How to Write a Resume Skills Section (And What Skills to Add)
Job searches can be quite nerve-wracking, and that is no small wonder, considering how the whole process can take its toll on the jobseeker and the recruiter (or employer) alike.
Depending on a lot of factors, it can be very tedious, time-consuming, and challenging, with the jobseeker feeling as though he is made to jump through loops and go through the eye of a needle, just to score an interview.
That is why every detail of the job search process is being paid attention to by jobseekers. They want to leave no stones unturned, so they try to make sure that they cover all their bases. Basic qualifications? Check. Education requirement? Check. More than adequate work experience? Check. Now what about the skills?
In this guide, we explore the skills section of your resume and what skills you should include.
THE SKILLS SECTION OF THE RESUME
If you look at the key or critical elements of the resume, the features that are explicitly identified as requirements are the summary statement, education, work experience and history, and contact information of the applicant. Anything else, including skills and qualification, are considered as “optional sections”.
A lot of attention is paid to the education and work experience, where they list down all their education background, including the achievements and honors they received while in school. This will be followed by a detailed listing of the work history of the applicant, indicating the relevant jobs he held in the past, the companies he has worked for, and his accomplishments while holding and performing those jobs.
It is worth noting that, in a conscious effort to keep their resume down to one page (or two pages, maximum), the rest of the resume is compressed or even truncated, and the section that gets much of that contraction treatment is the Skills section. Plus, there is also that factor where the Skills section is not really identified as a required section in the resume, and so many applicants omit it altogether when they prepare their resume.
Clearly, this is not a good idea, especially if you want your resume to effectively “market” or “sell” you to the hiring manager or employer. You want to look attractive as an employee prospect, and the skills in your resume will help accomplish that.
Importance of the Skills Section
An applicant may get a lot of points for graduating from a prestigious school or having an extensive work background. However, the real test of the candidate’s fitness and suitability for a job is on how well his skills align with the requirements of the said job. That is where the skills section comes in.
The skills section of the resume is where the applicant can list, elaborate and expand upon the skills and abilities that he possesses, and that are relevant to the job that he is applying for. Sadly, this section is also one of the most often overlooked.
Why is the Skills section so important?
The Skills section of the resume is where you, the applicant, will get to showcase your specific skills and abilities. This is where you can show the hiring manager what you can accomplish in the position once they hire you for the job. This section is the perfect venue for you to underline to the employer why you are a prime candidate – no, the best candidate – for the job or open position.
In some resumes, the heading or title of the section is “Additional Skills”, and it is where the applicant will list down all of his abilities that are not referenced or indicated in the Work History and Experience section.
Skills to Include in the Resume
There are two basic categories or types of skills that a job seeker should include in his resume: the hard skills and the soft skills.
These are the skills that can be acquired through classroom learning, course work, apprenticeships, trainings, workshops and the like. These comprise the qualifications required to do that specific job.
One other way to describe hard skills is that they are quantifiable or measurable.
Examples of hard skills include:
- Advanced bookkeeping
- Word processing
- Computer programming
- Fluency or proficiency in foreign languages
- Typing / Encoding
- Automotive repair and maintenance
- Heavy machinery and equipment operation
- Schedule management
- Systems analysis
You may have heard of the phrase “people skills” or “interpersonal skills” before. Those are simply other terms for soft skills which, unlike the hard skills, are harder to measure or quantify. While hard skills apply to the particular job, soft skills apply to practically every job, enabling the person that possesses them to be successful in the workplace.
The difficulty in identifying (and quantifying) soft skills is its subjective nature. What one person may deem to be a soft skill may not be perceived by another in the same way.
Examples of soft skills include:
- Communication skills
- Strong Work Ethic
- Time management
Learn why your body language shapes who you are.
Other skills that you should consider including are transferable skills. These are the skills that have been acquired from previous employment settings (both paid and unpaid), and may be transferred to future employment settings. This means that you can use these skills from one job to another.
If you look at the list of examples of transferable skills, you may find that they are essentially the same as the soft skills. This is why, in many instances, transferable skills and soft skills are considered to be one and the same. Some common examples are:
- Problem analysis and solving
- Decision making
- Data recording
- Goal setting
WHICH SKILLS TO INCLUDE IN THE RESUME
In many guides on how to write the skills section of the resume, they often indicate two things that should be there: the soft skills and the hard skills. But are those the only items that should appear in this section? Is the Skills section simply an area in your resume to enumerate the applicant’s hard and soft skills?
If you want to make your resume’s Skills section work for you and grab the attention of the hiring manager – enough for them to decide that you deserve to be granted an interview – you have to pay extra attention on how you write the Skills section of your resume.
The main concern at this point would be: what skills should the applicant put in his resume?
1. List down all your skills
The first thing you should do is to get a piece of paper or draw up a blank document on your word processor, and start listing away. List all the skills that you have. Basically, a “skill” is anything that you are good at.
Be as free as you want; any skill or talent that you can think of that you have, list them down. Do not think of anything else, especially the job you are applying for. You’ll get to that later. To facilitate things, you can create columns of the categories, such as Hard Skills and Soft Skills. Or you can be more specific and create separate columns for Technical Skills, Non-technical Skills, People Skills, etc. Go with what you are most comfortable with. Think of this as you making a “shopping list” of all your skills.
Once you are done, you probably have a long list on your hands. Now be careful: not all of the items on the list will go to your resume’s Skills Section. This is one of the most challenging parts of preparing your resume, particularly this section: choosing the skills to include.
2. Select the skills to include
No matter how much you want to put all the skills you’ve listed, if only to improve how you’d look on your resume, you should not – must not – do that. You have to be selective, especially in the context of a job search.
