no one is reading my resume’s skills section

A reader writes:

I was wondering what your thoughts are in general on having a skills section on resumes. I’ve seen pretty ambiguous skills sometimes, but I only list concrete technical skills, e.g. video editing with Adobe Premiere, NOT things like “engages with industry influencers.” For me especially, I thought it would be helpful because my skills are sometimes useful in my field, but I’ve only been doing them outside of paid work. But I’m wondering if a skills section don’t carry real weight with interviewers, or if the work history section totally overshadows it.

I ask because at the last few interviews I went to, it turned out they actually wanted some with a skill of mine – but when I reminded them that I had that skill, their response was, “Oh – you do?!” like they hadn’t even noticed. I’ve even been telling a project management story in my cover letter about the time one of these skills came in handy, so I’m wondering how they can learn enough to bring me in for an interview but totally blow past the fact that I’ve been doing exactly the special thing they wanted. I was at one today and the interviewer threw it out there wistfully, like it was pie in the sky she wouldn’t be able to find – “We have so many promo clips to edit for the webpage. It would be SO nice to get a chocolate teapot crafter who could edit video, but I mean, what are the chances that someone knows how to craft chocopots AND edit video?”

Do I need to move the “Skills” section to the top of my resume? Do I need to make it bigger? Does it have to live strictly in my cover letter from now on because interviewers just don’t care about stuff beyond job history descriptions? Or should I not sweat it because it keeps turning out to be a “bonus” skill rather than the meat of the job?

Yeah, I think a lot of people just aren’t bothering to read that section or retain it, largely because so many people’s skills sections are totally useless (listing things that are a given in their field, like Word, or listing ridiculous subjective self-assessments like “strong communication skills,” “works well in groups and independently,” and other useless proclamations).

I wouldn’t move the section or make it bigger. Instead, if the stuff you’re including in there is integral to what you want to convey about yourself as a candidate, find a way to include it in the work section, which is really the most important part of your resume and your candidacy. For instance, instead of listing video editing in your skills section, talk about it in a bullet point under the jobs where you edited videos. Doing that will also allow you frame it in terms of what accomplished with the skill, instead of just noting the skill itself — and that’s always better and more convincing.

{ 123 comments… read them below }

  1. oleander*

    Or, if they are skills that you haven’t used in a job, try to work them into the cover letter as well, saying how you anticipate your experience in X, Y, Z, would be useful in a job like this.

    1. Addiez*

      Or if you’re using the skills in a non-job context, add a section like volunteer experience – clearly, if you’re using these things, it’s not a throwaway volunteer experience!

    2. BethRA*

      And yes, like this: “saying how you anticipate your experience in X, Y, Z, would be useful in a job like this.”
      Folding them into a story is likely to bury the detail.

      Do keep in mind that you are getting interviews, so chances are SOMEONE is seeing them.

  2. baseballfan*

    I agree the skills section is largely useless. And, to the extent skills are relevant, it’s difficult to express within that section the detail that interviewers may need.

    For example, I don’t care if you say your skills include Excel. I want to know if you are proficient with vlookups, sumifs, and pivot tables.

    1. FD*

      Yeah, and this gets weird too, because different people know different areas of Excel really well. I can built complex tables and formulas with index/match, and conditional statements, and I use pivot tables a lot. But I can’t program macros in any great degree. Someone else I work with can program macros but doesn’t know how to build a complex formula within Excel’s formula bar.

      1. themmases*

        Definitely. I find Excel useful to see because within my field (and probably others also), there are specific things you use Excel for. If you’ve worked in my field, are applying for a job in my field, and say you understand how to use Excel, I will assume that’s what you mean when I read your resume and confirm it when I meet you.

        For my purposes, vlookups solve a problem I would be highly likely to solve using different table design or a new variable– maybe in SAS– in the unlikely event I encountered it at all. Pivot tables are magic about 1/3 of the time and non sequiter-level useless the rest of the time. I rarely need to use macros for anything. Yet within my field, my work in Excel is considered good (and you can pry my countifs and sumifs from my cold dead hands!).

