicroStrategy/BI realm, then you’re going to run into nomenclature problems job hunting. “Data Science” generally means that you can write code, and people are going to expect that from you. Tableau et. al. is typically a “business analyst” type of position.

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    1. OP

      This is totally fair, Dan. My concern in just listing SAS/R/Python/PostgreSQL/etc. is that I could just say that about anything without any real experience. Taking a free video lecture series is different than spending 10 hours a week over the course of 10 weeks practicing the skills. Is there a best way that you can think to do that?

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      1. Dan

        I may not be able to directly answer your question, but consider this: If you’re taking a 10 week class, I have no idea how much of your time is spent actually practicing the skills. Did you spend 8 weeks doing problems with pen, paper, and a calculator; and two weeks with some small project? Or, were you doing something every week for ten weeks such that you developed some level of comfort? I will certainly be phone screening for the later. Your job is to convince me to pick up the phone and call you. I want the phone screen to validate what your resume tells me.

        I don’t know GLM models at all, but you can quantitatively describe the size of your problem/data set. For a logistic regression model, you could write:

        R:
        – Built 10 regression models. Largest model had 100 independent variables and 100,000 records. Used real world data from X source (if applicable). Developed my own code (if applicable).

        I’d give you street cred for that. What doesn’t pass:

        R;
        – Built 1 model. Code and data provided by professor.

        Does that make sense?

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        1. OP

          Absolutely. I this makes total sense. Maybe what I will do is create almost a job description type entry that enumerates this like, “Placed 10th in national Kaggle competition” as a part of my school work and talk more about the projects than the classes.

          Thanks!

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          1. Emilia Bedelia

            Chiming in to recommend this approach: I’m not in data science, but I used a “projects” section to describe what I actually did in all my classes. “Coursework: Biomechanics” on my resume was meaningless; “Projects: Biomechanical analysis of model using SolidWorks” actually showed what I knew. Some of my most impressive projects were completed in classes that had totally un-descriptive course titles so I didn’t want them to be buried in a list of coursework.

            As my father told me, the people who are going to be interviewing you probably have a similar background [YMMV based on your field, of course], so they know what classes you’ve taken (because they probably took the same thing). What they don’t know is what you learned from them.

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        2. Roll Fizzlebeef

          I’m in a similar boat to the OP where I’m graduating with a master’s where I’ve built regression models for my thesis, but haven’t done anything like that in any internship or previous work experience. Should I put “Thesis: Built 15 fixed-effect regression models in Stata. Largest model had X independent variables and 50,000 records. Used real world data from X, Y and Z sources.” on my resume?

          Usually I put that in my cover letter, but it’s hard to tell if my cover letter is even getting looked at because the data work might not be clear from my resume alone.

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          1. Dan

            I like that on a resume. I can’t speak for others, but in technical fields, your resume more or less speaks for itself. I can skim a resume in 30 seconds, and your cover letter won’t get read if you go into the “nope” pile.

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          2. Biostatistician Anon

            As a statistician, I would personally focus on the questions you were able to answer in the thesis in addition to the technical skills. Technical ability is important, but a thesis project isn’t entirely about software/coding, it’s about your ability to use those tools to answer valuable scientific questions. It doesn’t matter as much whether you have 500 or 500,000 observations or whether you ran 1 or 15 linear model but whether you’re able to think about the features and potential problems within your data. YMMV but based on what I’ve used and seen my peers use, the way I’d structure it would be something along the lines of:

            Education:
            M.Sc. in Data Science 2014-2016 (Anticipated Graduation 5/2016)
            Thesis Summary: [[Summary of hypotheses tested, questions answered, data used, basically a cut-down abstract]]

            Technical Skills:
            R:
            – Generalized linear models (fixed and random effects, interaction models, correlation structure specification)
            – Survival analysis (parametric and semi-parametric (Proportional and Additive hazards models), right and interval censoring, left truncation, time-varying covariates, non-linear effects)
            – Model selection (penalized likelihood methods, constrained likelihood optimization, goodness of fit testing)
            – Integration of C++ code into R

            Class Projects:
            – Statistical Computing: Implemented LASSO using coordinate descent in R and C++. Implemented MCMC using a Gibbs sampler in R and compared results to JAGS.
            – Sampling and Study Design: Analysis of complex survey data from high school students examining suicidal tendencies, bullying, and sexual orientation. Analysis included an extensive sensitivity analysis to examine the effect of informative missing data.