Why is that? Keep in mind that the company is looking for the “best person for the job”, not the “best person”, per se. The job that they are trying to fill requires a very specific set of qualifications and skills that the jobholder must possess in order for him to carry out the job’s tasks, duties and responsibilities effectively.
You do not want to waste the time of the hiring manager going through an extensive list of skills that are not going to be beneficial to the job. You also do not want to appear like you are “padding” your resume by including as much information as you can, regardless of their relevance or significance.
- Review the job description: It is time to go back to the job posting, which includes the job description of the position you are applying for. List down the required skills that are listed in the job description, and match them with the first list that you wrote up. If there are skills that match up, mark them as must-have skills for your resume.
- Take note of the determining factors: There are several factors that you have to consider when choosing which skills to include.
- Relevance to the job: Again, this is why it is important to know the job description of the position you are applying for, since it will tell you exactly what the company is looking for in the jobholder who will eventually perform the job. Basing off of the job description, you can narrow down the list of skills to those that are most relevant to the job.
- Balance: There is a never-ending debate on which skills would gain the most favor and attention from hiring managers. Some say that it is the hard skills that should be included, since they are the ones that are easier to quantify and measure, which means performance evaluation is more objective. There are those who think that soft skills hold more weight since, essentially, they are the ones that cannot be taught, as they are more ingrained in the candidate’s personality. Hard skills, on the other hand, may be taught and learned along the way.
Just to hit the middle ground and be on the safe side, it is advised that you strike a balance between these two sets of skills on your resume. Make sure that the skills section includes both hard and soft skills, just to show to the hiring manager how well-rounded you are as an individual and an employee.
How to write a great resume?
3. Tailor your skills to the job or company
Once you have determined which skills to include in your resume, you may think that all you have to do is copy the list as they are on the Skills section. Technically, you can do that. But you have to remember that your goal is to make your entire resume attractive, and that means you have to give the same treatment to the Skills section.
You have to tailor your skill sets to match the job requirements of the position you are applying for. As mentioned earlier, the job description is already a good place to start “tailoring” your skills to the job and the company, but you can dig a bit deeper. Do some more research on the company; you may discover more information about them that will help you decide how to present a skill in your resume.
For example, in your research through a company’s social media accounts, you may discover how much value they place on environmental awareness. However, they did not put any tidbit about that in the job description. Grab this opportunity and include in your resume the environmental cleanup skills that you have acquired in your previous volunteer work experiences.
FORMATTING THE SKILLS SECTION
Where to put the Skills Section
There is no specific or fixed rule on where to place the Skills section in the resume. Most resume templates put the Skills section at the bottom, after the Work Experience section. However, there may be some instances where placing the section at the top of the resume may be more advantageous.
This is a practice usually seen in the IT industry, where the relevant technical skills of the IT professional is placed at the first part of the resume, so it is the first thing that the hiring manager sees when scanning the resume.
How to Style
Uniformity and consistency is very important when styling and formatting the skills section. Use the font style and font size that you used for the rest of the resume.
Do not think that, in order to make it stand out, you should use a different font style and size for that section. This is likely to achieve the opposite effect, making it look sloppy and unprofessional.
Some nice looking CV templates for your inspiration.
OTHER TIPS FOR WRITING THE SKILLS SECTION
The resume skills section must be concise.
Keep in mind that the resume, as a whole, is a brief assessment of your qualifications, skill sets and experience. It goes without saying that the Skills section should also be just as brief and concise. The hiring managers do not have the time and patience to go over a lot of information that are not really necessary for the job. They are looking over resumes, not reading novels.
Aid the hiring managers by keeping your skills list concise, so that they can zero in on the skills immediately the moment they scan your resume. You should not feel the need to explain or elaborate on these skills, because that is what you will do during the interview. Your main objective for now is to grab their attention with your list of skills.
Keep the skills list orderly and organized.
Again, remember that hiring managers and recruiters probably deal with hundreds of applications at one time, so we are talking about a lot of resumes to go over. Once they open a resume and are bombarded with large blocks of texts and narratives, they are likely to stop reading after the first sentence and put the resume down.
The use of bullet points is highly recommended. It makes the lists easier to read and understand, and it also looks neat and professional. Using bullet points will allow you to list the important information quickly.
Use the right keywords.
The large volume of applications and resumes that hiring managers have to deal with on a daily basis has spurred the development of several tools that will help them go through these documents faster and in a more efficient manner.
The Writing Guru’s Wendi Weiner pointed out how many recruitment processes these days make use of applicant tracking systems (ATS) in sorting or going over resumes. All the resumes will pass through these systems’ filtering features, looking for keywords that are industry-specific. Needless to say, the resumes that have these keywords will be considered for the succeeding steps in the recruitment process.
Thus, you should make sure about using the right or appropriate keywords when writing the Skills section. What should clue you in on what the right keywords are? You should refer to the job posting, and take note of the words used in the job description and qualification requirements for the open position. The keywords may also be the ones that you will include in your resume’s Skills section.
Be as specific as you can.
Whenever you can, make sure you provide the specifics. For instance, if you are applying for an administrative position, including a skill on “software operation” may be ambiguous, confusing the hiring manager. Clear up the misunderstanding by including the specific software or programs you are adept at operating, such as Microsoft Office, QuickBooks, Windows operating system (OS), Linux OS, and others.
The same is true if you are applying for a programmer position and you simply put “IT skills” on the list. What IT skills are you talking about? What programming languages are you good at? What platforms do you consider yourself to be an expert at? Make sure to include these specifics.
Being specific will make it easier for the hiring manager to determine at a quick glance whether you are a match for the job or not. This way, they’ll be able to decide if you deserve to undergo an interview, which is the next step in the job hunting process.
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