Have you ever heard someone say “I’m not trying to brag but….” only to hear them brag? There are tons of resumes with Skills sections that are full of people “not trying to brag”, yet describing themselves as dependable or having strong business acumen or even being *gulp* deadline-oriented. PRACTICE TIME: If you have a skills section on your resume, replace “Skills“ with “I’m not trying to brag, but…” and see how hard you have to try not to punch yourself in the face. Too many Skills sections are just self-aggrandizing words that could not possibly be proved on a sheet of paper. Tell me again –how does a sentence on paper prove you have initiative? The interview is where you would present and prove your soft skills. If you are an effective communicator, say it right the first time at the interview. If you are a self-starter, get the conversation going at the interview. If you can’t prove it on a resume, it’s wasting space on your resume. If your Skills section is mostly telling the employer what you think about yourself, its time to do something else with that space.
The best way to prove your skills is in context. Let’s take the most obvious example: Microsoft Office skills. You’ve probably opened Word and written a few things on it. You may have even taken a class where they talked about VLOOKUP in Excel! Does this mean you are proficient? Not all by itself, no. Instead of listing a self-assessment of your Office prowess, why not tell us about something you did with it. When you simply list the software or say you are proficient, you are doing nothing to paint a picture in an employer’s mind that you are skilled. Simply listing the software does not tell us how many hours you have spent with it, what types of documents you created, who saw them, and what impact they had. Instead, under your work history, tell us about something you did with that expertise you have. Lots of people use Outlook, few people can manage calendars with hundreds of events and thousands of participants. Lots of people use Excel, few people can utilize pivot tables to coordinate budgets across departments. Lots of people use Word, fewer people can handle drafting and editing collaboration by commenting and tracking changes in Word. All of these things paint a picture that is worth a thousand words. Among the first few words: “This person can sure use _______.” Take a good hard look at your skills section and ask yourself “So what?” or “Could I sell these skills better under my work history?” If you can think of a good answer to these questions, definitely paint that picture under your work history. Use the techniques we talked about last week: quantification and going PAR.
This won’t work for everyone of course. Professionals who are expected to know a variety of programming languages, applications, or specific techniques will benefit from a list of skills on their resumes. Remember, you want your resume to be easy to read. One way to do this is to make sure the format of your resume is similar to the rest of the resumes that ended up in the same pile yours is in. Google “ *job title* resumes” to get a feel of which sections should be included for a resume in that industry. Seeing how others organize their information and what formats are commonly seen by the person reading your resume will allow them to find information faster on your resume. Readability counts when you only have six seconds to make an impression.
Do not include bars in your skills section unless you are absolutely certain they are helping your resume. Often, when people are rating their own skills by using a bar, they are not giving readers the information they think they are. At best, representing your proficiency this way serves only to rank which skills you are most and least comfortable with. Unless you have a legend or a key on the side, I don’t know if the bar represents years of experience, revenue from projects using that skill, a personal rating, a managers rating, it could be anything! Personally, I have never heard of a bar in a skills section used as a deciding factor when it came to inviting an individual for an interview. Save the space.
You can also save space by removing soft skills from this section. Soft skills are essentially personality traits that individuals attempt to pass off as marketable skills. The skills sections that lead to assault charges are full of personality assessments: punctual, proven leader, results driven, dependable, hard worker. *14 MONTH SIGH* Stop it right now. Are you telling me that you are the type of person who believes they can write down the words hard worker on a sheet of paper and make someone believe that you consistently put forth maximum effort? No one reading a resume is the type of person to believe you have a skill just because you can type it. Avoid phrases a loving mother would use to describe her special little guy or gal. COMMENT TIME: What words or phrases are you tired of seeing on resumes?
Now that we know what should not be in your skills section or if you even need one, lets talk about what should be in that section(IF NECESSARY). If you have some very relevant hard skills that you could not find the proper context for in your work history, then you can build yourself a nice little skills section. Hard skills are measurable abilities you have gained that you can improve with time, practice, and/or training. You want to make sure that each phrase in this skills section is best represented by itself. If it requires more context, find another place where you can go into detail. Language skills are perfect for this section. If you speak multiple languages, you want to list each language along with your proficiency. If there is software you have dealt with in the past, but couldn’t find another place to name-drop, do it here. Use this space to spell out your specialties within your previous jobs. If you made pizzas, let us know you were the go-to crust stuffer. If you worked in case management, let us know about a few of the databases you are familiar with.
All of these things are skills that you can measurably improve on with practice. You can be certified in many of these skills if you really put your mind to it. Best of all, you can offer some evidence on paper that proves you have these skills. Soft skills pass none of these tests. You don’t get to work earlier the next day just because you showed up early the day before. There is no dependability certification for human beings (Although JD Power and Associates might have some ideas).You cannot prove you are a leader just by writing it down. Because of this, soft skills are absolutely useless to an employer, especially when they are listed without context.
Next week, we are going to talk about an actual soft skill you can work on and show an employer. Prioritization is a key skill in many disciplines and its also incredibly useful when creating or updating a resume. We’ll talk about how you can use prioritization of information to make sure that your resume makes a great first impression.