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            1. Dan

              Number of models actually gives me some clue whether or not you were working in someone else’s framework, or if you’re comfortable sitting down at a blank canvas without any hand holding.

              This particular poster didn’t say what her MS is actually in. I can see what you mean in that in statistics, problem size doesn’t matter that much. In other areas of Data Science (however you want to define it) problem size gives some indication of computational complexity, and that can very much influence your approach to things and what you’ve learned.

              TBH, in the data science realm, if you’re new, I care about your technical ability to develop models — the analysis is secondary to actually generating numbers. I’m unlikely to give out a project and ask recent grad (MS or not) to do the whole thing start to finish and just ship the final copy without ever checking in.

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              1. Biostatistician Anon

                Valid points about computational aspects and the big data element to a lot of data science.

                From the statistics point of view, I’d much rather hire a recent grad who is less technically adept but has a good feel for “statistical thinking” since IMO tech skills are much easier to teach.

                So, for me, “I ran 25 models” is a huge warning sign that you don’t know what you’re doing and are just throwing everything at the wall and picking what sticks. Ideally, I’d like to be able to ask about the project and hear a well reasoned series of model building steps, a justification for why the end model was the best, a discussion of what limitations it has, and how to interpret the end product.

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          3. Turanga Leela

            If you’re a student or very recent graduate, and you’ve done a thesis or other big capstone project, I would lean toward putting it on your resume most of the time. It’s a significant accomplishment and gives hiring managers something to ask you about.

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    2. Zahra

      Dan, do you participate in the Friday open-thread? If so, I have a few questions for you about Data Science, but don’t want to hijack OP’s post.

      (Or you can contact me on LinkedIn, my full name is Zahra Badaroudine.)

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    3. Anne S

      I also am a data scientist who hires, and I agree with this. Something I’ve found very helpful is a one or two sentences on a couple of course projects you’ve done (data source, tool, approach, question answered) that show me that you’ve run more than toy problems. I love a good toy problem, but for hiring I need more.

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    4. AndersonDarling

      Many thanks for your input, Dan! As my company’s data is getting more complex, I’m making the transition from BI to Data Science. I was planning on learning R over vacation (yes, that is a vacation to me), and I may add Python to my list of things to learn by the pool. This was a perfect time for this letter and your response.

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      1. Zahra

        I’m making the same transition, the difference being that I last used statistics during my classes a few years ago and I’m currently looking for a job.

        So, I’m learning Python at the moment, and then doing the Coursera Data Science Specialization (they assume you have some minimal knowledge in programming and I’ve never programmed before).

        The biggest challenge will be to find data sources that I can use to practice and demonstrate my skills. (Oh, and keeping up with the coursework and not get discouraged by the slow progress.)

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        1. Will

          Zahra, I find that sports-reference.com (just google sports reference) is a spectacular resource for data. Sports may not be your thing but they definitely provide a lot of data! For a small fee you can download your searches/results.

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        2. themmases

          For data, you may want to see if your city has an open data platform. If not, many agencies at all levels of government do (visit data.gov). I find these are good places to find data just to play with where I will have some understanding or interest in the concepts involved.

          If you want to practice working with large (large number of observations) data sets, take a look at weather data. I don’t know about others, but Weather Underground will let you download certain types of data to CSV. This type of data may also be useful if you want to practice data management and joining or relating data sets.

          If you keep track of anything about yourself, e.g. using a Fitbit or a diet app, that data may be downloadable as well.

