skills portion of resume

Wave Goodbye to the Useless Resume Skills Section

Do you have a “Skills” section on your resume? You know, the resume section some people 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

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 your resume.

I don’t read the skills portions of resumes. I expect them to be baloney, just meant to give me what I’m looking for, whether the claims are true or not.

Resume Skills Sections — Eye Tracking Study

According to this Business Insider video (H/T Phyllis Mufson), I’m not the only person who skips right from your contact info to your employment info.

Watch the video below to see how recruiters’ eyes track as they view your resume:

Resume Skills Sections — Survey Research 

Did you notice how readers skip right over the skills portions of resumes? I did.

The results of the eye tracking study are further confirmed by a 2016 RiseSmart recruiter survey. About 70% of survey respondents said they look at your recent employers,  job titles, and tenures first.

Because the skills section is usually featured above the jump, you can eliminate it to get one more or jobs into this valuable visual space instead.

Viewing below the jump requires your readers to click. You lose a certain percentage of readers every time they have to click.

Instead of out-of-context skills, serve readers what they want to see — your experience.

Resume Skills Section — What the ATS Sees

The conventional wisdom says that resumes must have skills sections to “beat” the ATS.

That’s outdated advice.

Here’s what Sovren, the world leader in resume 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 resume parsing software are on to this sham and have moved ahead with more sophisticated algorithms to identify top candidates.

Thus, from an ATS perspective, the skills section is an outdated strategy 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!”

What Do Recruiters and The ATS Want?

Instead of a skills section, use that valuable resume 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. You can find them in the job postings you’re reading. You can also look at this infographic of 101 resume power words that have produced terrific results for my resume clients.

Embed your skills in a brief narrative summary, job titles, job descriptions, accomplishment statements, descriptions of volunteer work, etc. They will be more believable when you place them in the context of your jobs and other activities.

Beyond keywords, check out this peer-reviewed research on what recruiters do and don’t like on your resume.

Use your resume to tell your story, not to dump a long list of unsubstantiated, marginally believable keywords on skeptical recruiters and their applicant tracking systems.

Image: Fotolia/pathdoc
Updated October 2020

© 2015 – 2020, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

Comments 4

  1. Hi JT,

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


  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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