don’t list basic computer skills on a resume

A reader writes:

Is it really necessary to list computer skills on a resume? Shouldn’t basic skills be assumed at this point in history? I’m great with Microsoft Office and I know Macs and a couple of other miscellaneous programs, but I don’t know Photoshop or Dreamweaver or HTML or anything specialized. And my most recent position is “Administrative Assistant,” so isn’t computer use implied in the title? Can I save that space for something a little more, I don’t know, stand-outish?

Yes, yes, yes! I totally agree. There is no need to list basic computer skills, like Word, Excel, or Outlook, on a resume.

If you have specialized computer skills — in a program that isn’t being used by everyone in any office in the U.S. — list those. Or if you’re known for something really amazing in these basic programs, you could put that — like “became office Excel guru and trouble-shot all complicated Excel functions.” But otherwise, skip any mention of computer skills; there’s no reason to use up valuable resume real estate with it.

Frankly, in my dream world, candidates would instead list the expected skills that they DON’T have — like: “warning: I’ve never used a word processing program, and I don’t know how to attach a file to an email, nor am I likely to pick it up easily.”

{ 30 comments… read them below }

  1. majigail*

    I can agree with not listing them, but I've been amazed at the number of candidates that I've seen that don't have them. A year ago when I was hiring an administrative assistant, I had at least two people who made it to the interviews who told me they weren't good in Excel and didn't know Outlook or Access at all. Someon needs to tell those folks it's time to wake up and get some basic skills.

    1. tim*

      Believe it or not, a lot of colleges once into your major, unless your i.t., graphic design etc, don’t offer these programs. What is even more shocking is when students obtain internships or part time positions, employers don’t take the time to go over these things with interns or answer there questions if they need help!

  2. ExecSearchPro*

    I would have to agree with your comments on Word & Powerpoint- however, as an Executive Search Consultant for Accounting and Finance professionals, I have a different perspective to offer for Finance & Accounting professionals' resumes. Listing proficiency with Excel, Access, etc is very important as they may be key prerequisites for positions. Put your technical skills in a separate section on your resume listed in bullets. In addition, for accounting professionals, I would also recommend listing ERPs you have utilized even if rare. Keyword searches for positions requiring software will pick up your resume for that very specific search for someone with your software experience!

  3. Henning Makholm*

    The six last words of this article are key. What really matters is not so much having used a particular program as having the right attitude for learning one.

    Ordinary office applications are not very difficult to start using. They are written to be intuitive and explorable. A person who have continuing trouble using them has that trouble because of lack of hands-on experience but because something prevents them from hands-on experience into proficiency.

    One person may have interacted with program X for years, but still masters only the most basic of its features, thinks the only way to discover new ways to use the program is to have somebody else explain a procedure step by step, and loathes getting tasks that might require this to happen. Is basically afraid of the computer.

    Then another person has had very little hands-on experience with that particular program, but has a basic mental model of what happens inside the computer and is not afraid to explore the menu tree and experiment with the program to get a feel for its capabilities. Has an working understanding of what it is reasonable to expect this kind of program to do for her and is stubborn enough to (gah!) leaf through a manual if she cannot find an answer through pure experimenting.

    Placed in a job that involves daily use of that program, the second person will run circles around the first one in a matter of weeks.

    However, it's the first one who would be able to list program X as a skill on her resume.

  4. Charles*

    I disagree. You should list any and all computer skills and list them specifically!

    Here's why – many jobs today are found through an online database. Many (though certainly not all) recruiters run a scan of the database looking for certain keywords(i.e. Excel) If you know Excel or Word or whatever program and do NOT list it on your resume the scan will skip your resume; you just lost out!

    Even if the recruiters are not scanning a database they could be doing a manual scan and be looking for certain programs or other keywords such as "good time-management" as a quick way to filter through the "yes," "no," and "maybe" resumes.

    So, I agree with ExecSearchPro in that it is best to list these as a separate section using bullet points. I would also recommend that you list them alphabetically.

