skills portion of resume

How Career Writers Unintentionally Mislead Job Seekers

Let’s talk about the Skills portion of your resume. You know, the resume section job seekers carefully 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:

Resume Skills Section

Or this:

Resume Core Competencies Section

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 standalone Skills section on your resume, your readers see claims for your skills and experience 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 just pulled keywords out of their job posting and plopped them into that list.

I recruited for 25+ years. I stopped reading Skills sections after about 2 years because many of the claims were predictably specious.

Per Steve Albini’s model (not an affiliate), experience and reason failed to prove the conventional wisdom.

And, it’s not just me. Dave Westbury, a retained search consultant interviewed by Hunt Scanlon Media in 2020, 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

According to this Business Insider video (thanks to Phyllis Mufson for the share), I’m not the only person who skips directly from your contact information to your employment information.

Watch the video to see how recruiters’ eyes leap from the name to the work experience, completely skipping that waste of valuable, above-the-jump space we know as the Skills section:

 

So, per Albini’s model, experiment fails the conventional wisdom too.

Resume Skills Section — What the ATS Sees

Then there’s the ATS. The conventional wisdom says that resumes must have Skills sections to “beat” the applicant tracking system.

That’s outdated advice.

Here’s what Sovren, the world leader in resume parsing software (every ATS uses parsing software), has to say about the resume 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.”

It sounds as though the companies that develop ATS software are on to the Skills section sham and 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.

What Do Recruiters and The ATS Want?

Instead of a Skills section, use that valuable page space to tell recruiters and the ATS what they want to know in a manner they find believable.

They’re certainly looking for keywords, but they want you to weave them into your story.

How Do I List My Skills in My Resume?

So, rather than listing your skills on your resume, embed them in:

  • A brief narrative summary
  • Job titles
  • Job scope descriptions
  • Accomplishment 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, not to dump a long list of unsubstantiated skills on skeptical recruiters and their applicant tracking systems.

You can see samples of how to do that here.

Image: Fotolia/pathdoc
Updated February 2021

© 2015 – 2021, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

Comments 4

  1. Hi JT,

    My pleasure. Thank you for reading AvidCareerist and for your kind words.

    Donna

  2. 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.

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