You have only one or two pages to earn an interview. Make your resume skills compelling by including the right skills in the right way!
One of your resume’s main functions is to show off your skills. Modern resumes need to include the right skills to quickly prove to a hiring manager–and an applicant tracking system–that you are worth contacting.
By skills, we mean the technical and interpersonal abilities you need to thrive as a candidate. You’re a talented and qualified applicant—how do you choose the best skills to put on your resume?
Employers are looking for applicants who have both hard skills and soft skills. However, there are different ways you should talk about these job skills and include them on your resume.
Hard skills are specific and usually required to succeed in a job. You can describe how you’ve used your hard skills to achieve certain results, using metrics and numbers. You may also describe your hard skills as certifications, test scores, or with examples of your work.
Soft skills can’t be easily measured and are often open to interpretation. To display your ability, you need to offer examples of how you’ve used your soft skills to succeed. Add these to your work experience section as bullet points or descriptive sentences.
Adding a skills section is a good start, but there are other tricks to getting your resume’s specific skills noticed. There’s no secret recipe to make your resume universally irresistible to employers. There are simply too many hiring professionals looking for different kinds of people to solve different kinds of problems.
ZipJob’s professional resume writers know how to identify the resume skills you need to put on your resume, developed by our team of resume experts, professional writers, and former Fortune 500 hiring managers. We blend strategy with applicant tracking system hacks to ensure your resume gets noticed.
Want to learn more? Read on to see how to find the best skills to put on a resume this year.
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“Having the right combination of skills is key to passing the ATS scans,” says career expert Jennifer Johnson.
“You need to showcase the skills that are most relevant to the job you are applying for. Deciding which skills to list is important; don’t list everything you’ve done, but rather what you’ve done that positions you for where you want to go.”
After we explain the general best practices, Jennifer shares her top 3 best strategies to leverage your skills to land interviews—even when your skills don’t match the job description. Ready to get started?
The 10 best skills to put on your resume in 2021
These 10 items are the most important skills to put on your resume, according to our team of experienced hiring managers and career experts. If you have experience with these skills, you should definitely include them on your resume.
However, you can’t simply put this list into your resume’s skills section. Instead, this guide will walk you through how to use these skills on your resume correctly, and how to make the most of each one.
Here are three steps to get started.
1. Identify your key skills
Make a list of your strongest skills. Ideally, these are workplace skills; however, don’t rule out personality traits, academic skills, or skills from volunteer work and side hustles.
Having trouble? Try mulling over these prompts.
What types of things do you do every day? What tools or talents help you perform those tasks?
What are you better at than most other people?
What skills have you used to make an impact in your past jobs?
What hard skills do you most enjoy using at work?
What sort of traits do people compliment you on?
You can also try taking some free career assessments for inspiration.
2. Research common skills in your industry
This is vital for people who are trying to switch into a new career or people who haven’t looked for a new job in a few years. Consult recent job descriptions on top job search sites like Indeed and LinkedIn and use them to add to your resume skills list.
Check out lists of in-demand skills. These lists are a good reference to see what is popular for the year
Remember not to add different types of skills just because they’re trendy: only include skills you actually have on your resume. These lists can help jog your memory, though, or help you determine what skills to emphasize. For example, in 2020, emotional intelligence is one of the top soft skills.
You can also reference resume examples that include education, work experience, and skills for your job title.
3. Answer the job description
Use the job description to figure out what the employer wants to see in terms of skills on resume submissions. Look for phrases such as “required skills,” “technical requirement,” and “must have experience with…” The words that follow are usually necessary qualifications and keywords.
Make sure all required skills appear on your resume at least once. Use the exact word or phrase as the job description. Mention your top skills multiple times, such as in a professional summary, skills section, and while describing your work experience.
Reminder: use a combination of soft skills and hard skills for a resume.
Let’s break down the list above to detail exactly how to incorporate the right resume skills. Here is an example of some good skills a Director of Finance might want to put on a resume:
Your first step to identifying the right skills to put on your resume will follow the same process. Use the list of vital skills to identify your own talents that are valuable to employers.
