Today’s job market is highly competitive, especially for those just graduating from school or college. With roughly 44% of US adults over the age of 25 possessing a college degree in 2023, that’s a lot of competition — equating to more than 100 million Americans. You will probably find yourself up against other candidates with far more actual work experience, especially if you’re applying for roles that are above entry-level. Relying on your resume with scant work experience from spring and summer breaks can work against you.
So how can you separate yourself from the competition and land that much-needed interview you require to get hired? If you don’t have the relevant work experience, what else can you focus on that will set you apart from the rest?
To overcome that challenge and impress hiring managers, you need to demonstrate that you have real achievements and ambition. The best way to do this is to list accomplishments, awards, and honors on your resume in a clear and concise manner. This will help show your worth, demonstrate what you’ve achieved in the lecture hall or elsewhere on campus, and how you can then apply that in the real world of work.
Your awards, honors, and accomplishments can help bolster your resume and improve your chances of getting noticed by hiring managers.
Why should you list awards, honors, and accomplishments on a resume?
The fact is that hiring managers need to see something that suggests you’re a better employment prospect than other applicants. Without valuable hard skills obtained from a solid work history, you will need to focus all your attention on other key achievements.
The good news is that your academic achievements from school and college can often help to showcase your capabilities during the job search. They can serve to demonstrate your ability to complete tasks, your ambitions, and your key competencies. More importantly, they reveal to future employers that you were a cut above other students at your school — something that could indicate that you’ll also be an exceptional employee if you’re hired.
Which awards, honors, and accomplishments matter the most?
Most career advice experts will recommend that you focus attention on the most relevant accomplishments, awards, and honors on your resume. The problem is that few define “relevant” in that context.
How can you tell which professional achievements will matter to a given employer? Yes, you should certainly be proud of all your awards, honors, and accomplishments — but will a hiring manager care about the same things you hold in high regard?
The key is to align those awards and honors on your resume with relevant skills in the job description. It’s tailoring your resume in such a way that it matches what the employer is looking for.
For example, let’s look at some common professional achievements that you may want to include in your resume:
Any academic or athletic awards
Your degree, Master’s, or PhD information
Awards provided for excellence in voluntary activities
Awards that target specific academic achievements
Job-related awards, if you have ever been employed
Placement on the Dean’s list or honor roll
Exceptional grade point average (GPA)
Leadership positions at your school
Being a member of an accredited professional association
Keep in mind that achieved recognition should only be limited to things that go above and beyond ordinary expectations. There is no added merit attached to showing up on time, getting along with others, or doing the required work according to instructions. These are all admirable skills, of course, but they involve nothing more than meeting the basic expectations and requirements of any role.
When listing relevant academic excellence, awards, and honors on a resume, you should focus on your truly exceptional achievements.
Where to put educational honors on a resume
If you’re a recent graduate, it’s best to put the education section near the top of your resume, just under the Professional Profile. That way, the hiring manager can see straight away that you have recently graduated from college and are looking for a first job. They can also easily spot which college you went to and what degree you obtained, and whether it was “cum laude,” another honor you can apply to your resume if relevant.
The designation of cum laude translates from the Latin as “with praise” or “with honor” and represents a certain level of academic achievement.
Examples of awards and honors on a resume
Education and Awards
Bachelor of Arts in Communication - Seattle University
Award – Student Journalist of the Year, 2022
Given in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the world of student journalism and awarded for a series of articles printed in the newspaper regarding the increasing rate of dropout of students from the university. The award offered national recognition from a coalition of newspaper and broadcast media.
Possible titles include:
Awards & Honors
Professional Development and Awards
You can even combine it with your education section:
Education and Awards
Since these accomplishments, awards, and honors on a resume are often difficult to tie in with employment qualifications, you need to be careful as to how you present them. This means only including information that bolsters your prospects for getting hired and omitting any personal achievements or awards that are completely irrelevant to employment. Forget about that state fair cook-off award you won several years ago — unless you’re applying for a job as a chef. Chances are that an accounting firm won’t care that your chili con carne was voted best in the state three years in a row!
Be specific about the professional awards, honors, and accomplishments you’ve achieved, and avoid vague language. If you were on the Dean’s List for two straight years, don’t just put down that you graduated with honors on your resume. Instead, write:
Dean’s List 2022-2023, with 3.9 GPA
Received Student of the Year Award in 2023, while at ABC University
Should you put GPA on your resume?
Your GPA (grade point average) is the numerical value relating to the average letter grades you earned throughout your time at high school or college. If you’ve recently graduated with little or no work experience, it’s advised to put your GPA on your resume if it’s between 3.5 and 4.0. This shows an excellent work ethic and how you can meet expectations.
If you didn’t achieve Latin honors, like summa cum laude or magna cum laude, it’s also worth putting your GPA on your resume. If you did secure this honor, it indicates that you scored a high GPA anyway, so there’s no need to add it on.
There is no need to continue having your GPA score on your resume once you’ve been out of college for three years or have built up a substantial Career Summary section. That’s because it will be your work experience that’s more important in a prospective employer’s eyes.
Accomplishments on a resume
Accomplishments on a resume should usually be listed as bullet points within the work experience section or under your education or internship sections.
For leadership posts or other accomplishments, don’t just detail what you did but the impact that your actions had on colleagues or the wider organization.
University Student Advisory Council, 2022-2023
Introduced two fund-raising programs that increased student participation by 28% and overall donor activity by 132%
Established the ABC Student Scholarship program, which helped disadvantaged students cover textbook expenses
Creating a separate section for awards and honors
You could also highlight career achievements in a separate awards section. This will enable you to make sure that these high points leap out to the hiring manager. It also provides an opportunity for you to develop some consistency in how the information is presented.
For each of these achievements, include:
The type of award, honor, or achievement — and when you received it
What it recognizes
Why it was important, and what you did to achieve it
Whether it was a school, city, regional, or national award or honor
Winner, Above & Beyond Award, University of Columbia, 2022
Recognized by the student union of the university for work carried out in the Diversity & Inclusion sphere, which encouraged members of disparate groups to engage in activities and feel more involved in student life.
Go get the job
Your awards, honors, and accomplishments could make all the difference in getting hired or not. The bottom line is clear: in a competitive job market, even your school awards, honors, and accomplishments matter.
Just be sure to tailor your resume to accommodate them and shape your message to highlight their relevance. Used properly, they could provide you with the push you needed to get your foot in the door, quite literally, of that all-important job interview.
If you’re still not sure how to list honors on your resume but you’re keen to land a new role, check out our free review for further help and advice.
Marsha Hebert, Professional Resume Writer
Marsha is a resume writer with a strong background in marketing and writing. After completing a Business Marketing degree, she discovered that she could combine her passion for writing with a natural talent for marketing. For more than 10 years, Marsha has helped companies and individuals market themselves. Read more advice from Marsha on ZipJob's blog.