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Why You Need a Skills Section
While you want to highlight your skills throughout your resume, a section devoted to them gives employers a clear look at your expertise and competency. No matter what resume format you decide to use, the content of this section should complement your work experience and achievements, and should only list your top, pertinent skills. Take the time to carefully and honestly consider your best qualities and technical knowledge in relation to the job: it can make all the difference when it comes to getting an interview.
What to Include in a Resume Skills Section
Look closely at the job description and identify the skills that match your own. Don’t limit yourself; skills don’t come just from work experience. You can have valuable job-related skills from volunteer work, classes, travel, parenting and hobbies, too. ATS software may pick up those words and pass your resume along to a recruiter or a hiring manager. That person can look at your Skills section in relation to everything else on your resume.
Pro Tips for Building Out Your Skills Section
Be strategic when using exact words from the job description. Don’t overload your Skills section with every skill mentioned in the description. Experts advise that doing so can keep you out of the running altogether because increasingly sophisticated ATS systems can count the number of times a keyword is used, and they will rank the resumes they suspect of “keyword stuffing” lower than those that use keywords appropriately.
Hiring managers only inspect resumes briefly, so as Jennifer Little Fleck, career expert and creator of Smart Bold Job Search, says the more details you can give about how your skills will help the employer, the better.
One way you might do this is to provide context to your skills by quantifying them with metrics in other sections. Doing so ties your skills to your professional story and helps provide a full picture for employers. For instance, if you are an executive assistant and list negotiation as a skill, you could write a version of the following statement in your experience section:
“As point-of-contact, negotiated pricing agreements with external suppliers and customers, saving the company approximately $35K annually.”
The Different Skill Types
Skills can be either hard or soft, terms coined by Paul Whitmore of the Office of Behavioral Sciences and Research for the U.S. Army in 1972. Whitmore invented the terms to originally differentiate the skills involved with working with something hard, like a machine, versus something soft, like paper. Most employers look for a mix of both, so it’s wise to present some of each, g provided they directly pertain to the job.
According to Whitmore’s report, soft skills were defined at the time as “important job-related skills which have little or no interaction with machines.” The definition has since evolved to include nontechnical abilities and personality traits such as leadership, communication and flexibility that indicate to employers how you might function in the workplace. Some skills are natural and some have to be learned and practiced. For example, you might have native problem-solving abilities but could improve your communication skills by taking classes or joining a group such as Toastmasters.
Soft skills are no less critical than hard skills, and for many employers they are even more important than hard skills. According to Cengage, the largest U.S.-based technology and education company, 65 percent of employers favor “uniquely human” soft skills such as critical thinking, listening and interpersonal skills. Additionally, a study conducted by Google showed the seven top traits of the company’s most successful employees are soft skills. This tells us it’s worth your time to hone your personal skills as much as your technical skills and to highlight them on your resume.
Pro Tips for Adding Soft Skills to Your Resume
Be selective. Hiring managers want to know why you’re a strong candidate for the job, but they don’t want to know every personality trait you were born with or every attribute you’ve acquired in your life. Aim for quality over quantity.
Keep it relevant. Employers also don’t want to know about all the things you can do that have nothing to do with the job for which you’re applying.
Think carefully about your personal attributes and how they might fit the job. You might have skills you never realized you had! For example, patience, compassion and good listening skills can all make someone a great manager.
Hard skills such as computer programming, financial planning software or tools specific to a job or industry are measurable abilities learned through training, on the job or at school. Having the right hard skills for a job that requires them is an essential step in getting an interview.
Pro Tips for Adding Hard Skills to Your Resume
Be very specific when listing hard skills in order to get beyond an ATS. For example, if an employer wants someone with CAD experience, and you are an expert at CAD, list it! It’s important to write your skills exactly as they are in the description, though. So, if the description uses an industry-specific acronym, include it if you have the skill but write it out: not all ATS understand acronyms. For this example, you would write “Computer-aided design (CAD).”
Make sure your skills are up to date. If, for example, you’re an aircraft technician and you’ve been in the field for 10 years, you might be a great mechanic. However, imagine what a potential employer would think if you don’t keep up with the latest aircraft technology or electronics.
How to Identify Your Skills
To figure out the skills you need to include on your resume, first make a list of the job requirements and duties in the job description, then match those requirements to your top skills. Determine which ones would be considered as definite strengths that directly relate to the job. After that, write them in a way that helps you stand out. You can do this by choosing your words carefully and using details to qualify your technical knowledge rather than just repeating the required skills from the job description.
For example, if you are a dental hygienist and the job requirements include taking X-rays of patients, you might include: “Adept in the latest X-ray techniques, including digital radiography and use of intra-oral camera.”
Or if you are a teacher’s assistant and the job description includes the word “supportive” more than once, you might include: “Caring person, capable of providing support and encouragement to children in grades K through 12.”
Skills to Leave Out of Your Skills Section
Less is usually best when it comes to writing the Skills section of your resume. To write your resume well, you will need to thoughtfully weave appropriate skills throughout, so this section should aim for maximum impact by displaying only your most marketable skills relevant to the job.
Go through your list and cross off anything that won’t help you get an interview, such as:
Basic skills that are not required for the job, such as email or Microsoft Word.
Irrelevant technology such as a fax machine or outdated versions of software.
A language you studied but don’t speak or write in with at least some fluency.
Overused buzzwords such as “hard worker,” “team player,” “go-getter” or “bottom line.”
5 Tips for Developing Your Skills Section
Resume format makes a difference. How you list your skills depends largely on the resume format you choose. For example, a chronological resume, which emphasizes experience, will typically have a short section at the bottom devoted to top skills. Meanwhile, a functional resume prioritizes skills over experience and therefore lists them at the top of the page.
Consider using subsections to differentiate and organize your skills. Depending on the layout of your resume, you can have one list of key skills or you can divide your skills into two lists. For example, you might have one list for technical skills to showcase your hard skills and another list of additional skills to display your soft skills.
Be descriptive. For example, instead of simply listing that you’re good at communication, be specific. Do you mean verbal communication or written communication? You should then add specific details to each skill to provide important descriptive context. For example, “Adept at building relationships” has more impact than “Excellent verbal communication skills,” which sounds generic
Be succinct. There’s no established number of skills to include in the Skills section of a resume but aim for no more than 10 for each type (hard and soft). It’s easy to do if you follow our advice, above.
Use bullet points. Using bullet points will not only help you keep your Skills section short but they also make it easy for recruiters and hiring managers to scan for relevancy.
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