Putting skills on a resume is a great way to show hiring managers what you can do for them, while also including relevant keywords on your resume.
However, there’s one BIG mistake that I’ve seen many job seekers make with their skills section on a resume… and it can cost them the interview.
So in this article, we’re going to look at real-life examples of resume skills sections, how to write this section and come up with ideas of skills to list, and the biggest mistake to avoid if you want to get the interview.
Let’s get started…
Let’s look at some good examples of resume Skills sections (which you can also name “Core Competencies,” “Professional Skills,” etc.)
Your goal when writing this resume section is to highlight your most relevant skills for the job, all in one place.
So you want the list to be easy to read. I suggest one or two columns.
And you don’t just want to list random skills. And you don’t want to list the same skills for every job! You really want to research the job and company (starting with the job description) and put the skills and keywords THEY mention.
This is called “tailoring” your resume and will immediately boost the number of interviews you receive. I wrote a guide on the easiest way to do this HERE. (It’s much easier than people think).
So you really need to be looking at the specific job description for keywords.
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to put together your Skills section. Here are some sample Skills sections so you can see what it might look like:
This resume skills section example is for a salesperson. You can see it contains a lot of keywords, and also highlights what this person is best at. That’s what you should aim to do.
Remember, don’t just guess which skills and keywords the employer wants. Study the job description.
This is another example of a simple layout for this section on your resume, this time using two columns.
Choose a format that is simple and not distracting.
You want the employer’s attention to be on your skills and qualifications, not on your resume’s formatting.
If you take one idea away from these sample skill sections of a resume, it should be that the section is meant to be simple and clutter-free, and should only feature your top relevant skills for the jobs you’re pursuing now.
It’s not a place to list every single skill you’ve ever used, and it shouldn’t have as much content as other, more important, sections like your resume work experience.
To start getting ideas of skills to list, look at the job descriptions of positions you’re applying for. See what your target employers want for this job. That’s what to show them first and foremost!
Once you have an idea of the top skills they want to see, think about what you’ve done that’s most similar.
Key skills for a resume:
The number of skills to include on your resume will depend on the job you’re applying for, your industry, and your experience level. For example, an experienced software engineer may list 20 skills. However, for an entry-level job seeker, 8-10 skills are sufficient, and any more than that will be unlikely to be read by a hiring manager or recruiter.
Also, someone in a less technical field (like sales or customer service) might only need 8-10 skills on their resume, even if they have a few years of experience.
Overall, my recommendation as a recruiter is that you should have somewhere between 8 and 20 skills on your resume. You should list both hard and soft skills, but it’s more important to include hard skills. These are the skills that hiring managers look for first and foremost on your resume; soft skills are secondary.
If you’ve read the tips above and are still thinking, “I don’t have enough key skills to put on my resume,” here are a few ideas to help you…
Along with looking at the job description for the role you’re applying for, you can also look at job descriptions for roles you’ve previously held. Which skills did you use most?
Look at current or most recent work, too. What did your typical week look like? Sit down and think about which skills you used the most throughout a normal week. Remember to think about hard skills and soft skills.
That should help you come up with more ideas.
You can also look at LinkedIn’s list of skills that are available for your LinkedIn profile. (LinkedIn suggests skills when you go edit this section of your profile).
You can look at peers/colleagues on LinkedIn, too, to see which skills they’ve chosen! Look at a few current coworkers, for example. Which skills are they mentioning? Those are good skills to list on your LinkedIn and your resume, too. The LinkedIn skills section is a great way to get resume ideas overall.
I recommend doing this by taking a course via LinkedIn Learning and then adding it to your resume Skills section). This is a great option if you’re job searching after being unemployed because it shows employers you’re keeping your skills current and staying active.
You can learn soft skills like body language (this could help you if you’re in sales, customer service, etc.) or hard skills like front-end web development, social media management, and more.
In general, employers want to see where and when you used each skill (especially for hard skills). So don’t just rely on a Skills section.
Also, put effort into your resume summary paragraph.
I typically read those sections first as a recruiter. That’s where I can see which key skills you’ve used most in your career.
In fact, even if you put your skills section very high up on a resume, I usually skip it and only return to read it AFTER I check out your recent work experience and bullets!
The bottom line is: Recruiters and hiring managers don’t want to see a big list of skills with no reference to where each skill was used… at least not at first. And they especially do not want to see a long list of soft skills. They’re mostly looking for hard skills and key skills from the job posting when they first glance at your resume.
So keep this in mind when writing your skills list. The hiring manager might skip it and look for your experience section first.
This resume section still has value – as a secondary place to show off your abilities and core competencies, and as a place to fill your resume with great keywords so you can get past the ATS (applicant tracking system). But the biggest mistake I see job seekers making is relying on the skills section too much to get interviews or get the employer’s attention.
If you say you’re an expert in Phone Sales, Digital Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Customer Service, or any other hard skill… you need to be ready to defend this in an interview.
If you say you’ve done a lot of time management, be prepared with examples. If you say problem solving is one of your strengths, be ready to back it up with a success story!
They’re going to want to know where you used that skill and details about how you used it and what results you got in recent jobs. And if you say you’re an “expert” at something, they might ask what makes you an expert.
So if you’re not an expert or highly proficient, don’t say you are. You can still list the skill, but don’t exaggerate and go overboard by saying “expert.”
I made this mistake early in my career and it cost me the job! I said the word “expert” when describing my Microsoft Excel skills, and they asked me about it in an interview and I completely crumbled. I wasn’t an expert and I wasn’t ready to defend why I had said that on my skills list.
Also, don’t list skills you’ve never used. Even if they do hire you, you could immediately be fired if they discover you lied about your skills in your interview. Lying in your job search is usually not a good tactic.
You should be ready to answer questions related to any or all skills mentioned in your resume skills section – both soft and hard skills.
If you read the tips above, you now know how to write a great skills section of a resume, including examples of what it should look like.
You also know the other important pieces to focus on, like your resume work experience. If you follow these guidelines that I shared, you’ll get more interviews and get noticed by better employers in your job search.
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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