How to Safely Include In-Progress Certifications on Your Resume

Posted by Ashley Jones

Certifications have become a buzzword in the cyber security community, but they reach beyond the technical IT space. From Project Management, HR, or Financial Management certifications, to Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) or Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certifications, there’s a plethora of exams that can attest to your level of knowledge in a specific area of study.

Whether you’re in cyber security or another area within the government contracting landscape, certifications help to check a box. That’s why we love to put them on our resumes after completion, to make ourselves more marketable and also meet contract requirements listed on job descriptions.

But what if your certification is still in progress? Should you list it on your resume?

A recent LinkedIn survey posted by Kris’ Rides, Co-Founder and CEO of Tiro Security, asked this same question. With over 3.8K votes on the poll, 58% of respondents said yes, you should put certifications on your resume that are in progress. The remaining 42% answered no.

Why such a split in opinion? The commentary the poll prompted from survey respondents often began with “it depends.” So, let’s dive into the reasoning why you should or should not list in-progress certifications on your resume.

The Benefits

We often talk about how to write an effective cleared resume, with the goal being to get a hiring manager or recruiter to contact you for an interview. A great tactic to accomplish this is to target your resume to the job description and include keywords the recruiter is looking for.

With that being said, if you see the acronym for a particular certification listed on a job description, it’s important to include it on your resume if you have it—you’re making it clear that you check that box.

This is especially important if it’s a requirement of the job, because GovCon employers must hire based on the requirements set by the government contract award. If the contract calls for a CISSP certification, they typically can’t hire you without it, even if you have the knowledge needed to get the job done.

However, some contracts do have a little leeway. This is when noting an in-progress certification on your resume could help to keep you in the running. One person who commented on Rides’ survey noted, “Some contracts say CISSP must be obtained in 120 days of hire. Without the ‘in progress’ you wouldn’t be looked at.”

Other times, a certification might be listed as “desired” or “nice to have” (not a requirement). This is another case in which noting your in-progress certification on your resume can be beneficial.

The Caveat

A technical recruiter who commented on Rides’ survey conveyed, “In progress, to me, demonstrates a commitment to continued learning in the field, which I think demonstrates a certain drive and desire for growth that many employers desire in potential hires.”

They added, “However, I think prospective employers are totally within their right to challenge such a claim, and candidates should be able to back that up with something tangible, such as ‘I’m enrolled in such and such class, scheduled to test on [date].’ Otherwise, they risk being viewed as disingenuous.”

With the nature of security cleared work and the government contracting landscape in mind, honesty is always the best policy. You can’t get around contract requirements or fake it till you make it. So it’s important to ask yourself what your intent is when including certifications on your resume that are in progress.

Are you listing certifications as “in progress” simply because you’ve bought a book on the topic and you think it will help fluff up your resume? Or have you been studying, taking preparation courses, and made progress towards actually being ready to take the exam?

If you just started studying yesterday, noting your certification is “in progress” doesn’t necessarily paint an honest picture. This can get you into trouble if an interviewer goes into a line of questioning to determine your true level of knowledge and you’ve just begun studying.

Though it’s customary to note expected graduation dates on a resume, degrees differ from earning certifications. A commentor noted, “The progress towards a degree can be counted in percentage points, credit hours, remaining hours, etc. Your completion of a given certification is binary…You either scored a passing grade or you didn’t” when it comes to certifications.

The Biggest Problem

With such a split opinion, you see those who are very in favor of and very against including an in-progress certification on a resume. While some people say it’s a waste of space or means nothing unless you’ve actually passed the exam, those are opinions at the end of the day.

But what cannot be disputed is the need to clearly state the status of your certifications if you choose to include them on your resume. The author of the LinkedIn poll noted in the comments, “The issue I see is, many people put their ‘in progress’ certifications next to their achieved certifications and don’t state they are in progress, or just put a future date on them (and then don’t update their resume).”

I found someone with 10 certifications on their resume. When I asked, 8 were in progress and there was nothing to show that.” Rides added that most recruiters will tell you “either through genuine mistakes or deceit, people have ‘in progress’ certifications that when asked about are clearly something they bought a book for and never opened.”

Best Practices for Including In-Progress Certifications

There are countless opinions that vary about writing resumes, but there are some key industry standards that can help guide your efforts. If you’re working towards earning a certification and want to add that information to your resume, consider the following best practices when considering doing so:

  • You must clearly define that the certification is “in progress” – do NOT be vague or paint a deceiving picture by leaving it up to interpretation. It wastes employers’ time and can harm your credibility when they realize you don’t actually have it.
  • Be cautious of listing more than one or two in-progress certifications on your resume. If you’re serious about earning a certification, you know how much time and effort it takes to achieve gaining one at a time.
  • Don’t include certifications you haven’t made real progress towards for the sole purpose of padding your resume. Simply buying a book isn’t significant.
  • Wait to include an in-progress certification till you’re committed to following through and you’ve made progress towards studying and preparing to take the exam—you don’t want an in-progress cert sitting on your resume year after year.
  • Note your exam date whenever possible to further clarify you haven’t earned it yet, with the added bonus of setting a goal and keeping yourself accountable.
  • Consider adding this information under your summary or another clearly labeled section of your resume, instead of mixing it with other earned certifications to avoid confusion.
  • If you choose not to list an in-progress certification on your resume, consider noting the training course you’re enrolled in instead.


  • Ashley Jones

    Ashley Jones is ClearedJobs.Net's blog Editor and a cleared job search expert, dedicated to helping security-cleared job seekers and employers navigate job search and recruitment challenges. With in-depth experience assisting cleared job seekers and transitioning military personnel at in-person and virtual Cleared Job Fairs and military base hiring events, Ashley has a deep understanding of the unique needs of the cleared community. She is also the Editor of ClearedJobs.Net's job search podcast, Security Cleared Jobs: Who's Hiring & How.

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This entry was posted on Monday, December 06, 2021 9:00 am

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