The Definitive Guide To Showcasing Skills On Your Resume

Does your resume hit the mark?

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Not sure what to put in the resume skills section? Here are best examples of what skills to put on your resume. Proven tips for DIY resume writers.

Irene McConnell
6 min read

It’s true. You have mad skills – and not with a “z” at the end. Now you just need to know how those skills should show up on your resume. If you’re reading this post, you’ve likely already tried at least one of the tactics below:

If, after all that, you’re still seeking, I’d say you’re serious about your career. And you still have valid questions that haven’t been answered, such as…

  • What’s the difference between skills, personality traits, abilities, strengths, talents or achievements?
  • Between hard skills and soft skills?

Getting your skills right on your resume is no easy feat. But fear not. These questions are precisely what we’re here to parse through today.

resume writing services

My team has literally written thousands of resumes for senior-level candidates with a consistent 5-star rating. So, don’t feel you have to go it alone.

Now, let’s cover off on some basics.

Three Categories Of Skills.

1. Hard Skills (aka Job-Related Skills).

The technical skills you need to do a certain job. These skills are teachable and can be quantified.

Examples: spearfishing or HTML / CSS programming.

2. Soft Skills (aka Adaptive Skills).

The personal attributes or skills you use to manoeuvre through life in the world. These are subjective interpersonal skills that aren’t as easy to quantify.

Examples: a persuasive presenter or an effective listener.

3. Transferrable Skills (Sometimes Hard, Sometimes Soft).

The ones you can take with you from one job to another. Examples: public speaking. Fluent in French.

Now that you’re skilled in skills, let’s talk about what NOT to do with them.

What Skills Not To Include On Your Resume.

1. Skills You Don’t Possess.

While the readers of our blog are unquestionably people of integrity, a CareerBuilder survey reports that more than 75% of HR managers have pinpointed a lie on a resume.

So, even if your intentions are good, resist the temptation to embellish or exaggerate your skills to get the job. Because, like John Lennon said, instant karma’s gonna get you.

Whether it means you get an interview and don’t perform – or, even worse, you get hired and aren’t sure what you’re doing.

Bottom line, tell the truth. And apply for jobs that don’t err too far on the edge of aspirational.

2. Obsolete Skills.

Still a whiz with MS-DOS, Lotus 1-2-3, or Vista?  Keep it on the down low. Technology changes by the day, and many great innovations have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Been out of the workforce for a while? Make sure the skills you list on your resume are still current and in-demand by employers.

3. Irrelevant Skills.

If the skills you have aren’t directly (or even remotely) related to the job you’re applying for, leave them off.

This may seem obvious, but it can sometimes be subtle.

Maybe you use a certain sport, workout or meditation technique to stay focused at work. And you feel it’s important for your future employer to know how centered you are.

However, think twice before you waste a recruiter’s time citing your mindfulness practice, or your squash abilities. Save it for the interview.

4. Used and Abused Skills.

Every year, LinkedIn publishes a list of buzzwords that are overused in profiles.

2018’s list is a good indicator of words to beware when crafting skills for your resume.

  • Specialised
  • Experienced
  • Skilled
  • Leadership
  • Passionate
  • Expert
  • Motivated
  • Creative
  • Strategic
  • Focused

5. No-Brainer Skills.

LinkedIn’s list is also a poignant reminder that every employer already expects you to be ALL (or most) of those things.

So, why bother spelling them out?

Also, please don’t list “MS Office”, “email” or the “internet” as skills you possess. Now let’s move onto best practices for resume skills.

Show, Don’t Tell.

Remember this point above all else:

Skills don’t solve business problems; people do.

Two candidates applying for the same role might possess identical education and training, yet have taken entirely different career paths based on how they’ve decided to apply their skills.

That said, the goal of your resume (and your personal brand, while we’re at it) is to clearly communicate the commercially relevant business problems you can solve for a potential employer.

If a hiring manager happens to have the problem that you can uniquely solve, you’ll likely get a call for an interview.

Make sure your skills tell a clear, cohesive story throughout the narrative that is your resume.

(Related Article: Beyond Your Resume: Building Your Personal Brand).

How To Format Skills On Your Resume.

