Optimize your resume skills section

If you're treating the skills section of your resume as an afterthought, you could be missing an opportunity to show employers you've got what it takes to do the job.

Optimize your resume skills section

Hiring managers are always on the lookout for certain skills.

You probably spent hours perfecting your resume’s experience section, but did you put much thought into your skills section? A resume skills section is not just a laundry list of skills that no one reads—a well-written skills section can help convince hiring managers to interview you. These tips can help you determine good skills to put on a resume and also help you optimize this crucial section to attract the eyes of discerning hiring managers.

Types of resume skills

There are two types of skills important for your resume: hard and soft skills. Both need to shine.

“Hard skills are skills required to perform the functions of the job and are acquired through experience and/or education,” says Jane Roqueplot, certified professional behavior analyst and owner of JaneCo’s Sensible Solutions, a career advancement firm in Middlesex, Pennsylvania.

For example, hard skills for an accountant could include cash management, financial analysis, and financial reporting.

Soft skills, on the other hand, are personality traits and characteristics that determine your work style. Roqueplot, who also owns ProfilingPro, a service that supports career industry professionals administering DiSC® behavioral assessments, explains that soft skills include interpersonal strengths, emotional intelligence, communication styles, and behavioral traits.

You might think employers are focused only on job-related hard skills, but soft skills are equally—if not more—essential. In the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Job Outlook 2019 survey, soft skills dominated the list of attributes employers seek on applicant resumes. Communication skills, problem-solving skills, ability to work in a team, and initiative top the list as the most valuable skills.

Give employers what they want. “Both hard and soft skills should be included on a resume,” says Roqueplot.

Where to find skills

The best way to get started is to search jobs on Monster and review several postings for your target job.

Look at the job descriptions and write a list of frequently repeated skills. Next, identify your matching skills. Keep in mind you develop skills in everything from work experience to education, training, hobbies, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and self-study.

You can also gain insights by researching your target employer. “Networking with employees can provide information on the type of skills the employer desires,” says Roqueplot. “Visit the employer’s website and view social media posts to learn what skills are important.”

How to bulk up your resume skills section

Now that you’ve identified good skills to put on a resume, it’s time to add them to yours. You can call this section “skills” or create similar heading, such as “expertise” or “proficiencies.”

The skills section provides an overview of your top skills for human readers and also helps with keyword searching by applicant tracking systems, advises Roqueplot. These tips explain how to develop your resume’s skills section:

  • Select 10 to 15 skills. A short, targeted list will be more effective than one that's long and overwhelming.
  • A good place for your skills section is below your career summary or weaved into the summary, but there’s no hard-and-fast rule—place it where it works best for your resume’s design.
  • A symmetrical listing is most pleasing to the eyes. Consider a two-column list with five to six skills per column or a three-column list with five skills per column. Another option is centering the list and using symbols between skills as separators.
  • Skills for specialized fields could be grouped in their own section, such as a technology or language skills section.
  • If you have more than one career goal, modify the skills section for each of your job targets.
  • For career changers, transferable skills should be added to the skills section to draw attention to skills necessary for a new career goal.

Show ’em, don’t just tell ’em

Anyone can say they have a certain skill, but it’s more powerful to include examples of your skills in action. “Skills should be substantiated elsewhere in the resume by associating the skills with specific accomplishments,” says Roqueplot.

For example, if an accountant wanted to prove they have strong communication skills, the experience section could include accomplishments showing use of the skill, such as facilitating training sessions, collaborating across departments, or authoring a month-close instruction manual.

The skills section is a snapshot of the skills you offer, whereas the experience section includes details of how you used the skill to achieve beneficial outcomes.

Honesty is the best policy

Be honest when listing your skills. It's tempting to include an in-demand skill to get the keyword in your resume, but you could be asked to prove your claim during the interview process or after you’re hired. You don’t need to include a competency level for each skill on your resume, but calling out your skill level is an option. Use this as a guide:

  1. Beginner: A novice understanding of the skill. You have exposure to the skill and understand basic concepts, but you lack experience. For transparency, there’s nothing wrong with writing “beginner” in parentheses next to the skill.
  2. Intermediate: Between a beginner and an expert. You have experience with and can carry out the skill, but you don't understand advanced concepts. For this level skill, you normally wouldn’t need a qualifier.
  3. Expert: A highly developed skill level. You have solid experience and training with the skill and understand advanced concepts. To draw attention to a crucial skill, write “expert” in parentheses next to the skill. If you’re an expert in your entire skills list, call the section “expertise.”

Make your skills shine

Knowing which skills to put on a resume is key to getting called for an interview. Be proud of all you have to offer a company—after all, it's not like you magically developed all those skills overnight. Want to make sure your resume skills section is strong enough? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. With your skills front and center, your odds of getting called in for an interview will be better than ever.