A common question job seekers have is, “Do I need to include the graduation year on my resume?” The answer isn’t a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because a lot of factors go into the decision of whether to include your graduation date or not. Ageism, career experience, and time since graduation are all factors that come into play.
Putting your graduation date on your resume may seem like a small detail, but often, it’s those details that can make or break your candidacy for a position. In this article, you’ll learn whether you should include your graduation date, and also how to put your graduation date on your resume.
Including your graduation date – students & recent graduates
Generally, the only time you’ll need to include the date of graduation on your resume is if you’re still in school or graduated in the last year. The main reason for that is you probably don’t have much professional experience, if any, and including your graduation date will help explain why. Obviously, if you just graduated six months ago, a prospective employer can’t expect you to have five years of experience.
Additionally, as a recent graduate, including the date of your graduation on your resume is a testament that your skills are up to date. You may be concerned that your lack of experience will be a hindrance in a job search but employers value people who have current and relevant knowledge, especially considering how quickly things change and evolve.
Here’s an example of what your education section would look like if you just graduated:
Bachelor of Business Administration; Emphasis in Finance | Major University | 05/2023
Here’s an example of what your education section would look like if you haven’t graduated yet:
Bachelor of Business Administration; Emphasis in Finance | Major University
Expected Graduation: 05/2023
The bottom line is that when you lack professional experience, including the date of your graduation on your resume can be a smart move, serving as a reference point for your entry into the professional world and making it easier for hiring managers to assess your readiness and potential.
At the end of the day, their main concern is what you’ll bring to the table for their company but they understand that people evolve with experience. So, they’re not opposed to hiring new staff members who lack experience. Of course, this depends on the job description and requirements of the role.
Including date of graduation – job description requirements
Sometimes you’ll need to include the date you graduated on your resume because the requirements in the job description tell you to include it. This is one of those moments where a small detail can be a big deal. Most companies use software programs called applicant tracking systems (ATS) that scan incoming resumes. These systems are programmed with the job requirements and will wholly reject a resume if it finds something lacking.
Being rejected by the ATS is one of the main ways job seekers are ghosted by companies. An application for a position is sent in, the resume goes through the ATS, and the ATS finds something wrong with it and rejects it. This means that the resume never makes it in front of a human being.
Following the instructions in the job description also shows that you are capable of paying attention to details and can follow instructions. Of course, these two things are highly valued by employers.
Why would a job description require you to include the date of your graduation?
It seems like it should be a personal decision to include the date you graduated college on your resume. In most cases, it is. However, some industries have regulations about how old employees have to be – usually for insurance or safety purposes. Additionally, there are industries – like healthcare and education – that require current and up-to-date certifications and licenses. In those instances, hiring managers need to know when you obtained your degree or credentials.
Excluding graduation date – discrimination, qualification, relevance
There are obviously some very good reasons for including the date you graduated on your resume. Conversely, there are a few reasons why one may want to leave their graduation year off their resume. Let’s explore some of the drawbacks of including your graduation date on your resume.
The major reason job seekers want to exclude the date of their graduation is age discrimination, which, unfortunately, still exists in the workplace today. That discrimination also goes both ways. Some job seekers fear they’re too “old” and others think they’re too “young.”
When you include your graduation date on your resume, hiring managers assume that you are a certain age based on the concept that most people graduate college in their early 20s. So, if the date of your graduation is 25 years ago, they’ll assume you are 45 years old. The problem with this is two-fold (1) not everyone goes to college straight out of high school and (2) some people finish degree programs faster than others.
Regardless, this is a thing that happens, so the best thing to do to combat it is simply exclude your graduation date from your resume.
But won’t they tell your age by the amount of work experience you have?
The answer is ‘no,’ and we discussed this in an article on “How far back should your resume go.” You don’t need to include every position you’ve ever held. Not only does it give away your age, it stuffs your resume with irrelevant information that’s more likely to annoy a hiring manager than anything.