But how, you’re thinking. Should they be in list form, in a table format, or peppered throughout?

The answer is … it depends. On whom you are and what kind of a role you’re going for.

1. Subject Matter Expert / Specialist.

Let’s say you’re a software engineer.

Your next dream job is a head of engineering role at a major software company.

Since you’re skilled at things not many other people are – and they are essential to qualifying you for the job you want – it makes great sense for you to showcase your skills and qualification in a simple list or table format.

In your case, your resume “skills” are tangible, practical, hands-on, real-world stuff you know how to use or do, such as:

    • Proficient with JavaScript, Node.js/Express and HTML5
    • Experience with UX design and open source development

And your qualifications might be:

    • CSDP 2012
    • BS in Computer Science, University of New South Wales, 2010

A note on placement:

Any recruiter screening for this role will scan the first page of your resume to confirm the above boxes are checked. In this case, your list or table should feature your qualifications first and skills second.

The same advice would apply for project managers, financial planners, cybersecurity and other IT professionals, medical professionals, etc.

You get the idea. Basically, any specialty role where you need a specific set of skills and trainings to be competitive in the job market would follow this rule of thumb.

2. Associate / Career-Level Roles.

Follow the same guidelines above, with one possible exception.

Your education might be more appropriate to place below your list or table of skills. Unless you have a certification that’s essential for the job you want.

3. Senior Leadership / Executive Roles.

In the immortal words of John Cleese: And now for something completely different.

If you’re an executive, you’re the one exception to the “skills in a list or table” rule.

At your level, it’s incumbent upon you to prove you have what it takes to solve your desired employer’s biggest business challenges.

A simple table won’t get you there. But here’s what will: Core Assets (aka Key Accomplishments).

For our senior-most clients, we recommend showcasing your skills (both hard and soft) in a way that illustrates your USP—your unique ability to solve commercially relevant business problems.

(Related Article: How to Define Your USP).

Generally, these proof points take shape as achievements. They land either in a section of your resume called Core (or Key) Assets or in a list of Key Achievements / Accomplishments. And, of course, your skills should be sprinkled throughout your Professional Experience section.

This is a fancy way of saying you need to tie your skills to tangible results. Without the results, your most coveted skills will end up sounding like fluff.

Baffled much? Read my post on how to write resume achievements.

However, on the topic of skills, I’ll also suggest an additional writing technique that isn’t included in my post on resume achievements.

The CAR Technique (Challenge / Action / Results).

The CAR technique is an effective and straightforward way to translate your skills into accomplishments that are capable of capturing the hearts, minds and eyeballs of recruiters.

For each skill you’re seeking to highlight, begin by asking yourself these 3 questions:

    • Challenge: what big challenges have you faced relative to this skill? Remember to span your career versus just your most recent role.
    • Actions: what specific actions did you take to overcome those challenges? The key word here is specific.
    • Results: what was the impact of your work? Consider the frequency and scale of your impact

Two examples:

1. You’re a CMO.

And you want to tout your change management skills.

    • A major challenge in your career involved a significant revenue shortfall at your company.
    • The action you took was to initiate a policy change that freed up funds for direct marketing.
    • The result was that you nearly eliminated the loss in less than a year.

It might turn out something like this:

“Proactively transformed a $30M revenue shortfall by creating a new approach to direct marketing that cut losses by 75% in 6 months’ time.”

That example would fit best in a list of achievements, even though it’s highlighting a skill.

2. You’re A VP of HR.

You want to emphasise your leadership skills.

      • Your action was to create a program that clearly delineated career paths for various roles.
      • In one of your roles, your company was suffering from crippling attrition due to lack of growth opportunity.
      • The result was reduced attrition for hard-to-fill roles.

It might read like this:

“Designed and championed career pathway program focused on reducing attrition in key talent areas. “

This would fit nicely in your Core Assets section, as it shows your leadership skills without having to say “leadership.”

By now, I trust you’re feeling a tad more grounded in the world of resume skill creation. Admittedly, though, this DIY approach to crafting skills for your resume demands a great deal of time and energy.

So, take a break and enjoy this video of incredible humans. You might want to turn the volume down first:

Consider it a small reminder that we all shine on.

– Irene

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