What to put in your resume skills section – and what not to

what to put in your resume skills section

One of the main objectives of any resume is to catch the eye of a hiring manager. No matter how you apply or where your resume ends up, your goal is always the same – to stand out from the crowd.

When writing the skills section of your resume, it’s tempting to cram it with loads of information and as many keywords as possible. But that approach isn’t likely to help you. Irrelevant information and skills that don’t align with the position will have a hiring manager turning to the next candidate.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of communicating your professional experience in a clear, precise and pertinent way. That’s what makes succinctness your number one priority.

Here are tips for what to include and what not to include in your resume skills section:

Balance your hard and soft skills
There are two basic skill sets employers are looking for – soft skills and hard skills. Hard skills, such as excel formulas and knowledge of operating tools, are measurable. Soft skills are more difficult to quantify. They include communication ability and work ethic.

In your resume skills section, it’s best to find a balance between the two.

Make a list of both your hard and soft skills. You could have skills like mathematics, software tools and systems analysis under one column, and time management, adaptability and coolness under pressure in the other.

Excel formulas are hard skills. The ability to effectively lead a team is a soft skill.

With this list in hand, examine the job description for those hard and soft skills which are most applicable. Those are the ones you want to focus on in your resume.

Remember, however, that soft skills have little value unless they can be corroborated. If you make a claim to leadership abilities in your skills section, then a precise account of how you led a team or managed a multi-person project should appear in either the work experience section of your resume or in your cover letter.

What to put in your resume skills section
Excel formulas are hard skills. The ability to effectively lead a team is a soft skill.


Use keywords appropriately 
Keywords are the currency of an online job search transaction. Hiring managers use them to create position listings and narrow down the list of viable candidates.

“A job candidate’s skills and relevant knowledge are substantiated by keywords in a resume,” Wendi Weiner, a professional resume writer, told Business News Daily. “Industry-specific core skills will enable a job candidate to successfully pass through an applicant tracking system (ATS), which is utilized by [the majority] of companies today to obtain the right candidates.”

Narrowing down the keywords employers are looking for can be done by examining multiple listings of similar positions. What words appear frequently? What skills are most commonly desired?

For instance, the most sought-after keywords for investment banking jobs include analysis, report, projects, strategy and M&A, among others. These signal to hiring managers that you’ve been involved in relevant business ventures and have skills applicable to their bank.

“Pairing keyword skills with numbers and precise details only increases your value.”

Pairing these skills with numbers and details only deepens your value. For example: “Analyzed in detail six competitors in the financial technology industry and produced reports on the profitability of each to determine the strategic direction of the company in the next quarter.”

As vital as keywords are to being recognized, be careful about overloading your resume with them. Spamming your skills section with keywords destroys the integrity of the document.

Tailor your skills to the position
Your resume’s skills section is your chance to prove to employers that your skills are directly applicable to their business. For that reason, you should tailor your language to reflect their mission as well as the job description. If you’re applying for jobs at multiple firms, take some time to tailor the words on your resume to each position’s description.

Although companies might be looking for the same skills, many use different phrases. For example, one company might list “time management skills” while another might say “project management skills.” Hiring managers will most likely be searching with keywords they used in the job description, so mirror the language to ensure your resume appears in the search results.

Even though your skills section can seem trivial compared to the rest of your resume, every small effort can go a long way in landing you that first round interview. Dedicating some time to this part of your resume will not only improve its overall quality, but help you stand apart from other applicants.