What does the skills section of your resume look like? Is it a concise, ever-changing list of skills directly correlating to each job you’re applying to? Or is it an unorganized mishmash of various job skills?
If it looks like the latter instead of the former, don’t worry. By the end of this article, you’ll know how to develop a stellar skills section that’s impressive, succinct, and contains crucial keywords that align with the employer’s applicant tracking systems (ATS).
But what are the top skills that look good on a resume?
While the required technical skills will depend on the type of position you’re applying for, there are some universal soft skills that employees always want to see. These include specific skills like active listening, problem-solving, customer service, critical thinking, and staunch communication skills. Research has shown that 90% of candidates apply to open positions with standard resumes (likely downloaded from a template) with zero customization.
The bad news?
Hiring managers often never see these applications since they aren’t tailored to the job description. It’s my goal to ensure you don’t shoot your resume into a black hole, which is why I’m here to teach you how to perfect the skills section so that your application gets noticed. Stay tuned to learn the top skills that look good on a resume to employers and hiring managers.
Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills
First, it’s crucial to distinguish the difference between hard skills and soft skills.
Hard skills, also called technical skills, apply directly to a specific job position or industry. For example, hard skills associated with human resources include project management, onboarding, employee recordkeeping, team-building, and employee engagement.
Experience with certain HR software programs like BambooHR, Asana, and ADP Workforce Now would also count as hard skills for HR professionals.
In a nutshell, a hard skill is any skill that’s specific to your industry, including knowing how to use any relevant software programs.
Employees develop hard skills through work experience, certifications, education, and on-the-job training.
Some industries, like the automotive industry, have lots of certifications workers can get to expand their hard skillsets – such as ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certifications for mechanics.
Soft skills are general employment skills that apply to every type of position and industry. Examples include interpersonal skills, computer skills, customer service skills, teamwork, and problem-solving skills, to name a few.
These skills are useful and important to recruiters because they’re necessary to be successful in any type of role.
Whether you’re a graphic designer or a real estate agent, communication and organizational skills are always going to be a must.
The way you develop soft skills also differs from hard skills.
Besides education and work experience, you can also develop soft skills through life experience, which may be inherent (such as the natural ability to communicate well).
Why You Need to Match Your Resume Skills with the Job Description
As stated before, a majority of employers use ATS (applicant tracking systems) to manage all the job applications they receive.
Why is that?
In today’s age, the average corporate job opening receives a staggering 250 job applications per job posting.
As you can imagine, manually viewing each resume is a ton of work for recruiters, which is why it seldom happens.
Instead, recruiters program their ATS to seek out resumes that include the types of skills employers are looking for the most. They do so by entering specific keywords (i.e., the skills and keywords included in the job posting).
The resumes that contain the most relevant skills appear at the top of the list, making them far more likely to get seen by employers.
While that may seem a bit discouraging at first, this awareness is beneficial for job candidates.
It is because you can tailor your resume to include the best and most important skills from the job description. Remember, these are the skills that the ATS is looking for, so it’s crucial to include them on your resume.
Don’t make the mistake of developing one resume and sticking with it for every job you apply to.
Instead, you should create a different version of your resume for each position you want.
That way, you’ll be able to include all the key skills each employer is looking for, drastically improving your chances of landing a job interview.
Formatting Your Resume Skills Section
Now that you know how important it is to customize your resume for each open position, it’s time to learn how to create a beautiful skills section for your resume.
Resume Writing 101 requires that your skills section be concise, informative, and easy to read.
The most effective way to present your most crucial skills is to use a ‘highlights’ section near the very top (right after your name and contact information but before your professional experience section).
This ensures that no one can miss your best skills (especially the ATS crawlers).
How should you format them?
Bullet points are the most concise way, and they’re very easy to read.
For example, here’s what a list of relevant soft skills should look like:
As you can see, the bulleted list makes it effortless to digest all these skills (far easier than if they were in a sentence separated by commas).
Top 10 Soft Skills That Look Good on a Resume
If you want your resume to receive the attention it deserves, then you need to go out of your way to include the right skills.