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          1. Biostatistician Anon

            Weight measures are a great test set for extracting signal from noisy data; you have to use smoothing methods to get the trend from a single subject’s weights, and it gets into complex time series if you have multiple subjects involved.

            data.gov is definitely seconded. Also check out R packages for whatever you’re interested in learning – most of the good ones come with vignettes and prepackaged data sets that you can use for practice. Even if you aren’t using them *in* R, you can export them as CSVs and bring them into Python to play with.

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        3. Dan

          Hi Zahra,

          My background in transportation. The DOT publishes a lot of transportation data, including a lot of stuff for airlines if that interests you.

          Back in the day, I participated in the peer-to-peer lending site, prosper.com. They made a lot of their data available, I don’t know if they still do or not. That stuff is rich.

          The Washington DC metro system, via their planitmetro blog, makes some data available.

          FWIW, DOT and prosper data got me through grad school. I had several projects on my resume using that data.

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        4. OP

          I don’t think I can recommend getting involved with Kaggle enough for people starting out in data science. It has a lot of examples on how to do things, and also some very advanced applications and data sets to play with.

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        5. Zahra

          Thank you everyone for the suggestions!

          It will help a lot when I get there (I want to do more Python before I go back to statistics.).

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        6. Desdemona

          You might find something useful at https://www.data.gov/open-gov/. Digging down through states.data.gov, and then tapping the “data” tab led to a list of 8785 datasets covering all kinds of topics; powerball winning numbers, California 100 year flood data, violent crime in Maryland by county, motor vehicle crashes in the state of New York …

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  5. Bookworm

    What about the cover letter? Seems like that might be a good place to talk about your motives for a career change and the educational steps you’ve taken to get you the right skills.

    Reply
  6. fishy

    Oh, I might be making this mistake too. I’m a recent graduate and I have a bullet point on my resume where I list some of the course work that I took. I thought it would be a good idea since some of the jobs I’m applying for want to know e.g. if I have laboratory experience or know statistics – which I do, but it isn’t obvious from my major (a social science) that I also took a bunch of math classes and several lab science classes. Should I take that line out? It’s just that I don’t know how else to get across that I know these things, since I have very little job experience and none of it involved math or lab work; nor did I really do any significant projects in those classes that I can talk about instead.

    Reply
      1. fishy

        I do definitely elaborate in the cover letter (including e.g. specific examples of experiments we did in class that seem particularly relevant to the position). It’s just that I fear people will take one look at my resume and think, “Why is this person applying for this job at all? Nothing he’s ever done is relevant to this position.”

        Reply
    1. Dan

      I hate to say this, but if you don’t have internships, work experience, or significant projects to highlight the experience, I’d question whether or not you actually know the material.

      What kind of jobs are you actually applying for? If they’re social science positions that are asking for the skills you have, then sure, keep it in. But if it’s more math based jobs (say a job looking for a degree in statistics) you don’t have the skills they’re looking for. In that case, it’s not about the formatting and presentation of your resume.

      Reply
      1. fishy

        Yeah… I know. I know it’s not the same as work experience. But it must be better than nothing? I’m not trying for anything super advanced here – most of the jobs I’ve been applying for have been entry-level lab or field technician positions that don’t require a science degree. For all of them I definitely meet at least the minimum requirements as stated. But I want them to know that I do have some relevant knowledge, even if it’s not much… I don’t know. Maybe it’s a mistake for me to try to go into this line of work…

        Reply
        1. Dan

          To be clear, there’s a difference between “better than nothing” and “good enough to get the job.” Presenting yourself in the best possible light doesn’t necessarily make you the best candidate.

          If that’s the best you’ve got, then you leave it in and realize that you aren’t going to be a strong competitor, but you may get lucky. Is it actually a mistake? Well, it’s not harming you, so we can debate the word.

          If that’s the field you want to break into, the best question you can ask yourself is, “What can I do to best position myself for this job?”

          Reply
          1. Dan

            By the later, I mean, develop new skills, go back to school, etc, not “reformat my resume/call a friend.”

