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A good publicist talks up her client, convinces people that he's great, maybe gets him invited to parties and events. Think of your resume as the paper version of your own personal publicist: it sells you to other people and (hopefully) helps you get a foot in the door for the jobs you want. Your resume has to include a lot of basic stats about your education and work history, but a hiring managers who reads a resume is also trying to get a sense of the skills that a candidate could bring to the table. Different positions require different types of skills, but all good employees should have some of the same basic skills. Those are the ones to play up on your resume.
How to Approach Job Skills on a Resume
Before tinkering with your resume, think about what a hiring manager sees when he goes through a stack of job applications. If he receives 10 resumes for a position, five might include phrases like "works well with others," "great communication skills" and "strong leader." He'll probably skim right past those phrases because they don't really tell him anything about the candidate.
Alison Green, the management consultant and advice columnist behind the site Ask a Manager, warns job applicants against using phrases like those ones because they're subjective. Saying that you work well with others doesn't mean much coming from you, especially if the person reviewing your resume has never even met you. It would be more useful coming from someone who has worked with you, but those assessments come later – during the reference checking phase.
That's a big part of the reason why many hiring managers now consider it outdated to include a dedicated "skills" section on a resume. It isn't necessary for most candidates – although there are some exceptions – and it takes up space you could use to highlight real experience. (A resume should be no longer than one page for most candidates.) Unless you really do have unusual or extraordinary skills that could be relevant to the job, skip this section altogether. Instead, identify your useful skills and think of ways that you've demonstrated those skills in past jobs. Then work them into the bullet points you list under each job.
Important Job Skills: Hard vs. Soft
As you go through the job-searching process, you might hear people talk about hard and soft skills. Hard skills are those that can be taught, practiced and measured objectively. For example, being able to operate a certain type of machinery or being fluent in a second language is a hard skill. Soft skills are more subjective. Time management, teamwork, leadership and communication are examples of common soft skills.
Different jobs require different types of hard skills, but similar soft skills are important in most jobs. Ideally, you'll highlight some of your strongest hard and soft skills on your resume. Don't do it by adding a "soft skills list" section, though. The best way to craft an impressive resume is to focus on how you've used your skills to accomplish things in previous jobs.
In the early 2000s, being adept at Microsoft Word might have set a job applicant apart from other candidates. Today, job applicants are expected to have at least basic computer skills so they're not worth listing on a resume. (If you don't have those skills, work on developing them before going in for an interview in an office or other professional setting. While some jobs do require very little technology, employers will generally expect that employees know how to do basic tasks like creating and editing Word documents, using email programs and maybe creating simple spreadsheets. Your local library may offer free computer classes that teach these skills.)
Specialized computer skills are worth including, however. Highlight any specific programs that you're fluent in. If you used a certain type of software in a previous job, you might include a phrase like "created weekly status reports using [software]." If you know how to do basic coding and you used it at work, you might include a phrase such as "built new company website from scratch using [specifics]."
You may have computer skills that you haven't used in past employment. In that case, it does make sense to add a "Technical Skills" section to the bottom of your resume. There, use bullet points to describe any proficiencies that you have. If you're applying for a job that relies heavily on computer expertise, definitely include this section.
Being able to communicate clearly in writing, in person and through other means is a strength for any job seeker, so use your resume to highlight the ways you've demonstrated communication skills in past jobs. For example, if you were responsible for training interns, you might include a bullet point that says something like "trained [x] interns and communicated workplace norms and expectations with them." If you regularly participated in staff meetings, you might include something like "Gave weekly status presentations to a group of [x] colleagues."
Ideally you'll highlight any writing skills that you've used in previous jobs, but keep in mind that writing a great cover letter will show off those skills too.
Employees have to work well with other team members and clients, so getting along with others and being pleasant to be around are simple but important qualities. Have you worked well as part of a team in the past? Include bullet points like "collaborated with a team of [x] to complete [x] projects" or "supported members of the [x] team by providing clerical assistance before events."
If you've held jobs that required customer service, identify the ways you've been effective in those roles. For example, a front desk clerk might include something like "greeted visitors to the office and was regularly complimented for my friendliness and efficiency" or "assisted roughly 100 customers per day and provided clear, actionable solutions to their questions."
A lot of careers don't involve financial or budgetary issues at all. If you're applying to be, say, a preschool teacher – don't worry about this skill set. But employers are always looking to save money and maximize profits or stretch their budgets. So if you've helped a past employer do those things, your resume should show it.
For example, if you improved a system that allowed the company to cut shipping costs, you might write something like "analyzed [x] system and proposed efficiency improvements that saved the company [x] per year." Likewise, a candidate who has any accounting or bookkeeping skills should always include them on a resume. Include them under a "Special Skills" section, if you can't naturally work them into any other section of the resume.
Whether they're hiring a lion tamer, a construction worker or a physicist, all employers want to find employees who will be reliable, responsible and conscientious. Basically, your resume should tell prospective employers that you are a good and independent employee who won't cause problems or cost the company money.
But again, the best way to do this is to describe the things you've accomplished using those professional skills. If you were known for being reliable and punctual in a previous job, for example, you might list something like "Earned a company-wide reputation for being punctual, and became the go-to person for answering early morning questions due to always being the first one at my desk."
- Ask a Manager: Stop Claiming Subjective Traits on Your Resume
- Ask a Manager: How Can My Resume Demonstrate Initiative, Problem-Solving, Work Ethic, and Other Qualities?
- Ask a Manager: No One Is Reading My Resume’s Skills Section
- Forbes: The 10 Skills Employers Most Want In 20-Something Employees
- Robert Half Staffing: 10+ Skills to Include on Your Resume
Kathryn has been a lifestyle writer for more than a decade. Her work has appeared on USAToday.com and Indeed.com.
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