    For the sake of a couple of lines of real estate if you do not list them you could be eliminating yourself from many job opportunities.

  5. Ask a Manager*

    If that recruiter is searching for "Word," that recruiter is very strange, given that programs like Word and Outlook are as ubiquitous at this point as knowing how to use a phone or a copier!

    I also wouldn't recommend including something like "good time management," as that's a subjective assessment and thus not worth much to the person screening resumes.

  6. Henning Makholm*

    Another consideration is whether you'd want to work for an employer who considers "prior experience with Word" (rather than "not afraid to get acquainted with new programs because it's not rocket science") a basic qualification for the job.

    If the employer is afraid of letting you learn something as simple and accessible as basic office automation on the job, what are the changes that your duties will include anything that actually challenges you?

  7. Rebecca*

    If only all managers were as enlightened as AAM and the commenters here!…

    In my last job search, I left Word, Excel, and Powerpoint off my resume. Then two interviewers in a row asked me "Are you a pretty fast learner? Because you'll need to learn Word, Excel, and Powerpoint to do this job." Explaining that I already knew the programs led to "Oh! Why didn't you put that on your resume?"

    So I put them back on.

    And then I probably didn't get interviews at other places because only an idiot would list basic computer skills on a resume.

    You can't win in interviewing… all you can do is hope you accidentally fall into the right manhole.

  8. Russ*

    If I had a nickel for every office assistant hired who could do simple things like make a spread sheet or send a fax… I would be very wealthy. I think if you know how to use the program then put it on there. How many mundane programs are there really? MS word excel powerpoint, maybe 2-3 others. If you don't know how to use them don't put it on there. If the job doesn't require computers, don't put it on there. Certainly when applying to be a home builder you don't need to be an expert at excel.

  9. Anonymous*

    Just want to remind people that what you might think are "basic" computer skills that "everyone" has… aren't. If they were, we wouldn't have the phrase "the digital divide," and there wouldn't be charities and nonprofits dedicated to spreading internet access to everyone, or to figuring out how to get modern computers into schools, or to teaching kids enough computer skills in school, or to teaching computer skills to adults in less affluent places.

    (Do people NEED these skills for office jobs – yes. I am NOT saying you should hire people who don't have needed skills, and I am NOT saying people shouldn't endeavor to learn these skills.)

  10. Rachel - I Hate HR*

    I disagree. I've found when hiring Admins that if they don't have it listed (even basic skills) then they don't have it. I also know that our hiring managers look specifically to see if the items are listed.

  11. Anonymous*

    It really doesn't matter if you DO list them because most employers know by now that candidates LIE. I just held 9 interviews, each and every one of them said they "knew Excel" and so I gave them a little "Excel TEST" and not a single one of them could sort a list a dates, rename a tab, alphabetize, copy paste from one workbook to another, print in "landscape", add a border around a specific group of cells, create a SUM fuction, etc etc. They all failed miserably.

    1. lexus*

      They aren’t gunna remember on point what we all used in school for years but some people have used it and need a little refresher. Not everyone has kept using it since they first learned and maybe it wasnt required for their previous jobs and instead of just throwing them out, you should have picked the ones that caught on faster than the others after a given amount of time.

    2. Anonymous*

      that is really sad. I have never listed these basic skills. I was told in a career course that you should never list basic skilld because it looks like you are just filling space. “Sort a list a dates, rename a tab, alphabetize, copy paste from one workbook to another, print in “landscape”, add a border around a specific group of cells, create a SUM fuction” all fall under basic skills.
      how can you use excel and not know that stuff. It would seem they lied. I had to re-learn where everything was at when I upgraded to the new excel but that jsut takes using the program. Maybe I should list excel, word, powerpoint, and outlook along side HTML5, Java, CSS, C++, troubleshooting softwear and all that.. I may also start listing the fact that I have build 3 computer (but thats not so hard, and the only job i applied for that it would be useful for i did mention it)

  12. Lani*

    I have a heading on my resume titled Computer Skills, then sub-headings for Word, Access, Excel, and PowerPoint, listing specific things that I can do with them.