            Reply
        2. Turanga Leela

          Depending on where you are and how much lab/statistics experience you have from coursework, you may be totally fine for entry-level lab or field tech positions. This is such a broad category that it’s very hard to say in the abstract. If you meet their requirements and you’re interested in the job, apply and see how it goes. You can use the interview to get a better feel for whether you’d do well in the position.

          Reply
          1. themmases

            I agree. It is still beneficial to be able to show that you are familiar with even basic statistics for certain types of entry-level research jobs.

            For example, as clinical research coordinators my coworker and I did things like: advise the PI, especially a trainee, about what type of data was available and a general sense of how to use it; design the table(s) we would send to the statistician; bridge the gap between the investigator and statistician, both in explaining the study and writing up the output (the doctors I worked with were stats illiterate); do basic tests e.g. a t-test along the way to give an idea of where things were heading. I majored in history and my coworker majored in psychology.

            I think that was an extreme example working with clinicians who were not familiar with stats at all, but there is still a lot of space between being hired to be a data scientist or statistician and not being able to claim that you have any worthwhile knowledge of data analysis at all.

            I will say that for working in an analytic field (epidemiology, and I am more of a health outcomes/health systems person than a bug hunter), Dan’s advice is spot on. It’s consistent with what I see in most job ads, how I see others discuss these fields, and it’s what I do myself. But I’m not sure it’s relevant to other types of jobs that just say something like “knowledge of statistics is a plus.”

            Reply
        3. Dalia524

          I work in an academic research lab and have done some hiring as well. I also “hire” all of the unofficial undergrads who come work in the lab. I wouldn’t list course work specifically but you could write a line saying you’ve taken additional laboratory courses on organic chemistry, microbiology, etc. For those entry level technician positions, skills you’ve gained in lab courses can be enough.

          Reply
        4. Murphy

          I’m probably a rarity, but I had that on my resume when I started out post-grad school, and while I definitely want a strong candidate I did eventually find a public service job that gave me a chance. I’m now a director, so there is hope.

          In fact, when I’m hiring entry level positions now I always try to interview someone like you, because I want to at least give one other potentially smart, talented person a job. Like someone did for me.

          Good luck!

          Reply
    2. Turanga Leela

      I don’t think this hurts you if you’re a new grad and (a) you don’t have another way to demonstrate the skills, and (b) you’re not bumping other, more relevant stuff off your resume to say it. If you’re, say, a history major, it’s totally reasonable to have a single bullet point briefly summarizing your coursework in lab sciences and mathematics. This is ESPECIALLY true if the job listing said that these things were important.

      You could put it in the cover letter, but frankly I’d also keep the point on your resume, at least for the jobs that asked for this info. Having brief information about your coursework is very common, and I don’t think anyone will hold it against you.

      Reply
    3. Cath in Canada

      It’s really common to list the lab techniques with which you’re familiar on a CV/resume for a job in science. They’ll be looking for enough experience to be able to do at least some basic experimental design (selecting appropriate controls etc) and troubleshooting, not just “I ran a Western blot once following the exact recipe my TA gave me”.

      Reply
  7. Terra

    This is definitely a “know your field” thing. It’s also going to vary by company unfortunately. I’d recommend having a small section of “relevant skills” near the bottom that’s specific software programs, classes, etc. that are particularly relevant (possibly with an “etc.” or “others” to indicate that it’s not exhaustive). It should be enough to get you past the ATS if the company uses one and if a human is skimming your resume it lets them quickly verify if you’ve worked before with program X, Y, or Z which is useful in the tech heavy fields where proprietary software with steep learning curves are king. Everyone does it differently though and I know people who make a good argument for not putting it on your resume but including it in a cover letter instead so you may want to consider that as well. Either way, good luck!

    Reply
  8. ThatGirl

    This is slightly off topic, so I can repost tomorrow if needed, please let me know?

    You briefly mention not using functional resumes. I’ve been at one company for eight years and have done a huge variety of things here, and while I have a traditional resume, I also have a version that lists my skill sets with specific accomplishments under them, followed by a work history.

