6 Problems with Your Resumes Skills Section and How to Fix Them

Let’s be honest - the skills section of a resume is often seen as filler, or at least considered secondary to work experience and education. And that’s a shame because if you do it right, your skills can be the part of your resume that ultimately makes you stand apart from the crowd.

Many job seekers take it for granted, but a dose of good advice about how to improve your resume’s skills section may be the difference between a callback and your resume getting thrown in the round file cabinet.

Here are 8 of the most common problems, and specific solutions to them. Take a look at your skills section and make sure you’re not making any of these avoidable mistakes.

Problem #1: Your skills summary is unimaginative and monotonous

When you review your resume, do your eyes glaze over when you read your skills section? You probably haven’t put enough effort into making yourself stand out here. Perhaps you are listing stock-skills like “team player” or “hard worker.” Maybe your problem is a lack of specificity. Either way, make a change.

Solution: Get creative

As trite as “creativity” can sound, especially when discussing resumes, it certainly matters. I don’t mean printing on multi-colored paper or being cute with your skills section. Rather, by being specific about what those skills are and talking about them in a way others don’t, you will draw attention to you yourself.

Instead of saying “experienced with social media,” say something like “starts social media conversations within the brand’s target community.” That phrasing is not only unique, but it also screams for deeper explanation at an interview.

Also, note that many skills are overplayed. Teamwork, interpersonal skills, organization - everyone says that, often regardless of the truth. What about analytical thinking or persuasiveness instead?

Problem #2: Your skills section is too broad 

Some job seekers have the bad habit of listing every single skill they possess, regardless of how abstract it is. However, too much information is a hindrance, especially if it’s irrelevant.

Solution: Be selective

Pick your most pertinent skills and stick with them. If those are good, you can expand on them in an interview.

Be sure to be specific as to what you mean with your skills as well. For example, if you work in customer service, conflict management would be a useful skill because it helps you to resolve customer complaints.

Still, remember to keep your resume tidy and concise. If your skills summary is causing you to run over a page, consider trimming something. Nothing looks tackier than a two-page resume with only three skills mentioned on the second page.

Problem #3: Your innate skills aren’t apparent

Oftentimes an employer will train you in skills necessary for the position, so what’s the point of listing a bunch of stuff you’ll relearn anyway?

Solution: Talk about your “soft skills”

Be sure to use some “soft skills,” like conflict resolution, in your summary. Many job hunters avoid this as they think it sounds like fluff, and too much certainly can be. However, if you’ve made it specific and unique, it’s a feature that can give your resume a boost.

Remember, soft skills can’t really be taught - your potential employer may be able to help your typing speed improve, but they can’t really do anything about your capacity for observation or dealing with pressure. By putting these kinds of skills in your skill summary you are really giving potential employers the only information they have about your innate abilities until they actually hire you.

Problem #4: Your skills section covers too broad of a range

I’ve seen literally thousands of resumes, and I always had a chuckle at people who would include their “hobbies.” Managers don’t care that you have a meticulously curated stamp collection.

Solution: Optimize your skills section for the position

It might, however, be a whole different game if you have hobbies that are relevant to a given position. Let’s look at your stamp collection now - say you are applying for an archiving or data entry job. All of a sudden your “hobby” is now a useful skill. “Have a large stamp collection” can become, “Personally curates rare stamp archive featuring 500+ unique pieces.”

This would show a manager you are not only capable of archiving, but that you actually kind of like it. Take a second look at hobbies and skills you have. By optimizing your skills for the position, maybe your years of drama and theater experience will pay off after all.

Problem #5: Your skills sound too intangible

Plenty of resumes have great skills listed and all the experience in the world, but they can still come across as too general, especially if it’s targeted at a highly technical position.

Solution: Use numbers where you can

A quick and useful solution is to quantify as much as possible. Let’s use the typing speed example again - it’s one of those skills that has an obvious number attached to it. If you can type at 75 words per minute, you need to put that number in the skill.

There are a ton of skills that on the surface don’t seem quantifiable but are after you reconsider. Applying for a delivery job? Instead of “able to lift heavy packages” say “can lift parcels of 80 pounds and above.”

Problem #6: Your resume isn’t getting any attention

Have you followed all our advice and still can’t seem to get an interview? You might be getting lost in automatic candidate sifting tools.

Solution: List skills mentioned in the job description

One modern development of the job hunt is the use of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). This software is not afraid to throw out anyone’s resume, and if it determines you aren’t compatible with its specific requirements, you’ll never even hear from a human being.

As sad as this use of technology seems, your skills summary is your ticket to getting past this robotic gatekeeper. There are some specific methods on how to beat this nefarious ATS software, but read on for a more basic rundown.

ATSs often target specific keywords, many of which are included in the job description for a given position. By mirroring these you are sure to get picked up on the robotic radar. Most keywords are right there in the job description, so by speaking to those in your skill section you are increasing your chances of being seen by a hiring manager.

The skills summary might not seem like a big deal at first glance, but give that under-appreciated section some real attention to maximize your shot at getting the job you need.

Adam Hatch is a career adviser and hiring manager at resumegenius.com. Adam strives to provide the most useful advice to hard-working people from all walks of life. When he’s not helping people get the best job possible, he is likely reading or exploring.

photo credits: Contrast Idea