    This is what I've got for Word.

    MS Word: able to create templates; create and format complex tables; customise toolbars; work with advanced styles and AutoFormat features; use graphic effects such as dropped capital letters, ClipArt, WordArt, and draw in a document; work with very large documents that require a table of contents, footnotes, and endnotes; manage and track document changes using highlights and comments

    (I'm in Australia, one page resumes are generally looked down upon as lacking in detail and information)

  13. Mike C.*

    I would just for the ability to say, “Yes, I’ve been using a computer since kindergarten, no I’ve never used your proprietary in house software before, but I bet if you give me a few minutes I can figure it out.”

    1. Alex*

      I may have to use this myself! Our first computer we had I was about 4 years old. It didn’t even have a mouse. I was able to type the basic info to get in and play packman

  14. Mander*

    @ Lani: That’s brilliant. For various reasons, mainly involving the economic crash, I have been looking for part-time administrative jobs. I’m a graduate student and I know pretty much every trick in the word processing book, including LaTeX, but I’ve been finding that hard to translate to management-speak. Somehow they don’t seem to believe that collecting and analyzing data and then writing a book about it will prepare you to have a clue about word processing.

    @ Mike: Do you actually put a statement to that effect on your CV/resumé?

  15. Anonymous*

    Even if it is not a “computer” job, when the job description/advertisement specifies that certain skills are desired or even required, you really should include a “computer skills” line in your resume—even if it seems obvious from your list of previous work and output that you use these skills all the time. By including just one or two lines listing software or other computer proficiencies, it does not look like you have omitted information specifically asked for, and time in the interview does not need to be spent clarifying that you have these skills. Your list of skills can then be a starting point so that, for example, if you have used one kind of database software but the organization uses another, it becomes apparent that you have related experience that can be tailored to the new environment and you do not need to be trained from scratch to use a database (or, be rejected without ever getting to talk about it).

  16. Anonymous*

    I’ll agree with this post but also note that in a lot of entry level positions (the only jobs I am qualified for) they list basic computer programs in the required skills and qualificiations, making me think I need to mention in my cover letter that, yes, I can format a word document, email, or excel file. I guess I will be leaving those tidbits out from now on!

  17. Anonymous*

    I don’t know where you are from but it is still an outstanding thing where I am from. I seriously can not believe how people in higher positions then I am can’t figure out how to find or save a document or change font… They are always shocked at how amazing the documents I create look and about fall out if I create a newsletter or calander! And instead of making these people learn they allow them to push all of their work off on to the inferior people who know how to type and so they have nothing to do while the others cover for double the job

  18. S Wynn*

    Unfortunately I’ve found that many people in positions such as “director” at a major company have no experience with effectively using software such as Excel.
    I would go ahead and list this software so that more important things than your obvious experience with MS Office can be discussed.

  19. Anonymous*

    Does this mean I should or should not list the following

    MS Word, Excell, Power point, dreamweaver, html5, web expressions, coffeecup, troubleshooting softwear problems and hardwear problems, build computer, repair and recovery of lost data.

    It seems to be that in the very least if you own a computer you should know some basic trouble shooting and how to back up and recover lost data along with those in question such as word and excell. But maybe that is because I am part of a generation that grew up with home computers (I was born in septemer of 1984, I remember using the computer some days before preschool)

  20. Anonymous*

    I’d throw out any resume that includes Microsoft Office as a technical skill. Being able to use Microsoft Office proficiently is not an asset. Not being able to is indication of serious problems. Just as you don’t list common sense as a skill in your resume, you should not list Microsoft Office.

    To be clear, for example, if you can use Excel proficiently, minimally being able to proficiently use pivot table, array operations, able to use an Excel file on a shared network location as a pseudo database via VB scripts with Microsoft IIS while maintaining security by LDAP, then you might want to consider mentioning it. Otherwise, please, don’t.

  21. Jasmine*

    So what about all these job ads I’m clicking through that list “Proficiency with Microsoft Office” as the FIRST QUALIFICATION? For an office admin job? After which, working as a temp, I had to tell the office manager how to use it?

