Soft and Hard Skills: What Are They, and How Do You List Them on Your Resume?

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Including a skills section in your resume can be a great way to get past the initial screening, whether that’s done by an applicant tracking system (ATS) or a busy human resources officer. It’s a prime opportunity to highlight your top qualifications and show why you’re the best candidate for the job. 

However, many people don’t know where to begin, and even more feel confused about what skills they should include. After reading the guide below, you’ll have a clear idea about the skills to list and the way to present them most effectively. If you’d rather leave this to the professionals, go ahead and hire our experts to improve your resume or assemble it from scratch!

What are soft and hard skills?

You can think of hard skills as the technical know-how required to do a job. These are the kinds of competencies people are most likely to list when asked about their skills. In the case of an accountant, for example, hard skills might include knowledge of tax law, familiarity with accounting software, and math competency. Hard skills don’t vary much in a given field—the knowledge and abilities required to be an airline pilot are the same whether you work for Lufthansa, Air Canada, or Delta.

Soft skills are a bit harder to define. Typically, they have to do with your temperament and your ability to manage yourself and relate to others. Emotional intelligence, time management, leadership, and conflict resolution are a few of the skills that fall into this category. The soft skills that are required to be successful in a position will vary based on the job, but in principle, any soft skill can help in just about any career. Still, some are more important in a given field than others. They will also vary from employer to employer based on a company’s needs and culture.

People mistakenly tend to think that soft skills are innate, fixed aspects of someone’s personality. While it’s true that some individuals naturally possess patience or leadership skills, those who aren’t born with them can develop them! Attending workshops, asking for advice, and, most importantly, practicing the skills you want to leverage in your career are the keys to developing them. Of course, determining the best strategy will depend on what soft skill it is, so be sure to research those you want to hone to figure out the best ways to succeed.

What is a skills section?

A skills section is exactly what it sounds like: a section of your resume where you present the knowledge, talents, and abilities you bring to the table. ATSs—the computer programs that screen incoming applications—often look for specific keywords throughout the resume, and the skills section offers you an excellent opportunity to impress the algorithm. The hiring manager reviewing your resume can also use it to easily compare you to other candidates. 

Tailoring your skills section to the requirements of every job you apply for is imperative if you want to get hired—after all, recruiters want the best candidate, and you’ll never be the best candidate with a generic resume. 

Read each job description carefully, scanning for keywords and incorporating the vocabulary used in the listing. If the posting seems short, incomplete, or vague, consider contacting the company to ask for specifics. It may also be helpful to look through postings for similar positions, making note of recurring keywords to weave into your skills section. However, this only gives you a snapshot of what’s common in the industry—with each individual position, you’ll want to focus on the keywords for that specific job. 

Now that we’ve defined what soft and hard skills are and explained the purpose of a skills section, let’s talk about how you can derive the maximum benefit from this section of your resume.

Make sure your skills section is current

It’s easy to neglect to update your resume, especially if you’re not actively searching for a job. Keeping your resume up to date is one of the ways to stay ahead. Periodically refreshing your resume—say, every month—means you can add new skills and accomplishments while they’re still fresh in your mind, and you won’t have to waste time overhauling your resume years down the road. Unintentionally leaving certifications, training, and recently acquired skills out of your resume saps the strength of your application. 

If it’s been a long time since you last updated your resume, this probably feels like a daunting task. However, it’s much easier than you might think! Figure out the date of your last update by looking at the file information on your hard drive or whatever cloud service you store your resume on. Using that as a starting point, go through your calendar to find past training or events to help you remember what new skills you can add.   

Think about organization

The skills section is intended to serve as a quick reference for the person reviewing your application. If your resume requires a lot of effort to evaluate, your chances of snagging an interview won’t be that great. Don’t forget that the way you present the information on your resume is a test in and of itself, and you want to show the hiring manager that you’re organized and good at communicating.

To make the information more accessible, group similar skills together. For example, a programmer might place all of their programming skills at the top of the list and bundle together all the product types they have experience with below that. 

If your list is particularly long, consider splitting it into two sections: Technical Skills and Other Skills. However, if your skills section is so long that you need to divide it into two lists, you may be including some irrelevant skills. Go through it to make sure all the skills deserve to be on your resume for this particular application.

Avoid being generic

Far too many people fill their skills section with empty cliches that don’t actually say much: words like detail-oriented, client-focused, and motivated are a few examples. These are all used so frequently that they don’t have much impact. Besides, hiring managers already expect these qualities, so you don’t need to list them.

Even though many people applying for the same jobs as you probably have similar hard skills, you can craft this section in a way that positions your qualities and experience as unique. Do you have any hobbies or pastimes that exemplify your qualifications for the job? For example, you might be an epidemiologist who used to volunteer for Doctors without Borders. Figuring out how to present an image that is uniquely yours will do wonders for your job hunt.

Have stories ready

Perhaps the most important thing to consider is whether you can support the skills you list in your resume with accomplishments. Make sure you can back up every hard and soft skill you include with detailed accounts of how you’ve demonstrated them in the past. You will almost certainly be asked to do so in an interview, and not being able to will be a major red flag to the interviewer. However, it’s best to provide some of these examples directly on your resume—otherwise, you may never even make it to the interview stage.

It can take some time to get a feel for how best to present skills on your resume. Experiment with using different vocabulary and layouts, and take note of what approaches seem to work best. If you don’t want to go through the hassle, hire our experienced resume writers to create or improve yours!

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