    So it reads:
    Content Marketing
    blah blah blah
    blah blah blah
    blah blah blah

    Writing and Editing
    bullet
    bullet
    bullet

    And then under that is a list of specific titles, companies and dates.

    Is that too functional? A decent hybrid? I’m not looking right now anyway, but I’m curious.

    Reply
    1. Pwyll

      Not to get too off-topic, but most of the concerns about functional resumes are that they can be interpreted as a way to hide or mask an irregular job history. If you’ve done a ton of different things for the same employer, why not just put them all under the same heading?

      EMPLOYER 2000-2008
      Job Title
      – Content Marketing
      —-Success
      —-Success
      -Writing and Editing
      —-Success

      Reply
      1. ThatGirl

        My “other” version has that, but I worried that it was too cluttered, perhaps I can simplify it. At one point I just thought, isn’t what I know how to do more important than the job titles while I was doing it? But I’m certainly not trying to hide any shady history.

        Reply
        1. Pwyll

          Not necessarily. When I’m reviewing resumes, I want to see what you know how to do –in context– with where you were in your career. I’m looking for progression, and evidence that you’re seeking out ways to learn and grow as a professional. So, in some sense, the “when” can be as important as the “what” you know. That said, in many industries you will also want to include a section on core skills: specialized software, licenses, publications, big name achievements, etc. The convention (and my own personal preference) is to display most of your information in the context of your professional timeline, and to highlight those other specialized skills and accomplishments in their own section, rather than to do the reverse.

          That said, most of this stuff is art, not science. So long as you know why you’re “breaking the rule” (so to speak), you should feel free to do so. So, if you’re applying somewhere that you have reason to believe would prefer to see resumes a different way (say, perhaps, these companies who really admire individuality and creativity and where everyone’s job title is some variation of “Ninja”), there’s certainly no reason to tie yourself to a more traditional format. Just make sure you’ve investigated what you think might be the best format to convey your professional success story.

          Reply
          1. ThatGirl

            Fair points all, someday I’ll have to just start over with the whole thing. When I revamped it I thought it would help focus on my actual skills, but I didn’t have AAM then. :)

            Reply
        2. MillersSpring

          Yours is the kind of resume that would land in my inbox. Pwyll’s points are 100% correct. I’d MUCH rather see a chronological resume like Pwyll and AAM suggest, where your achievements and experience are listed under each job you’ve had. If you’ve bounced around, maybe some of your listed jobs will require only two bullets and others will have six.

          Reply
        3. Meg Murry

          If all the job titles have been in a clear upward progression then I think you could likst them all on one or two lines, then do the skills part like Pwell lists under that

          For instance:
          Employer
          Assistant Teapot Engineer 2000-2003, Engineer I 2003-2005, Pilot Plant Engineer 2005-2006, Senior Engineer 2006-2008
          Content Marketing
          —-Success
          —-Success
          -Writing and Editing
          —-Success

          but if your jobs were all over the place in terms of titles/departments I think you need to list them separately

          Reply
          1. ThatGirl

            I was a contractor for five years and was moved around several times, it wasn’t any sort of logical progression. Just “what part of the department could use her help”. I’ve been in a perm position for the last three years that is similar to some of the things I’d been doing. It’s a little confusing no matter how I list it. But thank you and everyone for the suggestions, I’ll have to reconsider my approach.

            Reply
  9. Pwyll

    I’ll echo that it helps to know your industry. For entry-level Attorney positions, it’s very common to list relevant coursework (especially if you scored the highest grade in the course), and I’ve seen plenty of descriptions specifically ask for them to be listed as well. If you’re joining a firm in corporate law, you’d certainly want to list that you’ve taken corporations, taxation of business entities, etc., especially if you didn’t have more direct experience through other work or internship experiences.

    However, I think it’d be strange to include coursework after more than, say, 2 years of being a practicing Attorney.

    Reply
    1. Turanga Leela

      I’d take coursework off as soon as you get your first legal job that isn’t a clerkship/fellowship. The only other place I’ve seen it used is when people are dramatically switching fields. If you’re an associate specializing in transactional work, and you’re applying for an entry-level role at the district attorney’s office, I ‘d mention that you took criminal procedure and trial practice.