    In my brain, it’s the equivalent of asking “can you sharpen a pencil?” . Because if I don’t use your software right now, I will obviously learn it rapidly. It’s not relevant to know if I can use it at this moment; five minutes from now, it will change anyway when it’s updated.

    Yet in my city, computer skills are not something you can take for granted. Last month, my previous boss turned to my (25 year old) co-worker and asked in all seriousness “So Jane, do you type?”.

    There was a moment of stunned silence from the 4 employees in their early twenties.

    “Um. You mean on the computer? Yes.” (As an aside, this co-worker answered and wrote e-mails for this boss, and had set up the company facebook page and was responsible for updating it, with the approval of THIS BOSS.)

    The boss then asked where she had learned to type, as she wanted to set up typing lessons for her daughter. Who is eleven. And has an iPad. And a smartphone.

    Apparently, my boss was typing up all of her daughter’s schoolwork assignments and was getting tired of it. In her mind, “using a computer to communicate” and “typing” were two separate and defined skill sets. That required formal education.

    So, although it seems incredibly stupid to me, I will continue to list familiarity with Microsoft Office as a skill on my resume. But I draw the line at listing “typing”!

  22. Rick*

    A lot of this depends on the jobs you’re applying for. Some jobs have basic office software use implied. The jobs I am applying for (IT project manager), they will assume I know how to use most of these programs. I know a lot of other programs (graphics, etc), but most are irrelavant. I used to list them, mostly to show how easily I can learn any type of software. When I streamlined my resume to one-page, I took all of them off, and added the line “software and programming experience available upon request”. The “and programming” bit was added to give the impression that my experience is above the average level. If you can program ANYTHING (even BASIC, or HTML) then list that.

  23. Manda*

    I don’t think these so-called basic skills are always a given. Yes, almost anyone who has ever used a computer has used Word. But some of those people can only type up a letter and do some basic formatting. Excel and the rest of Office aren’t that basic. I’m looking for an entry-level job right now. The only office experience I’ve ever had was a summer job as a receptionist and I only answered the phone and sorted mail. I did not study business so I don’t think it’s implied that know everything about MS Office. I majored in math, so I would hope that at least suggests that I’m intelligent and could learn new things. I put on my resume, “Comfortable with basic features of Microsoft Word and Excel,” and, “Able to adapt to new software quickly,” because that is the truth. I just hope it won’t get trashed simply because of the word “basic.” If I had left that statement off, I’d have even less of a chance. But I can’t honestly say I’m “proficient with MS Office,” which is what many job postings specifically want. Only sometimes will they even specify which parts of Office they want you to know. And who knows what they mean by “proficient” anyway. Do they just need you to be comfortable with the basics and maybe some intermediate tasks? Do they want you to know all of the advanced features that you aren’t likely to use anyway? (I actually saw one job posting asking for knowledge of Windows 2007 or higher. I don’t know if they meant Windows Vista or 7, or if they meant Office 2007 or what. I just laughed.) Anyway, my point is, I simply have not had to use the more advanced features of Word or Excel. I have only used PowerPoint a few times and have never had to use any of the other programs. BUT, I can learn whatever else I need to know. All I need is for someone to give me a crash course on the basics, and I will figure out the rest as I go. I’m quite capable of pulling up a help file when I need it. I’ve been watching tutorial videos so that I have a head start before I have to use these things. I applied for a job once that asked a really stupid question in the process: “Do you have a working knowledge of personal computers including Microsoft Outlook?” What? Those are two separate questions. It was either yes or no. Truthfully, I had to say no, because I’m not familiar with Outlook. I use a web-based email. It may have appeared that I’m computer illiterate though. I’m fine with computers. I just haven’t used Outlook. I’m quite confident I could learn it. Most of what I know, I have figured out on my own. I try things until I get to know the software. I know some things that many average computer users probably don’t. I’ve even done a bit of programming. And yet, there are seemingly basic computer skills I don’t have. So no, it’s not always obvious.

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