Should My Education or Work Experience Go First on My Resume

Deciding the order of information on your resume is an important step in your search.  The order indicates the relative importance of information.  The content at the top of the first page is most likely to be read.  As you progress to the end, it becomes less likely the hiring manager will read everything.

This is similar to the way a newspaper is organized.  The most significant and important stories are put on the first page at the top.  On TV, you see this with lead story in a news program.  In fact, almost every media, including books, magazines, movies and music, is structured with the most appealing content at the top.

Your resume should be organized in a similar manner.  What is the most important aspect of your background?  This goes at the top.  Let’s look at a few examples:

New College Graduate:  Individuals that recently (in the last year or two) graduated with a bachelors, masters or PhD should put this at the top of their resume.  This is the most significant element of their background and demonstrates their potential for a new career.

Technical Experts:  Engineering, IT and other technical specialties prioritize technical skill very high.  Often, the skill level with specific technologies or disciplines is more important to a hiring manager than anything else.  In this case, the technical skills should be featured.  This can be done by starting the resume with an executive summary or a skills section that demonstrates these skills.

Experienced Professionals:  Individuals that have worked in a field for a number of years usually will want to lead with their experience.  Starting the resume with an executive summary and then the work experience section makes the most sense.  It highlights the experience doing the job that the job seeker is pursuing.  Often, prior experience in the same role is the most important attribute a hiring manager wants.

Career Changers:  If you are attempting to change career fields, your decision of what to prioritize may change.  Your experience won’t be as significant in the new field.  In this case, you may want to highlight your transferrable skills or your education first.

Unusual Specialties:  There are some experiences, skills and abilities that are unusual and in high demand.  Being able to speak a foreign language, possessing a government security clearance or experience managing hospital construction projects are examples of specialties that are rare.  They are often non-negotiable requirements for some positions.  There are a lot of specialties that are rare and in demand.  If you possess have experience in one of these areas, it should be highlighted on your resume.

Bottom line: Approach your resume as a sales pitch for your background.  Lead with your strengths and make the best impression.