      Highest grade in the class I would mention for much longer. Most lawyers seem to keep an education section with awards, journal, and publications for a very long time, and “highest grade in the class” is a totally valid award at most law schools. Not sure exactly how long I’d keep it, but probably 5+ years.

      Reply
  10. Natasha

    This discussion is really helpful to what I do, thanks for the question. Also, if you’re looking in the Chicago area, the marketing agency where I work could use your data science skills. Unless you’re also done with marketing as a field, there is room for overlap in your search.

    Reply
  11. Kate

    Also agree that this is a know-your-industry thing. I work in public health, and for new grads with little/no experience I want to see coursework on their resumés (this can be in a very brief “relevant coursework” section). PH is a very broad field, and, as such, just saying that you have an MPH doesn’t tell me what I want to know about you (I’m talking about applicants to entry-level positions, with little to no experience). I want to know specifically what kind and how much epi, biostats, and M&E coursework you had, particularly if you have no experience in these areas. If you don’t tell me in your resumé, I’ll ask about it in the interview.

    Reply
    1. Not Karen

      I don’t understand. Clearly if they got through the program, they had at least the kind and amount of courses that were required to graduate, and the required courses in a graduate program are designed to prepare you to work in the field. Why is that not enough information?

      Reply
      1. Agnes

        MPH can be generalist and specialist, and there’s a big difference between “took five course in epidemiologic methods, four in biostatistics, and three in statistical computing” and “took ten courses in general community health” with no quantitative training.

        Reply
        1. Not Karen

          All the MPH programs I’ve seen require quantitative courses. You couldn’t graduate with ten courses in general community health.

          Reply
          1. Agnes

            Trust me, I’m very familiar with MPH programs, including CEPH-accredited ones, and while you usually need basic epi and biostats, there are many where you don’t need anything quantitative higher than that.

            Reply
          2. Kate

            At hopkins, for example, it is possible to graduate with 1-2 quarters each of very basic epi and stats (it is also possible to take a much heavier quantitative load, obviously). That typically is not enough for the jobs I’m hiring for.

            Reply
      2. Oryx

        I have my MLIS — the program I attended had four very basic core classes and the rest of our coursework was determined by a) what was being offered each semester and b) what our focus was. Just saying I’m a “librarian” doesn’t really indicate at all what I am familiar with in the field and because of the variety of class offerings, everyone of my peers and I may have graduated with the same degree but vastly different knowledge bases suited for all the different niches available within the field.

        Reply
      3. Hillary

        My MBA’s in supply chain management. I can run a warehouse, write and execute an inventory plan or design your delivery network. Some of my classmates with the same degree work as international tax managers and corporate HR directors. I couldn’t do their jobs and they couldn’t do mine. We all took the same twenty-one required credits, but everything else was elective. The only elective everyone takes is Negotiations because it’s a fantastic class.

        Reply
        1. Judy

          At the Master’s level, there is much more choice in coursework. My undergrad engineering degree had maybe 2-3 classes in junior and senior years that were chosen off of a list rather than explicitly required. My Master’s degree had maybe 3 courses required, and the rest were “breadth” (choose one out of 2-3 different concentrations) and “depth” (choose one concentration for 3-4 course) requirements. My degree had 6 possible concentrations, and maybe 5-6 courses available in each at a graduate level.

          Reply
      4. themmases

        Public health includes multiple fields and a person could concentrate in any of them, or none of them and have a generalist degree. The coursework required and even the concepts and methods emphasized in the various concentrations can be very different. For example, I attend a large, old, fully CEPH-accredited SPH with all the concentrations represented (so what I’m about to share is not just because my school is weird). By our second-level biostats class, almost all the students taking it in person were either in epidemiology or some other college. A handful of people from other concentrations were there because they were interested, but they didn’t have to be. And the biostats students, in the same division as us, were too advanced for that course when they matriculated.

