Let’s talk about the Skills portion of your resume. You know, the section job seekers craft to include every keyword on the posting for their dream job. Even when they don’t have the skills.
It might look like this:
Just about every career writer, “expert,” and “guru” on the planet tells you your resume has to have this section.
But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong?
What Recruiters & Hiring Managers See
When you include a Skills section on your resume, readers see claims for your skills but no context. That lack of context causes all but the most naïve readers to feel skeptical about what you have written.
They might even wonder if you pulled keywords out of their job posting and just plopped them into your list. Guilty?
I recruited for 25+ years. I stopped reading Skills sections after about 2 years. Why? Because many of the claims were specious.
Iconoclast, journalist, and musician Steve Albini says, “Doubt the conventional wisdom unless you can verify it.”
So, let’s see what the real experts say about the resume Skills section.
Dave Westbury, a retained search consultant, said,
“I find the current trend of listing keywords…as a section of the resume meaningless. If a resume is well written, these words should be in the body of the document and will be identified by any software being used to pick up keywords.”
Still a doubter? Next, find out what an eye-tracking study of recruiters learned.
The Eye-Tracking Study
Per this Business Insider video, I’m not the only person who skips directly from your contact info to your employment info.
Watch the video. See the recruiters’ eyes leap from the name to the work experience. Notice they skip that waste of valuable, above-the-jump space we know as the Skills section:
Resume Skills Section — What the ATS Sees
Then there’s the ATS. The conventional wisdom says that resume Skills sections “beat” the applicant tracking system.
Here’s what Sovren, the market leader in resume parsing software, says about the Skills section:
“…candidates have learned to game the system. Candidates are well aware that by grouping their skills keywords into big “Skills” paragraphs at the top and bottom of their resumes, they can ensure that they will be ranked higher by the “density ranking” algorithm.
So the density ranking algorithms often do not highlight the best candidates, but rather, the most annoying candidates, the ones who have learned to gussy up a feeble work history with dozens of buzzwords and keywords stuffed into extraneous paragraphs.
That’s who density ranking algorithms are best at identifying: the candidates who play games with their resumes.”
So, the companies that make ATS software are on to the Skills section sham. And they have moved ahead with more sophisticated algorithms to identify top candidates.
Thus, from an ATS perspective, the Skills section is an outdated hack that turns you into that person.
Should You Include a Skills Section on Your Resume?
Most recruiters don’t look at or believe them. The ATS vendors have wised up. Thus, I say, “Nooooooo!”
Think of the Skills section of a resume as the new Objective, an element that has outlasted its usefulness.
One caveat: If a job posting requires technology competencies, share them in a Skills section AND as described below.
How Do I List My Skills in My Resume?
Instead of listing your skills on your resume, embed them in:
- A brief narrative summary
- Job titles
- Job scope descriptions
- Accomplishment/impact statements
- Descriptions of volunteer work
They’ll be more believable when you place them in the context of your jobs and other activities.
Use your resume to tell your story. Don’t dump a long list of unsubstantiated skills on readers and their ATSs.
You can see samples of how to tell your story here.
Updated January 2023
© 2015 – 2023, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.
Donna Svei, an executive resume writer and former C-level executive, retained search consultant, and CPA, authors all of AvidCareerist’s posts.
She is a Fast Company Contributor and has written for and been quoted by 100+ business and general media outlets, including Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, CNBC, the New York Times, USA Today, Time, US News & World Report, CBS, the BBC, Lifehacker, Social Media Today, IT World, and Business News Daily.
Let her expertise inform your job search strategy and decision-making.
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Thank you for the advice.
My pleasure. Thank you for reading AvidCareerist and for your kind words.
Yes! Well said, Donna! It’s 10x better to use the top the first page for a Summary section that speaks to the skills and experience you have in relation to do the job you want. Out of context grocery lists of skills do nothing to show where and how such skills were used to bring benefits to an employer. And in any case, the place to demonstrate benefits is in context – with the related work experience.