  3. F5*

    …but I’ve only been doing them outside of paid work.

    Alison, if these skills are being used outside of paid work, how would one go about including it in their job section? Would you change it from a “job” section to a “relevant experience” section instead?

      1. Zillah*

        That’s a really good idea! I’ve struggled with the same thing, but this is a nice way to include it.

        Along those lines, though – one of the things I’ve done that’s given me the most useful skills for my field is actually moderating/admining a forum. I’m not sure whether I should include any of that – I do feel like it’s relevant, but… ugh.

        1. Lynn Rainham*

          I’m not sure what field you’re in but you should totally include it! I would consider it “Other relevant experience”.
          One of the communications interns I was keenly interested in hiring moderated a science-fiction forum. In a role like that you regularly deal with difficult people, diffuse tough situations and have to stay on top of trends. And that doesn’t include the technical know-how.

        2. Kyrielle*

          Absolutely list it! I listed both a Community TA stint at Coursera, and working on the abuse team at an online journaling site on mine. I felt like both, but especially the latter, highlighted my ability to deal with stress, difficult situations, and sometimes difficult people.

        3. Zillah*

          Awesome. Thanks, guys! Would you recommend naming the specific sites, or just list some of the things you do and be prepared to provide the specific links if it comes up?

    1. Batshua*

      I have a lot of volunteer experience, but very little paid experience. Additionally, my last thing was AmeriCorps, which is sort of volunteer and sort of paid. I list *everything* chronologically under “Experience”.

      I think once I have more jobs under my belt, it might become “Relevant Experience”.

    2. Shannon Terry*

      It’s hard for me to answer this without seeing your resume – I don’t like giving blanket advice, as the right strategy & and format is specific to each individual & his/her unique background and current goals.

      From a professional resume writer’s perspective, here are a few options that could work nicely:

      – If you use these skills in volunteer on contract work, and there’s enough of those to warrant a separate section, that could do it. Give yourself an applicable ‘job title’ for these entries.
      – Changing your “Work History” to “Related Experience” could fit as well. Ditto to the above about the job title.
      – Sometimes I like a hybrid functional (skill set focused) /chronological (classic reverse work history style) resume for working in key skills that weren’t/aren’t through paid employment

      Hope that helps a little!


  4. AMG*

    On the bright side, it sounds like you have some desireable and specialized skills, and yourneed for a resume may be a moot point soon. (Not that you should keep one up-to-date anyway just in case, but you get my point. Good luck!)

  5. puddin*

    I do both a skills area and a specific reference in the job history. I have a specific/technical skills section at the top – prior to work experience. And then I talk about those skills via bullet points under the job position header. I still find that people may not know about a skill or two. But I also come across people who deliberately want to interview me for those skills listed. I also think that it helps with the accursed auto-resume key word searches.

    In general, people do not READ resumes either; they skim them. I am more surprised when someone mentions an item on my resume in specific than I am when they are unaware of a skill I have listed.

    If I had to pick though, I would highlight the skill as AAM recommended.

    1. fposte*

      I think you’re true about reading overall; or, to put it more nicely, since I’m talking about me, I read them very carefully when they’re first submitted but I don’t remember them all that well once it comes time to interview, so I may remember that somebody can edit videos without remembering that it’s the current candidate.

  6. Just Another Techie*

    I think this is a great place to use the “Did X using Y in order to Z” formula a previous LW was required to use. Because yeah, I skip the skills section all the time, because very few candidates know how to use it effectively, but I do read project descriptions carefully. Something like “Senior capstone project: Designed a chocolate teapot and modeled the spout using Spout 3-D Pro to do a multi variable comparison of spout curvature” will jump out at me way faster than “Skills: Unix, Linux, Ubuntu, MS Office, Spout 3-D Pro, Libre Office, Handle Viewer Gold, SQL, Javascript, and excellent written and oral communication skills.”