For any given job, there will be a set of hard and soft skills that the employer is looking for the most.
Luckily, the most in-demand soft skills tend to be universal, so they’ll apply to virtually every position.
Here’s a look at some examples of soft skills that aren’t going out of style anytime soon.
#1: Problem Solving
Something every employer looks for in a candidate is the ability to solve problems without any outside intervention.
After all, what position doesn’t involve the occasional hiccup?
In these scenarios, it’s important that employees know how to identify, diagnose, and solve major and minor problems that occur during the workday.
Your technical skills can also bolster your problem-solving capabilities for certain roles, so don’t forget to mention them.
An example would be a sales professional claiming that they’re a great problem solver, especially for issues that occur with their CRM software.
This lets the employer know that not only can they solve problems, but they also have intricate knowledge of CRM programs, which is a hard skill related to marketing and sales.
#2: Public Speaking
While not every job requires public speaking, it’s still a nice soft skill to show off – but only if you’re truly good at it/comfortable with it.
If you’ve had public speaking experience in the past, it’s definitely worth mentioning for communication-heavy industries like human resources, sales, and marketing.
You never know when a hiring manager may be looking for someone with public speaking skills, whether they need someone to deliver a webinar or if they need someone to run weekly meetings.
Since so many people find public speaking uncomfortable (75% of the population has a fear of public speaking, which is nearly 200 million people), it’s a marketable skill that you shouldn’t fail to mention.
#3: Analytical Skills
Do you have experience with analyzing data, conducting research, and using critical thinking?
Then, your analytical skills deserve a place on your resume.
Tons of job positions require analysis, whether it’s pouring through sales data to develop a strategy or conducting SEO keyword research.
Once again, these types of skills can also directly relate to your hard skills.
For instance, an HR professional could mention how they use their analytical skills on employee retention reports from ADP Workforce Now.
If the employer is looking for someone who has both analytical skills and experience with ADP, the candidate has just made themselves a shoo-in for an interview.
#4: Attention to Detail
Mistakes can be very costly for businesses, which is why this soft skill is always in demand.
However, you really need to put your money where your mouth is on this one.
Picture that you place attention to detail at the top of your skills list, only for your resume and cover letter to have numerous typos and grammatical errors.
Needless to say, that wouldn’t reflect very well on you.
That’s why everything you submit must be utterly error-free for this skill to look good on your resume.
Grammarly has a free version that really comes in handy for these types of things, so don’t hesitate to use it.
#5: Time Management
This skill will always be important to any type of job, so it’s a must-have for your resume summary.
No matter where you work, your employer will want to know that you will consistently show up on time whenever you’re scheduled.
Beyond that, they expect you to be able to meet or exceed key deadlines without compromising the quality of your work.
Time management also relates to your levels of engagement and productivity.
That means being able to tune out distractions (coworker conversations, coffee breaks, etc.) and be as productive as possible during the workday.
If you’re applying for a managerial role, time management goes beyond managing your own time and expands into managing the attendance and productivity of multiple employees.
In this scenario, you should include how many teams you’ve directly managed, as well as for how long.
#6: Customer Service Skills
Even if you aren’t applying for a customer-facing role, customer service skills can still be worth a mention.
Should you ever pick up the phone or interact with a client face-to-face, your employers will want to know that you’ll be polite, respectful, helpful, and friendly.
Additionally, excellent customer service extends beyond dealing with clients.
If you have excellent customer service skills, you’ll have a much easier time dealing with your managers, higher-ups, and stakeholders.
These skills are even more critical if you apply to customer-facing roles like sales and marketing. For these roles, you should list your customer service prowess near the very top of the list, as it’s likely a keyword the recruiter programmed into their ATS.
#7: Computer Skills
Nearly every job in the modern era involves working with some type of computer hardware and software – even if you only use a smartphone or tablet.
Including computer skills on your resume lets employers know that you’re capable of learning various new hardware and software systems.
