When you’re trying to keep your resume length down to accommodate that one-page limit, it’s easy to want to put your skills section on the chopping block. You might wonder why you ever included one in the first place. After all, it’s full of information that can be gleaned from other parts of your application.
Not so fast! Before you ax your skills section to make more space, read on to get the full picture of what you’d be giving up.
Why Do I Need a Skills Section?
The whole point of keeping your resume concise is to allow for a recruiter or hiring manager to be able to figure out the value you could create for the company after just a quick skim. With that in mind, having a section that basically spells out your hard skills makes a lot of sense—even if it comes at the cost of a little redundancy. Plus, a bit of repetition might actually be good considering the limited amount of time recruiters typically give a resume. (Which, to remind you, is about six seconds.)
Another reality of the job application process that this section addresses is the ubiquity of applicant tracking systems (ATS). Keyword tracking is one way an ATS flags resumes for closer review and this, conveniently, can serve as an extra section full of relevant keywords. Overall, it gives your resume a nice optimization bump for both the human and digital review process.
What Can I Include in a Skills Section?
As I mentioned earlier, keywords are important. That doesn’t mean you want to cram every last thing in here, though. This section should mainly be reserved for your hard skills. Think programming languages, business or design software, analytics programs, or even carpentry skills. While your soft skills (like teamwork and leadership) are incredibly important, they’re better portrayed (and more believable) within the context of your resume bullet points or your cover letter.
You want to pay particular attention to skills that are relevant, but are not necessarily part of your daily job. Perhaps you took an online course on how to use InDesign or independently studied web design and HTML for your personal website. These skills will be absent from your experience section, which means this section is the only chance you get to highlight them.
Just a word of warning: Listing skills on a resume implies you’re confident in your abilities. So, leave off anything that you’re still working on or don’t feel comfortable training someone else in (a.k.a., foreign languages you haven’t spoken since high school).
How Should I Format a Skills Section?
Hopefully, at this point you’ve been convinced to keep your skills section intact and perhaps even add a couple things you hadn’t thought of before. The last question is how to best present all this important information in a way that isn’t just a long list of keywords. That might be okay for an ATS, but no human being wants to read that.
If you have a long list of skills, this is where subheadings come in. Subheadings are a beautiful thing that make even the most unruly mess of words look sleek and organized. Group your skills into reasonable categories, then name each group of skills something appropriate. Don’t try to get too creative with this. For example, if you happen to be multi-lingual, a good subheading for all the languages you speak would be, unsurprisingly, “Languages.” Or, if you’re a designer who also codes, label your sections “Design Skills” and “Engineering Skills.” Start each category on a new line with the subheading bolded and at the beginning of the list. That’s it!
Even if your skills only fill one to two lines, you can still format it the same way. Just change the section to “Skills and Interests” or “Skills and Certifications” and add the appropriate additional subheadings for interests, certifications, awards, and the like.
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So yes, this section definitely deserves the room it takes up on your resume. In fact, if you’re a career changer who has been slowly accumulating the necessary skills for your shift, you might even want to move it up to a more prominent spot on your resume—instead of leaving it at the bottom where it traditionally sits. It’ll color the way your whole resume is reviewed and help subtly tell your career story. Either way, you can’t go wrong by keeping it around.
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Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author