    1. stellanor*

      Yeah, this is why I don’t read skills sections. If there’s nothing in the cover letter or in the experience section of the resume that SHOWS me you actually have that skill, I just assume you don’t have it. Anyone can write “Adobe Premiere” in a skills section, but that doesn’t show me what the person’s skill level actually is and there’s no way to know if they’re BSing.

      1. Mike C.*

        Sure, but anyone can make up an example of them using a specific software package as well. Factor in things like limited space, huge wishlists from hiring managers and this belief among many that you can never, ever learn a software package on the fly unless you have years and years of experience with it makes such lists really understandable to me.

      2. Anon.*

        If you’ve been using the skill in your off-time that can be really challenging to list in experience or a cover letter, though.

        Like, I ran a fairly large (35k members) Photoshop tutorial community online at a time when admitting you had an online life was problematic and would have gotten me kicked out of a lot of “maybe” piles — plus of course I did it all under an alias, because who put their real name online? (Photoshop 7 was new at the time, that’s how long ago it was.)

        But I had the skill, and it qualified me for some roles — I just couldn’t point to how I’d used it at work. So having a skills section at the time was super duper helpful because it let employers ask me about my skill level and the kinds of things I could do.

        When I read “use Premiere but not for work,” I immediately envision a YouTube channel of hobbyist work. Loads of people I know do really impressive video game fanworks. They demonstrate huge technical skill, but “Assassin’s Creed machinima” is not necessarily going to work for you on a resume.

        1. Zillah*

          Hell, I think a lot of people still mostly use aliases online – I certainly do.

        2. OP*

          I mostly use it for goofy rock band stuff. Most videos are not ones I would share with employers, but I do have a couple of “serious” videos that make sense to share during a hiring process.

        3. katamia*

          Oh, yeah, there’s some stuff I’ve done that I’m nervous about listing because it was done under an alias and I don’t know a) if I want that alias exposed and b) how I’d prove I was that alias if someone required proof.

  7. SanguineAspect*

    I list my Skills section at the top of my resume. I have some experience with particular project management methodologies and software that are desirable in my field, so I want whomever reads me resume to see those first at-a-glance. It’s a bulleted list and 2-column, so it doesn’t take up much space. I like having it there, before they dive into the details of my work history.

    1. AMG*

      I think the skills section is more relevant the more technical a job is, so I can see where this would make sense.

  8. Joey*

    For me skills sections are near useless. I want to know what you’ve done with that skill. Listing that you have a skill is super ambiguous. For example, many peoples definition of excel skills consist of opening excel, entering some numbers and doing a couple of basic formulas.

    Even something that would seem as unambiguous as fluency in a second language is frequently misleading. Just because you took french or spanish in school and know how to say “hello, my name is Joey. Nice to meet you” doesn’t mean you get to count that as a business skill.

    1. Mike C.*

      See, when it comes to computer programs, I always find it tricky to describe exactly what I can do. Most of the time not having used a particular function isn’t a because I’m incapable of using the function, but rather because I’ve never needed it before and haven’t yet looked it up in the help section. Five minutes there, maybe another five to ten on google if it’s especially tricky, and I’m good to go.

      How would you go about expressing that sort of skill level or competency? I could too easily see a hiring manager go, “oh you haven’t used therefore you can never learn it ever, into the trash with you!”

      1. Mike C.*

        Make that, “Oh, you haven’t used (really obscure but easy to learn function), therefore you can never ever learn it ever, into the trash with you!”

      2. Joey*

        You should still describe the work you’ve done and the complexity or depth of use. Because for example, if you describe some excel macros you’ve written I know you can probably figure out things like vlookups without a big learning curve.

        But you’ll always come across hiring managers who’ll only want someone with experience in that exact function.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          So true Joey and mike. I can’t tell you how many time I’ve been asked specifically if I can do pivot tables, then I get the job and never had to use them (only at one company)

          1. TheAssistant*

            I was leading the logistics of a hiring search once, and we had our top candidate complete a Word and Excel test. Just to make sure she was competent – advanced skills were not necessary. She achieved nearly a perfect score, but couldn’t do a pivot table. And my boss at the time was like, “well. That seems unacceptable.” And I looked at her and almost shouted THAT IS BY NO MEANS NECESSARY FOR THIS JOB.

