Personal and academic projects can add depth to your resume and are especially useful if you’re a new college graduate or have limited experience. But that doesn’t mean you should include every project you’ve ever done. Having too much project info can clutter your resume and make it less appealing to recruiters and hiring managers. For this reason, you need to take a close look at your projects and include only the ones that support your goals for your job search.
Complete this exercise to select and organize the right project details for your resume.
Step 1: List Out the Basics
First, open a new blank document on your computer and save it as “Master Projects List.” In this new document, enter a simple list of all your past projects. Include the basics: project name, dates, location, and school, if applicable.
Step 2: Brainstorm Details
Under each project you’ve listed, brainstorm and write down any positive details about the experience that immediately come to mind. Consider what you’re most proud of for each project and what the positive outcome was. While brainstorming, don’t worry about the order, relevance, or organization of details yet (we’ll get to that in steps 4 and 5).
Step 3: Clarify Your Goals
Once you’re done brainstorming, scroll back up to the top of your document. Here, type out your goals for your job search, such as your target job title, duties, leadership level, industry, and company size. You may be undecided or indifferent in some areas. If so, write that down as well. For instance, if you’re open to industry, write “Industry: open.”
Step 4: Delete Irrelevant Details
Save the document, and then save it as “Projects List – [Target Job Title].” (So, if your target job title is Research Assistant, save it as “Projects List – Research Assistant.”) You’ll be working on this new document for the rest of the exercise.
Now, here’s your most important task. Review your project notes in light of the goals you’ve identified and delete any details that don’t hold relevance. Take it one point at a time. For each ask and answer the same critical question: Does this overlap with the type of work you’ll be doing in your next job? Don’t be shy about deleting project details that are recent and/or objectively impressive. If they don’t relate to your goals, they don’t need to go on your resume. (At least, not this one. They may be relevant to a future version of your resume targeting a different goal. Hence the value of drafting and saving your “Master Projects List” document.)
Step 5: Organize What Remains
Now that you’ve filtered out all but the most relevant details, you’re in the best position to add projects to your resume. For each project, you can organize the elements similar to a standard job description, with bullets showcasing your key points. Here’s a sample template you can adapt:
Position Title: Description of your role or standard duties.
- Bullet highlight
- Bullet highlight
- Bullet highlight
(If there was no school/organization or position title for a personal project, simply omit those items.)
Where to add projects
For any personal projects, create a separate resume section. You can title it “Independent Projects” (or “Independent Project Highlights” if you wound up deleting some in step 4).
For any academic project, you can choose where to add them. Either include them in a separate section titled “Academic Projects” (or “Academic Project Highlights”) or include them in the Education section of your resume.
The right choice for you will depend on how relevant your college degree is in relation to your projects. If your degree is about equally applicable, combining your projects with your Education section details usually makes sense. But you may find your college degree is less relevant than the school projects you’ve listed. Perhaps you’re moving in a different direction than your major, but through the overall degree program you did some other projects that now speak strongly to your goals. In this case, it makes more sense to put these projects in their own “Academic Projects” section. You can place them above your Education section, making the projects more prominent on your resume.
How to fine-tune dates
Another strategic choice you can make has to do with project dates. You can either list them as you do a regular job description (e.g., “January 2022 to May 2022”) or as a general time span (e.g., “Duration: 4 months”).
If listing the dates regularly lets you account for your recent experience, use that option. But if you’re already accounting for your recent experience through your work history, you can list project dates as a general time span. This option often has a tidier look, especially when you have many different projects that only lasted a few weeks or months. More importantly, it allows you the flexibility to reorder the projects by relevance to your goal. Reordering by relevance can be especially helpful when your most recent projects are less applicable than the ones you did earlier on.
The Bottom Line
If you would like to include personal or academic projects on your resume, you should select those that are most relevant to the job you are seeking. You’ll avoid putting off recruiters and hiring managers with details that don’t speak to their needs through a strict focus on relevancy. Follow this exercise, and you can be sure your projects section adds a welcome new dimension to your overall resume.