Artwork by: Veronika Kiriyenko
What’s so hard about putting skills on your resume? Well, knowing which skills are best to include is not that easy. We’ll help you sort out what hard skills are, their importance on your resume, and how to write them.
Today’s job market is challenging. Having a unique and well-written resume gives you an advantage over other candidates. Just being creative is not enough, because your resume will be analyzed by screening software, maybe more than one, before a human being ever reads it. So, using cool wording, graphics, and formatting is not going to get you in the door.
That is why hard skills are so important for a resume. Hard skills are the key to impressing a potential employer, and the algorithms that will allow (or deny) your resume to get to the hiring manager or HR person. Computers obviously don’t get impressed, they just accept or reject your resume. Hard skills are the most objective and well-defined content in a resume. There are industry-specific terms and words used for hard skills, and using the right words will make or break you.
In this article, we’ll cover how to include your hard skills in your resume to get you past the screening software and impress the people that read it.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
What are hard skills?
How to write hard skills on a resume
What are some of the best hard skills to include?
What you should include to demonstrate your skills
How to include education, training, and certification-related hard skills.
“Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.” - Scott Adams
The first question is always what are hard skills? They are the types of professional skills that can be learned, taught, and (in almost all cases) objectively measured (i.e. are quantifiable). You can get these skills at school or college (education), through formal training, through on-the-job training, during an apprenticeship, through volunteer work, or other experiences.
The other kind of skills are, of course, soft skills, which are the capabilities related to how someone does their job and how they work with others. These are traits such as work ethic, reliability, empathy, innovation, and communication. Soft skills are generally more difficult to measure and quantify.
Here are a few examples of common hard skills:
Electronic and Electrical Engineering
Marketing skills (SEO/SEM)
User Interface Design
Hard skills are one of the most important things an employer looks for. People that have the right skills, get the best positions. Skills objectively demonstrate whether a person can perform the job effectively and efficiently. Hiring managers look for people with hard skills because they perceive the company will benefit from things like increased productivity, better retention rates, increased employee satisfaction, and ultimately make more money for the organization.
The first step is figuring out which skills to include. Look at the job description for the position you are going for. Find the skills they want for that position, and tailor your resume to match them as much as possible, while being truthful.
With your list of five to ten of your best skills that perfectly fit the new job you are applying for, start building your resume around them. You can leverage any section of your resume to include skills, especially hard skills. In general, let’s talk about four basic resume sections: the summary, employment history, skills, and education/training.
Summary - This is your introductory statement where you need to grab your potential new boss’ attention. Choose just two or three of the most critical skills here. You only have a few sentences, so make them count by succinctly highlighting those important skills and how you used them.
Employment history - Your descriptions of your work history should include the hard skills you acquired and utilized. It is also important to highlight how your skills generated achievements and benefited the company.
Skills - This is the place you list out specific hard skills. Don’t repeat skills you have used elsewhere in your resume, except when you need to really emphasize a particular skill. Use this space wisely, you do not want an excessively long list (over 10 items) because the reader will lose interest and think you are just boasting (padding your resume).
Education and Training - Hard skills that have an associated degree, certification, course, or other official designation go here. Again, don’t duplicate skills.
For skills to be relevant, they must be applicable to the job you are targeting. Otherwise, they will just be ignored and use up valuable space on your resume. This is why you need to customize your resume to fit the role you want.
Computer tech is everywhere. The more you know about it, the better. Having this on your resume always makes you a better candidate. Focus on the most recent and popular tech. Below are just a few examples:
Productivity Software Apps (Google Suite, Jira, Monday, Photoshop, Slack, Zapier, Zoom)
Data Analysis (Analytics, Big data, Statistics, Data mining, Databases, Reporting, Modeling)
Social Media and Digital Marketing (Blogging, SEO, Web analytics, Automated marketing)
Design is present in many industries, from software to architecture to clothing to automobiles. This is a key skill, but it is essential you demonstrate this through specific job performance and accomplishments. Alternatively, some designer roles do have associated education, training, or certifications that show your knowledge of design.
Math is another skill that applies to many industries and many different roles. Just stating that you know math does not mean much. This skill has to be specific to a particular area such as Engineering, Finance, Construction, Manufacturing, Logistics, Research, etc. Build this into your professional history content. Your education, training, and certifications may also help you to demonstrate this skill.
Running projects is a role that exists in almost every company. Having project management abilities is extremely valuable to employers. Just managing tasks and organizing things is not project management. Project management involves creating plans, defining requirements, building schedules, managing project resources, and a number of other tangible skills. If you have some of the hard skills needed for project management, then put them on your resume.
The marketing field involves the selling and promoting of products and services. Your current job title or even your department may not explicitly say marketing, but you likely have some marketing skills. Some specific hard skills associated with marketing are data analysis, technology (CRM, analysis tools, etc.), design, advertising, digital media, SEO, and contract management.
You may not be an administrator, but you probably do things in your job that involve administrative skills. Things like organizing tasks, planning work, scheduling meetings, writing emails, managing files, etc. This is a foundational skill that employers seek.
Writing is a universal skill and is applicable to many different types of jobs. No one likes to read emails or any document that is full of grammatical errors, misspellings, and typos. Your resume and cover letter are certainly one way to demonstrate your writing skills, but make sure to include other examples, especially in your professional experience and education.