  9. Allison*

    Since I work in tech recruiting, where being skilled in a specific programming language is usually important for a job I’m trying to fill, I do normally look at the skills section to see if it’s there. If it’s not there, I skip to the next person, figuring that if it’s not in the skill section, it’s not something they’re very strong in, even if it is mentioned somewhere in the resume. That said, if it is mentioned in the skills section, I will look at the work history to get more context, and if it turns out they haven’t actually worked with that language since the early 2000’s, I may not consider them a strong candidate.

    Now, if you have a skill you acquired outside of paid work, you could list the skill in the skills section and then either list the gig as “volunteer work,” or mention it in your cover letter. But note that, when an employer wants a specific skill, they usually want someone who’s already applied that skill in a professional context, unless it’s an entry-level role. If you’ve only applied that skill in your personal life, it might not “count” for most hiring managers.

    1. MashaKasha*

      +1. Pretty sure that in my field (IT), the skills section is the first thing anyone reads. I’ve only ever seen it at the very top of a resume, listing the languages, platforms, databases etc. the applicant has worked with or is proficient in. It’s definitely easier to see them all listed in one place than scan the two or three (or more…) pages of a resume trying to compile a mental list of everything the person has used at their multiple old jobs. It never occurred to me to remove the skill section altogether, or to advise a colleague to remove theirs. Then again, my field may very well be an exception.

      1. Shell*

        I think this is highly field-dependent, yeah.

        For example, I was a lab tech in my last life; during my undergrad years, I’d done some research stints that taught me how to do things like oxygen-free chemistry (using Schlenk lines/nitrogen gloveboxes), flash column chromatography, shim and run my own NMR scans, etc. that’s not typically taught in the undergrad curriculum. The lab I ended up in didn’t need that stuff at all, but if I had tried to go for other types of labs I can absolutely see how knowledge of specific hard skills would make a difference in the application–even if I didn’t necessarily “accomplish” anything. Experiments can go awry and I might not have achieved the product/synthesis I wanted to make, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t proficient in using a Schlenk line or I didn’t know how to do those kind of reactions.

        (I am no longer proficient in any of these things. :P)

        1. Cath in Canada*

          Yes, it’s really common to see a list of skills and techniques on lab-staff CVs.

          Given how field-dependent this convention seems to be, OP, I wonder if you could get hold of some high quality resumes from people who use video editing and your other skills in a professional context, to see how they present that section? Even LinkedIn profiles might help.

          1. OP*

            I do have a lot of video production friends – while I haven’t seen their resumes, I have seen their LinkedIns, and I know that a) my editing skills are not enough for most positions – working with special FX/graphics add-ons are commonly desired skill sets I don’t have b) I’m not competitive even at entry level – a producer friend who recognized my editing was solid told me she miiiight be able to get me a $11/hr PT editing internship at her advertising agency, *IF* I took a photography class first to learn more about lighting. (It’s true, my light handling results in ho-hum footage, and I probably will take a class this year…but at 33, interning is a bit of a tough sell for me when I’m trying to find a regular FT job.)

            The good news is that they’ve all told me I’m making the right moves in my spare time to grow my skill set – joining a public access station to have access to equipment and software, volunteering to edit little projects for bands, non-profits, friends, etc.

    2. My Two Cents*

      I tend to list ‘additional’ coding languages or various software utilities/packages as “familiar with…”. i have a degree in engineering, but i haven’t used…say…vhdl for over 10 years. at least listing the different software tools i used helped demonstrate how quickly i can pick something up. then again, i’m more applications/support than dev where breadth tends to be preferred over depth.

  10. Graciosa*

    Unfortunately, this is where I tend to see people list their proficiency in various Microsoft Office applications, so it’s usually an opportunity for an eye roll –

    1. Mike C.*

      I don’t know why that’s worth an eye roll for you. There are plenty of places that are tired of hiring people who refuse to use F1 that explicit documentation of Office proficiency is a de facto requirement lest your resume be thrown out.