You only need to include the last 10-15 years of experience on your resume.
Sometimes, including the date of your graduation on your resume can be an indication of how qualified you are and even lend itself to the perception that you are overqualified or underqualified – regardless of your experience. Companies spend a lot of resources to source, hire, and onboard new candidates. Anything that adds more costs, in their opinion, is to be avoided. If you’re deemed overqualified or underqualified, that can raise a lot of red flags for employers.
If you’re thought of as overqualified, employers will worry that you’ll jump ship the instant a bigger/better offer comes along. The main concern here is that you won’t be fully engaged with the role, especially if it doesn’t utilize your full skillset.
On the other hand, if you’re considered underqualified, they’ll be worried about how well you’ll be able to perform or how much time and money they’ll have to allocate to train you. In the grand scheme of things, they want to put a body in a seat that can fulfill the obligations of the role and meet job requirements.
The date of your graduation is irrelevant
Hiring managers care about one thing – whether you have the experience and qualifications to do the job they have available. Along those lines, the fact that you have a degree is the important bit, not when you obtained it. Therefore, adding your graduation date to your resume is usually going to be irrelevant.
Although including your graduation year is not as bad as including irrelevant experience, it can still be the thing that lands your resume in the reject pile. Remember, small things can make big waves.
The key to success is to keep your resume relevant and pass the “who cares” test. The “who cares” test is simple. Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager and examine your resume to determine what the hiring manager will actually care about. Anything that isn’t relevant to the industry or position you’re targeting should be removed.
Here is an example of an education section on a resume that doesn't contain the graduation year:
Bachelor of Arts in Communication | Seattle University
Marketing Coursework | UC Berkeley Extension
What to do instead
When you find that adding the date of your graduation is up for debate the best bet is to exclude it. Instead, you should focus on writing your resume in a way that showcases your skills, achievements, and qualifications. You can even do this inside your Education section by highlighting honors and awards, relevant courses you took during your degree program, and any major projects you worked on during your coursework.
Be sure that whatever you put on your resume is honest and clear – if you’re still in school, for example, don’t give the impression that you’ve already graduated. Beyond that, highlight relevant qualifications and career or educational achievements to prove that you have what it takes to succeed in the hiring manager’s open position.
Emphasize skills and achievements
Ultimately, skills, achievements, and experience will take precedence over education. This is especially true once you get a couple of years of relevant professional experience under your belt. Even though placing considerable thought into the inclusion of your graduation date is imperative, it’s more important to focus on creating a resume that demonstrates your suitability for the position.
When you emphasize skills over graduation date, you bring into focus your ability to perform the tasks hiring managers need. It also gives you a chance to prove that you’re good at solving problems and delivering results. Employers are looking for candidates who can immediately contribute to the organization and being able to see your skills lets them instantly know what you bring to the table.
On top of that, your achievements will set you apart from others and provide tangible proof of your abilities. When they can see what you’ve accomplished in school or at other jobs, they get a clear picture of what you’ll be able to offer them. It’s all about the value you bring to the table.
Your education, while important, really serves as a valuable foundation for career success. Your practical abilities, accomplishments, and real-world experiences are the things that truly demonstrate what value you’ll bring to a new employer. Yes, there may be occasions – like if you’re still in school – when you should include the date of your graduation on your resume. However, your experiences shift the focus in alignment with the expectation that you can deliver results, not just possess theoretical knowledge.
More harm than good
You don’t need to include your date of graduation on your resume unless you’re a recent graduate or still in school. Honestly, a hiring manager couldn't care less when you graduated. Including it can actually hurt you as age discrimination does still exist today.
Including the year of graduation is irrelevant, unnecessary, and can do more harm than good. Remove anything that can be a cause for rejection and focus on relevant information that tells the hiring manager that you're both qualified and the perfect fit for the position.
Good luck with your job search!
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.