We have more information about how to use them, and more examples of each skill further down on the page. First, though, we need to quickly go over why skills are the most valuable words on your resume.
Why are skills so important on my resume?
Three words: Applicant Tracking Systems.
Nearly all companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to filter through resumes. These systems scan through resumes to look for specific keywords, such as certain skills necessary for the job.
The ATS scan summarizes your skills based on the keywords you chose on your resume. If the skills section of your resume doesn’t exactly match the job description, your resume may be rejected by the applicant tracking system (ATS) before it ever reaches a human.
Example of an ATS skills report
Depending on the program, the ATS scan also gives weight to your core skills. Based on the words you use and the frequency of each, the computer will parse your resume and generates a report that briefly explains to the employer how skilled you are. The screenshot below was pulled from our in-house ATS software–the same tech big companies use to parse your resume.
You’ll see our ATS pulled information about computer systems (including Microsoft Office—more on that later!), foreign language proficiency, and problem solving skills in addition to the industry (Information Technology) and the core skill (data mining).
This information was generated from a resume submission, as opposed to a ZipJob professionally written resume, so other IT-related computer programs, degrees, and so on were not optimized for the ATS. We’ll talk about how to optimize your resume for ATS scans next.
Curious about what your resume says to an ATS? Try our free review.
How to make your skills jump out in the ATS scan
“Your skills section should be front and center, easy for both the hiring manager and the ATS program to scan quickly,” says Jennifer.
To find the exact words they’re looking for, refer to the job description. The better the skills in your resume match the keywords, the better your chances are to pass the ATS scan and reach the hiring manager’s hands.
Read our complete guide on exactly how to use keywords on your resume.
How to include your top skills on your resume
In the resume writing world, there are two types of skills: hard skills vs soft skills. The main difference is that hard skills are objective and soft skills are subjective.
This difference is important.
“The best resumes contain a strong combination of both hard and soft skills. The hiring manager needs to know that not only can you do the job well but that your personality will be a good fit,” says Jennifer.
“You want to make it easy for the hiring manager to find your qualifications. Your resume should have a ‘Core Competencies’ section where you can list your hard skills and tailor them for the specific job you are applying to. Then, you want to integrate your soft skills throughout the Summary and Work Experience sections.”
To better explain this, let’s split up our list of the 10 most important skills into hard skills and soft skills. This time, we’ll talk about why each skill is important and how you should include it on your resume.
ZipJob's blog includes hundreds of articles on career resources, resume writing, and the job search written by career experts.
What hard skills should I use on my resume?
Hard skills don’t refer to difficult skills or areas of expertise: they’re the objective technical skills needed to do the job a company is hiring for. You should list your relevant hard skills throughout your resume, such as in your professional summary, skills section, work experience, and education.
From the list above, the first five are hard skills.
1. Knowledge of specific computer applications
Hard skills include technical skills such as computer applications, software, and overall digital literacy. Even if you’re not applying for a job in IT, you should include the computer programs you’re familiar with in your resume skills section if they are relevant to the position.
Listing your exposure to virtual tools like Slack, Hootsuite, or Asana shows that you’re tech-savvy.
Being tech-savvy has all kinds of good connotations like being smart, adaptable, and up to date. Plus, if the company uses any of these tools, it won’t have to spend as much time training you and that means it has saved money.
Choose your computer-related strengths and place them in a resume skills section. If you’re short on program and software knowledge, consider adding other computer skills like your words per minute rate.
In general, you shouldn’t include Microsoft Office on a resume. At this point, it’s expected that office workers know how to use word processors. However, if you’re heavily experienced in Microsoft Excel, you can mention your skills in the relevant experience section by explaining how you used it. Better yet, include some numbers to illustrate your point.
Example of using numbers to showcase skills in your experience section:
Implemented inventory management system using Microsoft Excel to track shipments and deliveries, saving an estimated 3 hours and $250 per week previously spent on redundant orders.
