The appeal of online courses is simple — they’re quick, low-commitment, and often free. But are they actually useful? And — more importantly — are they ever going to help you get a job?
There are many types of certifications that belong — and don’t belong on a resume. Obviously, significant qualifications like degrees or mandatory professional accreditations should be listed, but what about short courses you can take fully online?
Do online courses belong on your resume?
The short answer is: It depends.
The longer answer is, there are a few things you should consider when listing an online course on your resume, like:
- Is it relevant to the job you’re applying for?
- Does it demonstrate key skills?
- Is it from a reputable source?
- How senior are you?
Here are a few situations where listing an online course can be worth it:
If you’re changing careers
When you’re looking to break into a new role or industry, either as a recent grad or a career changer, your education takes on an extra layer of importance.
Not only can taking an online course help you develop some of the basic skills you’ll need for the new position, but listing it on your resume is a good way to show that you have the skills required for the job and include the keywords necessary to get past Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).
If it’s required for the job
Anything listed in the job description should be addressed on your resume. If a specific qualification is mentioned in the job ad — either as a minimum requirement or as a ‘nice to have’ — you should list it on your resume. These must-haves are often set as filters on ATS software, which means that if you leave them off, you risk having your resume sent straight to the ‘no’ pile before it even reaches a recruiter’s desk.
If it adds credibility
Not all online courses are created equal. Certified courses are generally held in higher regard than non-certified courses, and a six-week online course from an accredited institution looks far more impressive than a four-hour Zoom workshop. You can increase the credibility of online courses by opting for a verified certificate or completing a project that puts the skills you learned into practice.
If you're a senior-level candidate or have at 8+ years of experience in your field, it's often a good idea to leave off short online courses from your resume, unless they're clearly credited, like an Executive MBA or similar. Most hiring managers only will focus on your formal work experience on a resume when you're at the senior level, and education, extra-curricular and online courses are much less important.
When to leave your online course off your resume
So, when shouldn’t you list an online course on your resume?
If it isn’t significant
On the flip side, any course that only takes a very short time to complete (less than a few days or so) usually won’t be significant enough to include on your resume. In general, aim to include no more than 1-2 certifications — listing every single workshop or conference you’ve ever attended will only waste valuable resume space and dilute the impact of any genuinely relevant certifications.
If It isn’t relevant
This is the basic litmus test for everything on your resume: Is it relevant to the specific job you’re applying for? It doesn’t matter how impressive the qualification, if it has nothing to do with the role or industry you’re targeting, it’s better to leave it off.
Examples of listing online courses in your resume
If you have an online course that fits the above criteria and adds value to your candidacy, add it in to your resume. There are many ways you can list it on your resume — here are the most effective ways and examples, as used by successful job seekers and verified by recruiters.
In your education section
If you’ve taken an online course recently — or if it’s particularly relevant or well-known and you want to emphasize it — you can include it in your education section.
List entries in this section chronologically, with the most recent qualification first. If your education section is the most relevant part of your resume (for example, if you’re a recent graduate or are changing careers), pin it at the top of your resume above your work experience.
As a separate online course section
Typically, you won’t want to dedicate too much resume space to your online course, as most of them can be covered in a couple of lines.
The exception to this is if you have multiple online courses or certifications that are all particularly relevant to the job. In that case, you can create a separate section for your online courses to help them stand out. This is a good idea for career changers — who want to emphasize recent educational experience in the new field.
Only do this if it genuinely adds value to your resume — if you’re considering adding a certifications section to list a bunch of very short courses or to include qualifications in an unrelated area, it’s better to leave those off instead.
In a projects section
If your online course included substantial project experience, it could be a better fit for the projects section of your resume. Projects give you a chance to include a few relevant accomplishments and demonstrate how you’ve used those skills in action, especially if you lack more relevant paid work experience.
If possible, make sure you also include a portfolio or GitHub link so recruiters can see examples of your work for themselves.
In an additional section
An ‘additional’ or ‘other’ section at the bottom of your resume is ideal for things that don’t merit their own sections, or if you’re running low on space. This could include online courses that aren’t required but demonstrate relevant skills, or that are relevant but not noteworthy enough to include in a more prominent section.
Online courses in an additional section should be listed on a single line with a clear subheading: something simple like 'Online Courses' or 'Certifications' will tell a recruiter exactly what the section consists of. If it adds credibility, make sure to specify where you completed the course or who the provider was.
Where to find online courses
Want to include online courses on your resume but aren’t sure where to find them? Here are some good places to start looking:
Check the job description
This is oft-repeated advice, but that’s because the job posting itself is almost always the best place to start when building your resume. If the ad mentions a specific certification candidates should have, it may be worth your while to pursue it as an online course — that way you don't need to take time off work.
Target specific skills
If you know what skills you need to brush up on, try searching for online courses that target those areas. If you aren’t sure, our skills and keywords database can help you find the right skills based on your desired industry or job title.
Ask your network
The best way to know what qualifications are actually useful is to ask people with experience in similar roles. Ask your existing network, search LinkedIn or alumni databases for potential contacts, and ask for informational interviews with people who can help steer you in the right direction.
Ask them if an online course in the field is worth doing, and if there are any reputable ones they recommend. People who work in the industry will be more in-the-know about the right online courses to do and which ones are respected.
Choose a legitimate provider
The more well-known a course or institution, the better. That means that common online course providers, like Coursera, Udemy, and SkillShare, are a much safer bet than smaller or newer platforms. You should also avoid notoriously unreliable institutions — a lot of online for-profit colleges (like the University of Phoenix) have such bad reputations that it may be worth leaving those qualifications off your resume entirely, unless you can’t avoid it.