We’ve all been there. You spot the job description for an awesome role and see some pretty basic requirements listed. You thought it went without saying these days that you could handle those things; but since they’re written down, you figure that you should probably throw them on your resume, too—just so there’s no doubt about what you can do. And you do it without thinking twice.

And that’s where you go wrong. Those basic skills aren’t listed there as a test to make sure you’re paying attention, but rather because they’re not as basic as you might think.

Take these three for example—you and the hiring manager probably have very different ideas of what they entail when they’re included in your resume’s skill section.


1. Microsoft Office

Sometimes listed as “proficient in Microsoft Office,” “fluent in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint,” you’ve had this on your resume since Day 1, and you’ve got no plans to take it off now.

You Think it Means

Duh, I know how to type up a Word doc, insert rows in Excel, and add sweet animations to an otherwise boring slide presentation in PowerPoint.

What the Hiring Manager Assumes it Means

You can merge mail docs, build formulas in Excel, and create time-saving, productivity-enhancing “rules” in Outlook—among a slew of other complicated maneuvers that you may not have even heard of.

These days, basic computer skills are an industry standard, especially considering the increasing advancement of technology, the integration of online management systems, and the ubiquitous nature of email. Sure, during the technology boom in the early aughts, an employee who could navigate the ins and outs of Excel was considered above average, but now the expectation is that you know Microsoft Office—beyond your ability to navigate the toolbar on Word.

How to Actually Learn It

Companies are looking for employees who will take these skills to the next level with the use of pivot tables, VLOOKUPs, and macros to facilitate daily business, depending on the role and industry. If your eyes instantly begin to glaze over with the mention of these integrated Microsoft capabilities, consider taking a quick class to brush up on your skills or play around in the programs during your free time to see how else they can be used.

Check out Udemy’s free PowerPoint training tutorial or its Excel “From 0 to Working Professional in 1 Hour” and see how quickly you learn the systems you’ve got listed on your resume.


2. Social Media Proficient

Also commonly written as “Social Media outlets,” “Social Media Marketing,” “Social Media Savvy,” this description is one you believe everyone who’s got any kind of online presence (and who doesn’t) must have.

You Think it Means

I’m on Facebook and Instagram, and I know how to use Twitter and Snapchat, so I’m up with the trends.

What the Hiring Manager Assumes

You can manage several social media accounts, build brand voices for each one, read and analyze data, and run paid marketing campaigns. Today, social media management is respected as its own career field so it shouldn’t be listed on your resume unless you have real work experience using it.

While it’s OK to note that you’re utilizing all of the popular platforms to build your personal brand and network, don’t make the mistake of thinking a hiring manager is going to be impressed with your ability to tweet a witty response to the current trending world topic of the day.

How to Actually Learn it

Expand on your social media skill set by learning more about analytics, reading up on content marketing, and familiarizing yourself with management tools like Hootsuite and Zoho.


3. Language

You studied abroad in Barcelona, and while there, you learned to converse in Spanish. You’ve got no use for it now though, so you’re rusty at best. Still, you figure it’s worth listing on your resume.

You Think it Means

You know another language! You wouldn’t exactly call yourself bilingual, but the hiring manager is going to see Spanish and be duly impressed.

What the Hiring Manager Assumes

You’re fluent. Your competence level goes above and beyond saying "Hello, how are you, my name is." If needed, you could carry on an entire conversation in your second language—and you could write a report and email in Spanish as well.

How To Actually Learn it

There’s no easy way around this. If you want to list proficiency in a second language on your resume, you’re going to have to be confident about your abilities to speak and write fluently. Knowledge of basic verb tenses and remembering a few words such as coffee, country, or beer isn’t enough. Take a class, and then another one, buy Rosetta Stone or another reputable learning tool, and get to work. Until you start dreaming in that language, don’t even think about including it on your resume.

There’s no point in listing items just to list them or because you believe that’s what needs to be there. To position yourself as the best candidate for the role, you want to only include bullet points you can stand behind. Because even if you get through the interview process, you’ll eventually come face-to-face with the skill in question—and then you’ll have a lot of explaining to do.


Photo of working father courtesy of Getty Images/Morsa Images.