      1. jag*

        “refuse to use F1”

        Is it acceptable to those places (and you) if I get to Help in another way?

        1. Mike C.*

          “refuse to F1” is more of a general reference to people who won’t use the built in help systems, search online for help, ask others, read a book and so on in an effort to learn something new about computers.

          So yes, get help any way you see fit.

    2. FD*

      In fairness, though, a weirdly high percentage of job postings explicitly state they want it. It’s pretty understandable that job seekers think they need to state it somewhere.

      1. Mike C.*

        Hell, even my current job I was grilled on my ability to read an Outlook calendar and what I would do if I didn’t know how to set up a meeting. I was really dumbfounded, and just answered, “Well, F1 is the universal Help menu for all of Office right?” and then they finally relaxed. It was really strange.

        1. Nashira*

          I would believe it. I’m the Office Expert because I can… Hit f1 and type a simple query into the search box. I’ve shown some coworkers how to do exactly that, and they still come to me. It’s crazy making.

        2. fposte*

          This is funny to me because I work almost entirely on a laptop, and no, that doesn’t get you the help menu.

          1. fposte*

            In fact, I just tested it and it’s the Undo command. That’s really not a good thing to put on a go-to key.

              1. fposte*

                On the Macbook Pro, it’s the brightness key on its own, but if you hit it with the “fn” key (function key, geddit?) it does something else–in this case, undoes your work when you thought you’d asked for help. The Mac god is a prankster.

                1. Mike C.*

                  Yeah, it’s really fun switching between Windows at work and a Mac at home.

                  If you want your MBP to default to function keys, go to System Preferences -> Keyboard, and there’s a check box right there about defaulting to F1 type keys.

                2. Cath in Canada*

                  Even more fun: VPNing into your work PC from your home Mac. You need to use a mix of Windows and Mac keyboard shortcuts, even within some programmes. It’s almost easier just to go into the office.

          2. BRR*

            This is so off topic but do you need to hold an “fn” key or something of the sort.

        3. ThursdaysGeek*

          I thought Google and Stackoverflow were the universal help. Plus, they work with all keyboards.

          1. Tau*

            I would be so sunk without stackoverflow and, occasionally, askubuntu. It is very very rare that I stumble across a problem no one has had and taken to a forum to be investigated by experts before!

      2. themmases*

        Yep, this is the reason I list it. It is constantly asked for specifically. If it’s so obvious, maybe hiring managers should stop asking for it rather than job applicant stop basically answering the question.

        Also, I had to learn to use Excel in my first research assistant job because it was never needed in any part of my education before. Many people I know did the same thing and earned that skill by working– it’s not like Word where we’ve been using it since we learned to type. (And actually, I still sometimes learn to do new stuff in Word when I produce new types of documents for new audiences.)

        On the flip side, there is lots of overlap between those applications so it’s actually not obvious that they’re always being used appropriately. I’ve gotten information from people stored in Word table form that definitely should have been a spreadsheet. I’ve used Excel to manage data that really belonged in Access, because none of the regular users understood how to use Access.

        1. A Definite Beta Guy*

          University business classes rarely teach Access, and companies are not going to pay to train their workers in such things. My department has a number of critical Access databases, designed by a former employee. No one in our department has any idea how any of these databases work, they are all “business-critical,” and the company STILL refuses to train anyone to use Access.

          Utterly mind-blowing.

          I occasionally bring my laptop home to teach myself some Access, as I don’t have it on my home computer.

    3. Mockingjay*

      On my project, I have to be able to work across Office 2007, 2010, and 2013. Contractors have Office 2013, Govies are slowly upgrading from 2010 to 2013, and the project sponsor staff uses 2007 (’cause one guy won’t turn in his ancient laptop) and 2010. (The budget isn’t big enough to upgrade everyone at once.)

      Oh, and did I mention that some of our document templates were created using Word 2003 and 1997?

      Ay yi yi.