        My boss graduated from my school but in community health science (which is a substantive concentration, not a generalist track), and does not know SAS– only SPSS, and she rarely needs to use it. On the other hand, I have never taken even a basic course in program evaluation and I never will have to if I don’t want to.

        I work for a research center that also has a component where we provide training and technical assistance to other public health organizations. Technical skills are one of our most-requested topics at conferences and individual trainings– including refresher courses on applied statistics. Not only did many of these mid-career professionals not use their quantitative training often enough to retain it without refreshers, depending on their background they may not have gone beyond biostats II to begin with. I don’t say that to put anyone down, but to say that there is a lot of skill diversity in public health at all levels– students, new grads, and experienced professionals.

        Reply
  12. Pwyll

    I think the point is the courses required to graduate vary significantly from school-to-school and concentration to concentration. In terribly broad degree categories (Master’s in Public Health, Public Policy, Public Administration, Business Administration, etc.) the actual title of the degree may not adequately explain what it was they were learning. Someone with an MPP focused on health policy may not be qualified for a position focused on criminal justice. Without some listing of coursework or concentration, it can be difficult to tell.

    Reply
  13. Anonymouss

    It’s also useful for those situations where if you have a qualifying degree for your field and then you have a lot of flexibility outside of the base where you could specialize for different roles.

    For example, in my masters degree I had 5 classes that were required and covered the accreditation requirements for my field. That wasn’t even the majority of my degree, and 2 people at entry level in my field can be doing VASTLY different work.

    So I had a class highlight section both because of this and because I only had so much professional experience to draw on. It let me, at a glance, show how my degree specialized for that position (some programs under this body have tracks or streams, but many more are generalized)

    Certainly worked (or at least didn’t hurt me) as I’ve been happily employed for years now from that resume.

    Reply
  14. L

    If you’ve worked in multiple fields, is it OK to break the resume into sections for each field so that you can keep older, but more direct experience at the top? Or does that still fall into sketchy functional resume territory?
    I have in mind something like this, where both sections are chronological but the information you’d need to get a teapot job doesn’t get lost in the shuffle…

    Teapot Experience
    Teapot Specialist, Company ABC 2010 – 2012

    Related Experience
    Coffee Specialist, Company XYZ 2014 – Pres.
    Coffee Server, Company XYZ 2013 – 2014
    Coffee Brewer, Company XYZ 2012 – 2013

    Reply
    1. Turanga Leela

      I’ve seen a lot of people do this early in their careers or if they’ve changed careers. I’m interested to hear other people’s take, but I find this approach helpful and clear.

      Reply
      1. Zahra

        What I did was a “Teapot experience” followed by “Other experience”. In my case, there was no overlap between the two and it allows me to show other jobs where there are transferable skills.

        Reply
        1. So Very Anonymous

          This is what I’ve done, too, though I also include a separate category for one specific set of experience that is more directly related to current field, so, “Teapot Experience,” “Coffeepot Experience,” and “Other Experience” when I can make the case that the the “other” experience gave me transferable skills. In my case, the “coffeepot” experience is directly transferable, so I break it out explicitly.

          Reply
    2. Pwyll

      Agreed with Leela. This format works really well IMO when you’re changing careers. Even then, you’d want to include bullets under the coffee positions that show skills that are transferable to the new career.

      Reply
  15. nerfmobile

    My master’s degree was from a department with a fairly meaningless name (specific to my university) and that covered approximately 8 different major disciplines. (Through politics, the department had been created over time out of the mergers of a bunch of other programs). So when I graduated I found it was very useful to list selected course topics to give people an idea of what I had focused on. I didn’t do course names, but I grouped them into main areas (qualitative and quantitative research methods, organizational behavior, new product development, human-computer interaction). That gave people enough of a sense of what I had been doing in school to have meaningful conversations and to see why the graduate degree made a useful trajectory from my previous career experience.