If you are in a highly technical field like IT or engineering, you should have a specific technical skills section on your resume to list all your proficiencies. Head over to our guide on including technical skills on your resume.
2. Applicable certificates or degrees
If you earned a certificate or degree, that hard skill has (probably!) earned a place on your resume. Even if your degree is in a different field from the one you currently work in, your education shows that you are hard-working and committed. You should put these types of hard skills in a section titled ‘Education’ or ‘Education and Certifications.’
When the job posting description includes certifications or degrees as a requirement, be sure to include them on your resume. If you don’t meet these requirements, you may want to hold off applying for this type of job until you have earned them.
Notice that this item says ‘applicable,’ though: there are cases when your education might not help your resume, such as in these examples:
An expired realtor’s license from 15 years ago is not going to help you become the next technical writer for toaster ovens. You can safely leave that out of your skills section.
Your high school diploma is implied if you hold an associate, bachelor, or other higher degree. Save the space for another skill.
Multiple certifications on similar topics might make your resume look cluttered. Pick your top three based on issuing entity, recency, or preference and add the other ones to your LinkedIn.
If you don’t have the training or experience an employer wants, you can always learn a new hard skill! Unlike soft skills, which are mostly innate, hard skills can be acquired and improved all the time.
Check out online skill-building sites. Many are free or a small fee per month, and you can gain skills or industry-recognized certifications.
3. Graphic design skills
Graphic design is one of the most in-demand skills for several years. If you have experience with graphic design programs like Photoshop or InDesign, this will appeal to most employers.
“Graphic design skills are important when competing in today’s market,” says Jennifer.
“It is a unique skill that conveys both technical acumen and creativity. If I have two candidates that are equally qualified for the job, I will call the one with graphic design experience first.”
To give the skill the maximum impact, include a link to a digital portfolio. While this is common for writer and artist resumes, an engineer who has a graphic design portfolio is surprising and unique. When a hiring manager sees a link, they’re going to want to click it to learn more about a qualified candidate.
4. Computer programming, web, or software development
On top of the practical need for developers at nearly every business, programming skills demonstrate advanced problem-solving skills that can contribute to a well-rounded professional. Even if the position you're applying for doesn’t specifically require programming skills, it can benefit you greatly to include it on your resume if you have developed these skills.
5. Foreign language proficiency
Knowing and listing multiple languages on your resume ranges from helpful to essential for client-facing roles. Being bilingual also displays intelligence. If you are fluent or proficient in another language, you should always mention it on your resume! You can include your level of proficiency in the final sentence of your resume summary, or you can list multiple foreign languages in a skills section.
If knowing another language is a job requirement, be sure to list your skill prominently. Consider reinforcing your skill by listing relevant classes in your education section or noting a situation you used the language in a recent position.
Example of including language skills in your experience section:
Translated 2000 word article from French to English for a client in the digital health industry
To summarize, hard skills refer to knowledge or ability in specific areas. They can be proven through measurable tests of ability and can be easily quantified. Hard skills are usually the more important skills to highlight on your resume because they can be vital to the job function. Including these skills will help your resume pass the applicant tracking system (ATS) test and get onto the hiring manager’s radar.
What soft skills should I use on my resume?
Soft skills are more open to interpretation than hard skills, so you need to work harder to demonstrate these specific skills on your resume–there are some great examples on this US News piece). Because soft skills are often people skills, hiring managers are always on the lookout for them. Soft skills can make or break your candidacy, and are especially important if you’re applying for highly-nuanced, creative roles in marketing, advertising, or customer service.
Continuing down the list of top skills, the remaining five skills are examples of soft skills.
6. Problem solving / creativity
Problem solving skills show an ability to approach difficult situations and work through them. This is something that nearly every employer wants in an employee. Similarly, creativity shows you’re an adaptable applicant with a mind for design.
