UPDATED ON AUGUST 24, 2017: Original article published November 3, 2016.
Is your resume boring? You know your resume isn't going to get you far in your job search when it has been so boring to write.
One of the most common resume writing tips known is to use your resume to highlight your skills and accomplishments. The top skills for your resume should show off what you have to offer and align with what employers want in a candidate. Coming up with and describing these skills doesn't have to be so frustrating (or uninteresting).
1. Take A Good Look At The Job Posting
Recruiters and HR professionals create job postings for the purpose of telling you exactly what they want in an ideal candidate. They draft a job description that should summarize the basic tasks you need to be able to complete, what type of candidate will fit well within their company, and what specific results they want to see you produce. They also list job specifications or required qualifications that will identify whether or not you are qualified for the job and possess the... you guessed it... skills they want you to have.
Often skills are clearly listed under Job Specifications or Qualifications. Here's a sample of one of these sections:
- Bachelor's degree or equivalent experience required.
- 5+ years of training and development experience AND 1-3 years working in a supervisory or leadership capacity.
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills; strong project management, leadership, and team building skills.
- Prior experience implementing and maintaining technology-based training/distance learning programs for a geographically dispersed workforce preferred.
At first glance, there are six skills that this employer is looking for: training and development, leadership, communication, project management, team building, and distance learning program management. Before applying for a job with your resume, look closely at the job posting to find the top skills for your resume that each employer is specifically looking for.
2. Identify Job-Related Skills That Correlate To Your Typical Tasks
You should always reflect on your past experience and remember what tasks you were responsible for at each job you held. This may seem tedious, but often there are skills sets acquired from performing certain tasks that you may not have thought of. For example, your last job may have been primarily customer service but through your experiences developed your skills in conflict resolution (a skill needed for most supervisory roles) or consultative sales (a skill often applicable to account management roles).
Start by making a list of all the companies you've worked for, with each position title you've held there, and 10-15 tasks you did for each position. If you are struggling to come up with tasks, visualize a typical day for you in that job. What did you do throughout the day? What specific responsibilities did you have every week/month/quarter?
Once you have a general list, start determining which skills you used or learned in order to complete the tasks properly. Skills can also be related to specific results. If you met and exceeded your sales goals, then you likely have great skills in needs assessment or revenue growth.
3. Determine Which Competencies Come From Your Education/Training
It's also a great idea to think back on your education or job-related training to identify any competencies that can translate into skills or knowledge. Your business degree program required you to take courses in accounting, finance, and data analysis. The knowledge you gained from the coursework in your degree program can be applied loosely to your resume as skills.
This is particularly effective when you have little relevant work experience for your job targets. You can focus on your education and list your coursework as competencies to give employers a snapshot of what value you can contribute.
The same applies to any job-related training. Evaluate your job-related training and determine which skills you were taught could position you to be of value to another employer. Remember that the key to an effective resume is targeting your resume toward the needs of the employer. Only concern yourself with the skill sets that apply to the specific job target you are applying for.
4. Reflect On Your Personality
Transferable skills, or soft skills, are also valuable to employers. These are your communication, presentation, and social skills that will affect how you represent the company to customers but also how well you will fit with the company's culture.
Consider your personal attributes as potential skills. Are you great at connecting with others? Relationship building can be a key skill for customer-focused companies. Do you like to daydream and think outside of the box? Creativity and innovation are attributes that translate into skills as well.
5. Develop A Skills Inventory
Once you have a solid list of skills determined based on your background and personality, develop a skills inventory that groups your skills together into sets. Your skills sets could be as broad as Job-Related Skills and Soft Skills, or you could segment your skills by:
- Category: People Skills, Information Skills, Leadership Skills, etc.
- Job Target: Management, Sales, Administration, etc.
- Industry: Skills for Government Roles, Skills for Banking/Finance Roles, Skills for Manufacturing Roles, etc.
Having a completed skills inventory on hand will help you target your resume for other job opportunities as they come up. Developing your skills inventory doesn't have to take long, but doing it once will speed up the resume writing or resume targeting process for you later on.
6. Integrate Your Skills Naturally Into Your Resume
Using your skills inventory, start reworking your resume content to include the top skills that the specific job posting identifies as important for this job. Those skills may also be keywords used to narrow down candidates in the employer's Applicant Tracking software.
Start with your Branding Statement or Career Summary. Use your resume's introduction to highlight your most valuable skills that relate toward that specific job target. Describe how you will apply these skills to achieve the company's goals. These should also be somewhat easy to identify in the job posting.
7. Create A Key Skills or Areas of Expertise Section
Your resume needs to not only include the keywords recruiters or HR professionals are using to narrow down candidates. Your resume needs to be easy to scan once it makes it in front of human eyes. Adding a Key Skills or Areas of Expertise section with an easy-to-scan list of your top skills is one way to make sure your value is apparent.
As discussed before, you may only have an educational background with very little work experience. Rather than a Key Skills or Areas of Expertise section, follow your Branding Statement with your Education section. Beneath your most recent degrees, you can list your Core Competencies or Related Coursework.
8. Create C-A-R Bullet Lists Under Your Experience
Another way to naturally integrate the top skills for your resume is to rework your work experience to summarize your tasks and then list your accomplishments or major contributions within bullet lists.
The best way to highlight your skills in your resume is to describe a challenge, the action you took, and the results that followed within each role you held. The C-A-R writing technique very clearly defines your value and gives the credit to how you applied your skills. Focus on describing the top 2-4 situations that related the most to the needs of the employer or goals of the company.