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I am looking for an intermediate-level job in the software industry. At some point i was enrolled in a computer science university program with a coop/summer student placement option. I ended up dropping out of the university, but the company which had me as a coop student ended up hiring me as a contractor. That became the start of my professional career. Eventually i got a college diploma and had some more work experience since then.

I am struggling to figure out the right wording to include the unfinished degree on the resume. I feel I must mention it somehow, because otherwise it would be very unclear how I ended up working in the industry before completing an education. Saying 'Candidate for...' feels very clumsy, but I want to word it in such a way that it is abundantly clear that I do not hold a bachelor degree and I am not trying to misrepresent myself.

Below is a stub of what my resumes tend to look like currently. I am trying to think of a more elegant way to present it.

Work experience

  • Application developer at Magical Solutions (2017-Present)

  • Software developer, full time contractor at Industrial Amazingness (2014-2016)

  • Developer, co-op student at Industrial Amazingness (2013)

Education

  • College of FooBar

    • Provincial College Diploma in Software Development (2016-2017)
  • University of SomethingSometihng

    • Candidate for Bachelor's degree in Computer Science (unfinished) (2011-2013)
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    Does this answer your question? Incomplete Degree - How to phrase this on resume or cover letter? Dec 2, 2022 at 20:57
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    I would be very surprised if any employer cared how you came to be hired to a previous job unless it was by some illegitimate means. Dec 2, 2022 at 20:57
  • @AndrewRay I am afraid that if my resume makes it look like i worked in the industry years before i graduated from anything, that experience would be just dismissed as not something real and the whole thing would be flagged as suspicious. Maybe i am reading too much into it. Dec 2, 2022 at 21:12
  • @QuarterlyQuotaOfQuotes, I think you may be reading too much into it. There would be nothing remarkable in you saying that you simply got a job as a developer, and thus abandoned formal study. Including the word "unfinished" anywhere in the entry relating to the degree, makes it quite clear to anyone who cares that you didn't complete the course. Frankly, I doubt anyone will give a fig.
    – Steve
    Dec 3, 2022 at 16:10
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    @QuarterlyQuotaOfQuotes (US-based) As Steve said, you're reading too much into it. I worked in my industry for...6? 8?...some number of years before completing my degree. All they cared about was my experience and that I had a degree - never had a question on work before vs after obtaining it.
    – user83977
    Dec 6, 2022 at 15:24

4 Answers 4

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from one of your comments:

I am afraid that if my resume makes it look like i worked in the industry years before i graduated from anything, that experience would be just dismissed as not something real and the whole thing would be flagged as suspicious. Maybe i am reading too much into it.

But you did get a job before you completed a degree.

Now you have a degree and years of experience. Don't even worry about mentioning the first attempt at college.

Many people have internships in college. Some of them switch to full-time work for a couple of years, before finishing their degree.

On the resume you don't need to list the years you were in school. The school, degree, and graduation date is all that is needed. The full set of details is needed when completing the paperwork for a background investigation, or if the official application requires no gaps.

Also be prepared to explain the order of events if they ask during an interview.

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I would mostly agree with @mhoran_psprep. Unless the earlier work is significant, leave it off. If it IS significant, such as it is MUCH better school than where your actual degree came from, you can include it with an entry:

  • University of SomethingSometihng
    • Computer Science 2013

If they ask, you can tell them that your education was "interrupted" and you finished up at FooBar after working for a while. You are not saying you have a degree, just that you were there doing computer science until 2013.

I would never include the word "unfinished" on a resume. That's a big red flag, even if you have proven yourself over and over since.

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If it's current -- you are actively continuing study toward that degree, or will be once you're hired -- it might be worth mentioning, as indication that you're an ongoing learner. If there's been a significant hiatus, probably not ... though you might mention in the interview that you want to get that next degree, which will give them a chance to tell you about any ongoing-education benefits they offer.

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For any field other than software, an unfinished degree would be questionable.

As a software developer, formal training matters. Degrees don't. I definitely look at formal training when hiring, because it improves a developer's long-term prospects. What university and what degree is of very little importance to me, unless it's something exceptional like MIT.

In your position, a good way to put your experience would be:

"University of Something - Student in Computer Science, 2011-2013"

Doesn't matter what your degree could have been if you didn't get it. It just shows you were studying and it was a relevant subject.

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