Unlike hard skills, you shouldn’t list soft skills in a skills section unless you are new to the job market and lacking in other useful skills. Instead, you should match your soft skills with examples or descriptive adjectives and include them in your work experience section.
To showcase your problem solving and creativity skills, you can use the STAR method: situation, task, action, result. This is a common interview technique, but can also be an excellent way to demonstrate your impact on your resume.
Example of using the STAR method to show problem solving skills:
Solved inventory management deficit by redesigning inventory control system, quality controls, network integration, and training; on-time order fulfillment improved by 45%, profits increased by 23%, and canceled orders decreased by 82%.
Make your bullet points stand out by using the STAR method on your resume.
This skill is a must-have for nearly every resume because communication or interpersonal skills are listed on virtually all job descriptions. Define your specific communication strengths.
“Think about how you communicate and how it advances your professional success. For example, don’t just list ‘negotiation’ as a skill. Add an adjective/descriptor that demonstrates how you negotiate. Say something like ‘Persuasive Negotiator’ or ‘Strategic Negotiator.’ The right adjective can set you apart as an achiever vs. a doer,” suggests Jennifer.
Your communication skills should ideally be listed in terms of how they helped you achieve something. If you are a ‘persuasive negotiator,’ it’s far more persuasive to include the results of your skill, preferably using numbers.
Example of showing communication skills on your resume:
Reduced price of green coffee by $1.29 per pound (-36%) by leveraging negotiation and interpersonal skills
8. Time management
Time management is essential for any applicant with multiple tasks to manage. It comes down to a matter of organization, and proving you can be effective with competing priorities.
Include this skill with specific examples under work experience. This skill is often related to other organizational skills you should include on your resume such as the ability to meet deadlines, collaborate with a team, and delegate assignments.
Teamwork is an indicator of emotional intelligence, an increasingly valuable skill that many companies are focusing their hiring efforts on. As teams are becoming more diverse, leading a team is more about emotional intelligence than technical skill.
Show your teamwork skills by mentioning a shared achievement in your work experience, or include an example of your teamwork prowess in your resume summary. Don’t list it in your skills section.
The ability to collaborate with a team is a key skill to highlight for remote jobs. For more insights, read our guide on How To Write A Resume For Remote Work.
10. Leadership skills
Are you applying for a supervisory position? Don’t forget to include leadership skills on your resume. Leadership skills on a resume demonstrate professional flexibility and growth potential, which is beneficial regardless of the position. It’s not essential, but if you can think of a good example in which you’ve applied solid decision making and leadership skills, put it on your resume.
This is especially relevant if you have significant project management experience, which combines several soft skills such as interpersonal communication and time management. For example, leading a marketing campaign requires people skills throughout the project’s lifecycle from delegating tasks to public speaking when it comes time to present work to a client.
To summarize, soft skills such as problem solving or creativity, communication, time management, teamwork, and leadership definitely belong on your resume, but not in your skills section. They have the most impact when coupled with examples, metrics, and results. When chosen carefully, your soft skills will show that you are a skilled applicant and a good fit for the company.
“Don’t forget to include your soft skills on your resume! Most hiring managers today are more selective than ever before because they understand how the right culture and work atmosphere can impact productivity and employee retention rates. They don’t want to just know that you can do the job – they want to know you will fit in with their organization. A solid combination of soft and hard skills will help land you the interview.”
How should I organize my skills?
You should use your skills as keywords throughout your resume. Some excellent places to include skills on your resume include your resume summary, your work experience, and your skills or core competencies section.
Once you’ve identified which skills should be featured in your skills section, you can hone in on how to organize the content.
First, you want to title the section as ‘Skills,’ ‘Core Competencies,’ or something similarly recognizable.
“The section headings should be very straightforward,” warns Jennifer.
“Most ATS systems are programmed to understand basic section headings i.e. ‘Work Experience, Education, etc.’ If you get too creative with the headings it can confuse the ATS scans and skew your results. When it comes to your skills, I like to use ‘Core Competencies’ or ‘Core Proficiencies’.”