Knowing another language is a wonderful hard skill to have. This is obviously true for jobs that require bilingual capabilities, for any other job it will make you stand out from other candidates. It is valuable for just about any job because, in today’s globally connected world, there is an increasing need for people fluent in other languages. This aids customer and client services. Highlight this on your resume.
Being able to provide service to people in an effective, courteous, and friendly manner is a great skill to have. This is not just true for retail jobs but is applicable to just about any industry. At some level, every business has customers, and being good at working with customers is important.
If you have any skills related to building or fixing things, then tout those. This goes for any job that requires being able to work on things with your hands. This not only applies to construction work in general, but also includes things like carpentry, masonry, woodworking, plumbing, electrical, mechanics, HVAC, or anything else related to physically creating or repairing things.
Working in production lines, manufacturing, or assembly jobs almost always involves some specialized knowledge of working with machinery, automated systems, or high-volume processing. Include any or all of these hard skills if you are seeking new opportunities in related industries or in general. The more you know, the better!
Hard skills change over time.
You don’t want to include outdated skills. Best case, they are inconsequential. Worst case, they may show your age. As a general rule, anything over 10 years old can probably be left off your resume.
Typing - Probably not a relevant skill, unless you are going to be in a data entry position.
Any old technology skill - These change especially quickly. Knowing email and MS Office is probably not something you need to include.
Social media - Not outdated, but a questionable skill to include unless you have actually performed a professional function that utilized social media.
Telephone etiquette - In today’s world of electronic communication, this is no longer a very valuable skill, unless you want to work in a call center.
Now that we’ve covered where to put hard skills on your resume. Now we’ll talk about actually writing about your hard skills on your resume or CV.
Someone with lots of experience should focus on including hard skills in their professional experiences. Hiring managers not only want to know what skills you have, but they also want you to prove that you can use those skills to be successful.
For example, if you have project management experience and want to demonstrate that in your most recent job experience, then you could create a bullet point like this:
Oversaw five major multimillion-dollar programs and led teams to successfully complete all projects with a 100% on schedule record, meeting all business requirements, and average project costs coming in 15% under budget.
People that may not have as much experience or lack definitive tangible examples, may list their skills in a separate section. Remember that it is OK to include a skill in your list that you have also shown in your job experiences. This is important for critical skills listed in the description of the job you are applying for. Don’t reiterate skills too much because the space on your resume is limited, and you need to make every word count.
How to create your Skills section:
You can place your list at the top, side, or bottom of your resume. It depends on the format of the resume you are using and what you want to emphasize the most.
If you have an extensive list, then you can break them into categories.
Your skills list can be bulleted or not, but keep each skill short, less than one line. This also depends on the resume format, the template you are using should have a format for this list.
You do not have to define the skill, anyone looking for that skill will know what it is.
The order of the skills is flexible.You could put your strongest skills first, or your most recent skills first. Ordering them based on the target job’s description is also a good strategy.
An example of how a skills section could look for an accounting and payroll role:
Accounting: financial statements, budgeting, cash flow, taxes, payroll, invoice processing
Technical: MS Excel, Google Sheets, ADP, QuickBooks, Oracle ERP, Salesforce
Languages: Spanish (native), English (fluent)
Your resume summary or objective paragraph at the beginning of your resume is another good place to weave in some of your best skills. Use the summary for this, especially if you want to put some extra emphasis on some skills. Just remember to keep your summary brief (a few sentences) and do not use too many flowery words or adjectives.
An example of a well-done summary for a Data Analyst:
Highly innovative and process-oriented data analysis professional with in-depth knowledge of machine learning, big data, research methodologies, databases, and visualization techniques. Delivers insights, analytics, and critical business intelligence to identify business opportunities, reengineer processes, and boost corporate growth.
The last thing to be aware of when you are adding hard skills to your resume is that you need to make sure your terminology is ATS-friendly. Just about every resume submitted goes through an applicant tracking system (ATS) before a human ever looks at it. These automated programs look for keywords and phrases to select appropriate resumes to move forward in the recruiting process.
If the ATS does not identify your resume as an acceptable match, then your resume will be put in the reject pile. The best way to avoid this is by tailoring your resume to include keywords based on the job description. This is extra important for your hard skills because some of the most identifiable keywords and terms come from hard skills. So, read the job description carefully and use the exact same words it uses to list your hard skills.
Hard skills are often indicated through education, training classes, and certifications. This is great because these skills are very tangible, objective, and demonstrated by your successfully completing the associated program. These are all preferably covered in a separate education, training, and certifications section.
Again, just because you have something in your educational or professional development background does not mean you can leave it out of your job experience sections. Having hard skills in your professional history shows that you know how to apply your knowledge. This is especially true for skills that are integral to the role you are describing or are listed as critical for your potential new role. It is OK to reiterate key skills that you need to land that great new job!
Hard skills are a must for any resume. They show you can do the job.
Choose your words very carefully, or the machines will reject you.
Put your hard skills in the most impactful places on your resume.
Clearly demonstrate (prove) those skills.
You can never have too many skills, but you can have a resume that is too long. Don’t get too wordy.
Garland is a writer and technology consultant that lives in far west Texas, USA. He is semi-retired from a successful 25-year career in the Information Technology industry, and now spends his time writing for various websites (mostly career development related). Garland holds a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance, and a master’s degree in Economics and Computer Information Systems.