    Reply
  16. Ask a Manager Post author

    Interesting — lots of people disagree. I wonder if this is more field-dependent than I realized. I wrote in the answer that there are a small number of fields where people do list coursework — but maybe it’s more than a small number. And/or maybe the problem is that the OP happens to be in one of them, so it’s a particularly mismatched response.

    Reply
    1. Biostatistician Anon

      I think it’s actually particularly that OP is a recent grad in *data science*, which is indeed a field where it matters; for a first job out of a program in data science, statistics, public health, epidemiology, etc, coursework is really relevant because it gives a sense of what your specialties and abilities are within those huge fields. For example, I graduated at the same time as 5 other statistics PhDs – and we all went to drastically different fields because we all had different subspecialties, had taken different courses, etc. The coursework and thesis information give a good indication of what skills a candidate has (or at least thinks they have), and specifics on those skills can then be probed in interviews. So, I think it’s an example of a case where your advice is broadly right, but the OP is in one of the specific fields where there’s a difference.

      That said, a straight-up list of courses is pretty useless. It’s much better to list the courses that are the most specialized/advanced/relevant to the job you’re looking at, and actually (briefly) describe the skills learned and projects completed in each.

      Reply
      1. MathOwl

        I especially agree with the last part (not only listing class titles but also their actual content). I get the feeling employers are looking for understanding of concepts and ability to apply them to get things done. I’m still a student in statistics and applied math finishing his degree, but I’ve had the most luck getting interviews and internship offers when I was able to show that I could tie something I did in an assignment to what the company wants to achieve. Simply mentioning getting a good grade in STAT101 might not help as much.

        Granted, applying for a full-time job is different, but when you’re just out of school, I think it makes sense to mention what you did there. It’s possible to show how the actual technical skills learnt in practical assignments/projects could prove useful in the workplace.

        Reply
        1. MathOwl

          So to clarify, I think it’s a good idea to mention the class title to give context, but as long as something relevant has been done in that class.

          Reply
  17. OnceARecentGradAlways...

    What about adding a sample projects section. You could include projects from your coursework that relate to the position.

    Reply
  18. TheaterGeek

    So I know these comments are mostly about data science jobs (about which I know absolutely nothing), but the general topic is why I am here.
    In college, I was a Theater/ Spanish double major – but I only walked away with 3/4’s of a BA and minor in Spanish.
    As a theater major, there was A LOT of extra-curricular work to be done in order to finish the degree – things like: acting, directing, writing, stage craft, etc… Anything theater-related and done outside of class. This work I have listed on my resume by category under the heading “Related Experience”. Would it be considered like “Projects” even if it wasn’t course work??? And how relevant is it in comparison to employment experience???
    I haven’t had much employment- only a handful of jobs, mostly retail, and mostly seasonal. Is it okay to “punch-up” my resume with related coursework from college???
    And how bad does it look to an employer not directly related to my field of study???
    How long should a resume be; is 3 pages too much with too little work experience???
    And finally, does more time spent at ONE job look better than several jobs with less than a year’s worth of time???

    Many questions, I know. I’m a “late bloomer” and the whole job thing is especially difficult without that finished degree, believe it or not. And if it’s not obvious, I’ve actually used all this information on my recently job search, and am wondering if a crowded resume is why I haven’t heard back from the theater positions, yet.

    Reply
  19. Kalli

    Late, but I’m reading this with a significant amount of horror. I suspect this is all very _location_ dependent as well, as it would be rare here (Australia) for anything but actual significant awards to be listed on the resume (like, top of the entire class, comes with a $500 voucher and an internship, and is named after a white dude who died kind of award). For anything that requires a tertiary education here, and the online application has a space for a transcript. It is somewhat common that an employer will ask for a certified copy before an offer is made. You get a transcript with your degree and extra copies are around $15.

    Therefore, coursework doesn’t get a space on the resume, and if you put it there anyway it’s only the name of the course, where it was, and when you graduated. In the cover letter, you refer to any education reference to the transcript. In my former field, the transcript is more important than the resume – I have literally been in interviews where they printed my transcript *instead* of my resume and ticked off whether I’d done the right/useful topics.

    Reply

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