The order matters
It is good practice to order your skills strategically, as well as group related skills together. You don’t have to label different categories. Simply grouping your related skills together will make them easier to sort through.
The wrong way to list skills:
Fluent in Spanish
Proficient in German
The right way to list skills:
Fluent in Spanish
Proficient in German
See how much easier it is to read through the second list? While this won’t help you with an ATS scan, it will help the hiring manager. Keep it visually balanced and intuitive.
The format matters
You can set the information apart visually by adding a line or even a border, but avoid using a text box or table. Not all systems are capable of reading these features yet, and your skills section is too important to risk losing.
Your skills section should be very clean and easy to read. You don’t want it to look cluttered, so being selective is key. Use bullet points to keep your skills lined up, or try one of the other formats below.
Examples of good skills sections
1. The bullet point
See how much easier it is to read through the second list? While this won’t help you with an ATS scan, it will help the hiring manager. Keep it visually balanced and intuitive.
2. The bullet point
This list includes both soft skills and hard skills, so we've relabeled it "Core Competencies." Bulleted lists like these should be lined up. Limit yourself to 9 to 12 points so it doesn't look cluttered.
3. The vertical bar
In this example, the skills are more detailed and complex. Since each skill takes up a different amount of space, a bullet point list would look messy and uneven. Instead, you can use a vertical bar key to separate each core proficiency. With this method, limit yourself to two or three lines of text to focus on the most essential of your proficiencies.
4. The symbol
By using bullet-type symbols, this list keeps each skill visually distinct. Some of the skills take up less space than others, but none of the items are too lengthy as in the vertical bar example. Again, limit yourself to two or three lines of texts for this method.
Notice that in each example, the section is clearly labeled, the bullet points are all lined up, the capitalization is consistent, and the section is not packed full of related keywords.
View 200+ more professional resume samples for all industries, along with a guide to writing resumes from our career experts.
How do I stand out as a job applicant?
1. Quantify your skills whenever possible
Saying you are a ‘60 word per minute typist’ has far more impact than a ‘fast typist.’
“Measurables are incredibly valuable to your resume; anything with numbers, percentages, or dollar signs immediately draws the reader’s eye and gives tangible examples of how you made a difference,” says Jennifer.
2. Make sure your resume has a clear message
The hiring manager should know exactly who you are as a professional and what your goals are. Having too much information can confuse the hiring manager about your goals and can frankly cause them to lose interest in reading your resume.
“Do not approach your resume with the mindset that you have to include everything you’ve ever done in your career,” Jennifer advises.
“The hiring manager needs tangible proof that you are qualified for the job they are seeking to fill. For example, if you are applying for a senior-level executive position, it is not relevant to the hiring manager that you worked as a Customer Service Associate in Retail while in college. Eliminate experiences that are not applicable to your goal, and do not exceed a 2-page resume length.”
3. Tailor, tailor, tailor
You should always think of your resume as a living, working document. Always read the job descriptions to understand what the hiring manager is looking for. Review your resume to make sure it aligns correctly.
Before you apply for any job online, spend a few minutes to tailor your resume. Most people don’t do this. When done correctly, however, it can be incredibly effective!
There are two reasons for this:
You’ll look like a great match to any recruiter or hiring manager reviewing your resume.
You’ll look like a great match to the ATS.
The hiring manager should not have to dig through your resume to see if you are qualified. Your relevant skills should be front and center. The best places to tailor your resume is in the title, subtitle (if applicable), the Summary, and the ‘Core Proficiencies’ sections.
“Hiring managers can tell when someone has customized their resume to match the job description,” warns Jennifer.
“Hiring managers are inundated with resumes each time they open a job, allowing them to be picky when choosing candidates. That ten minutes you spend tailoring your resume to the job description can make all the difference between getting a phone call for an interview vs. getting a ‘thanks but no thanks’ automated email response.”