It also implies competency with most basic software programs, such as Microsoft Office.
It’s integral for software engineers to include computer skills on their resume, as well as any programming languages they know (like Python) – which ties this soft skill to various hard skills.
Other industries, such as sales, marketing, and accounting – all make heavy use of computers and software programs in their day-to-day operations.
#8: Active Listening
Being able to effectively listen is a more valuable skill than public speaking.
Why is that?
It’s because all types of employment involve communicating with others and, more importantly, listening to what they have to say.
Research shows that poor listening skills affect 70% of employees and lead to misunderstandings, mishaps, and costly mistakes.
If you’re a great active listener, you’ll avoid all these errors, and you’ll engage better with coworkers.
Nobody likes not being heard when they speak, which is why active listening is such a crucial skill in the workplace.
#9: Communication (Verbal and Nonverbal)
Verbal and nonverbal communication skills are heavily in-demand soft skills across all industries.
Every day at work, you’ll likely be answering phone calls, responding to emails, speaking at meetings, and discussing projects with other team members.
That’s why employers will want to know that you can effectively communicate across multiple channels, including in-person, video calls, emails, and instant messages through platforms like Slack.
Nonverbal skills are also essential for face-to-face interactions and video calls.
Most experts agree that communication is 70 to 93% nonverbal, so being able to understand and interpret body language is big for most employers.
You should never assume that these other skills are implied by listing communication as a skill, so don’t forget to include them, too.
#10: Collaboration and Teamwork
Before you wrap up your resume skills section, don’t forget to mention that you work well with others, as that’s a big requirement for virtually every job position.
If you fail to mention this, recruiters may falsely assume that you aren’t willing to collaborate with others, which isn’t what you want.
Besides including teamwork in your skill list, you should also include specific examples of where you collaborated with others in your professional experience section. It could be a unique project that required teamwork, or it could be as simple as working with a team every day.
The Most Common Hard Skills by Industry
Now that you know which soft skills are the most important, it’s time to look at hard skills, which are more technical in nature.
The difficulty here is that each position requires its own set of hard skills, so compiling a universal list for job seekers that applies to every industry isn’t possible.
Instead, let’s look at the hard skills that are most common for some popular industries.
HR professionals are responsible for onboarding new employees, keeping track of employee records, and monitoring employee engagement rates – among other things.
Communication skills, project management, and active listening are all crucial soft skills for HR workers.
Essential hard skills include the following:
Retention skills (encouraging employees to stay by fostering a great company culture)
Recruitment skills (finding the best available talent on the job market)
Social media prowess (primarily platforms like LinkedIn that relate to recruitment)
Knowledge of employment law
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
The SEO field is highly technical in nature, so computer skills and analytical skills are both necessities.
Must-have hard skills include:
Experience with Google Search Console and Google Analytics
Content creation (writing, editing, video production, etc.)
Basic web development skills (HTML and CSS)
Sales and Marketing
Sales and marketing are both people-heavy fields, which means communication and people skills are both essential.
Beyond that, here are common hard skills these types of professionals possess:
SEO and SEM
Developing sales pitches
Following up with leads
Inbound and outbound marketing
Experience with CRM (customer relationship management) tools
Data visualization tools
Market research and analytics
Jobs in the financial sector tend to be highly technical and don’t involve much interaction with customers (if any at all).
Essential hard skills in this field include:
Customer Service Jobs
These roles involve lots of communication and problem-solving. Hard skills that mesh well with customer service jobs include:
Email management software
Information and communication technology (ICT)
Familiarity with help desk software like Zoho Desk
Always maintaining a positive attitude
Final Thoughts: Skills That Look Good on a Resume
By including the most relevant hard and soft skills that apply to a job position, you’ll vastly improve the chances of your resume getting seen by recruiters.
Remember to tailor your resume for each position you apply to, including relevant skills and keywords to appeal to employer’s ATS programs.
Also, use a concise format for your skills section, such as bullet points or numbered lists.
Follow these three rules, and you’ll have a stellar resume that rises above the competition.