Here is a list of skills not to include on a resume so you don’t stand out in a negative way.
We have a great guide on How to Tailor Your Resume to Different Positions with examples and advice from our professional resume writers and career experts.
Word of caution: if you don’t have a required hard skill or technical requirement, it’s probably best to not waste your time applying. These are generally the skills a successful candidate will have to perform the job well. If you see particular hard skills show up in multiple job descriptions you would like to apply to, try to learn the skill! Look for online certifications to learn the basics.
What should I do if my skills don’t match the job description?
During your job search, you’re probably going to come across a job that looks perfect for your goals. Unfortunately, the employer asks for skills that you don’t have. What should you do?
First, determine whether the skills are hard skills or soft skills. If a job requires specific technical skills to be successful and you don’t have them, you likely shouldn’t apply. You wouldn’t do well in this position, and this is exactly the type of qualification that ATS scans are designed to filter out. You should spend your time on other job applications or learning those skills instead.
When you’re lacking soft skills, you can try to leverage similar experiences or transferable skills. You might not have experience managing a department, but you may have managed a project. Include that on your resume instead. If you’re not experienced at public speaking, mention your experience leading a meeting or being interviewed for a podcast instead. Do your best to relate the soft skills you have to the work experience you lack.
Transferable skills: skills that a person has developed that can be applied in different jobs or situations
Keep in mind that some jobs have requirements (generally hard skills) that an employer won’t budge on. It is important to include every single one of these requirements in your resume’s skills section. Identify these skills in the job description with the markers ‘requirements’ or ‘basic qualifications.’ In shorter job descriptions, you may have to infer which desired skills are the core requirements of the job.
Check online tools like PayScale.com or ONetOnline.org to do more industry research. When you see overlap between the general job duties and the specific job description, those are the most important skills to include on your resume.
FAQs about skills on resumes
What is a good list of skills that are relevant to put on a resume?
Use a combination of hard and soft skills such as:
1. Communication skills like public speaking, writing, written communication, and active listening.
2. Technical skills like IT skills, engineering skills, programming languages, web development, search engine optimization and industry-specific technology.
3. Analytical skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and research.
4. Transferable skills if you’re changing careers like leadership and time management.
5. Negotiation skills related to management, compromise, and adaptability.
How many skills should I put on a resume?
As many as you can!
You want to include all the skills the employer is looking for–as long as you can honestly claim to have each skill. Incorporate your skills throughout your resume, not just in a skills section.
Within your dedicated skills section, limit yourself to 9 to 12 key talents. Use bullet points, text bars, or columns to keep this section organized and easy to read.
What should I call a skills section?
At ZipJob, we like to use a “core competencies” or “core proficiencies” section. Under that heading, include your most impressive technical and hard skills.
Depending on your field, you may also need a “Technical Skills” section.
We don’t recommend using headings like “Skills and Abilities” or “Special Skills.”
Where to put skills on a resume?
ZipJob’s resume writers usually include a skills section right before the work experience section. However, that isn’t the only place to put skills on a resume.
Here are more great places to put your hard and soft skills:
1. When describing your work experience
2. In your professional summary
3. In your resume title
4. When explaining your relevant coursework or academic projects
Your skills should be included in a skills section and in the other sections of your resume. These words and phrases are your most effective tools to pass an ATS scan. Remember to use keywords from the job description. Incorporate numbers when you can. Be specific, and be honest.
Once your resume passes from the scan to the hiring manager, all your words, metrics, and examples will demonstrate your worth will help you land more interviews.
Good luck with your job search!
ZipJob is a resume writing service with over 100 professional resume writers ready to help you identify your transferable skills. Check out more ZipJob reviews or compare our three resume writing packages.
Caitlin Proctor, CPRW, Certified Professional Résumé Writer
Caitlin joined the ZipJob team in 2019 as a professional resume writer and career advisor. She specializes in strategic advice for executives, career pivots, and remote workers. Read more resume advice from Caitlin on ZipJob’s blog.