    4. ExJourno*

      I think it’s weird when people list Microsoft Word because the fact that you have a resume at all sort of indicates that you can use Word. Sure, some people do their resumes in Google Docs or InDesign, but I’ve never met someone who knows those programs but not Word. Really, anyone under 30 with a high school education can use Word.

      Excel and Access are a different story, though. They don’t necessarily teach those in regular school.

      1. Rebeck*

        Yeah, no. As a public librarian, having a resume does not mean you can use Word. It may mean that the local Workways put your information (badly) into a template and sent it to you, and you then got the library staff to fix it and help you print it out.

        And our High School students are more likely to know how to used Pages on their iPad than Word.

      2. QA grump 42*

        I know a fair number of people who are proficient with LaTeX, with beautiful resumes as a result, and whose Word skills are limited to cursing when autoformat screws up their bulleted lists (and then googling for help, which to be fair might be the important part here).

        1. A Definite Beta Guy*

          Your candidates Google? Hire them. Hire them all! They learn! By their own free will!

  11. NickelandDime*

    I always included this because I thought it would be a good way to summarize what’s in the professional experience section. I will be editing my resume this weekend. :-)

  12. Katie the Fed*

    I pay as much attention to resume skills sections as I do to Linkedin endorsements…

  13. Treena Kravm*

    Ok, so ideally, a skill would be able to be listed underneath work experience or volunteer experience. But what about the skills that can’t be listed underneath either?

    I do things in my personal life to learn new skills. For example, I design my holiday cards in Adobe Illustrator, and each year they’ve gotten increasingly complex. I started a (unrelated to work) blog in WordPress and am hoping to get some skills there over time as well.

    Right now, I don’t list them on my resume at all because the jobs I apply for don’t need them. But if I come across a job listing that has one of those skills under the ‘nice-to-have’ category, where would I fit it in?

    1. OP*

      A video production friend, minutes ago, advised me to create a freelance position for myself and list all video duties under it.

      Maybe you can list yourself as a greeting card designer and list your Illustrator skills there?
      Or if you generally do a lot of crafty things with impressive outcomes, maybe you can list yourself as Graphic Designer, or Illustrator, or Visual Artist?

      1. Lindsay J*

        If I saw someone listed themself as a “Freelance Greeting Card Designer” on their resume, and then I found out that they had only ever designed a holiday card for themself once a year I would consider that lying and absolutely not hire them.

        Listing yourself as having a position like that would imply to me that you had clients on a regular basis, and were getting paid for your work.

        I currently do photography as a hobby, and have skills in lighting, editing, etc. But since I don’t produce deliverables for clients I feel it would be deceitful to list myself as a “freelance photographer”.

        1. Treena Kravm*

          Yea, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that either. Maybe if I did some for friends or family, or opened an Etsy shop or something, but not as-is.

        2. OP*

          I’d worried about that. So what are some alternatives to my friend’s suggestion? And what do I do about the next application where editing is definitely an asset, when I’ve only been doing it every few months?

          1. Zillah*

            Tbh – and absolutely no offense to you, Treena! – I feel like no matter how elaborate the holiday cards are, if you’re only using Illustrator once a year, it doesn’t really deserve any more prominence on your resume than a mention in your skills section. No matter how great the cards are, there’s just not enough consistent use to include it outside your skills section, IMO.

            1. Treena Kravm*

              Yup, I completely agree. I guess I won’t care if someone doesn’t read my skills section then! I’ll stick with what I have–I can’t remember exactly how I word it, but it does indicate that it’s a basic proficiency. I do use Illustrator for work probably 3-4x/year, but it’s all really basic stuff and I would never put underneath my job “created flyers and materials in Illustrator” even if I were an expert. It’s just not relevant/enough of an accomplishment.

  14. Student*

    The “skills” section works well in highly technical fields, if you keep it short, easy to read, and relevant to the posting/company. I’m talking engineers and scientists. I don’t see it working well for other fields.

    It works great when you are hiring someone and need them to have, say, 3 specific technical skills and 2 closely related technical skills, but your applicants each have ~10 major technical skills out of a set of 50-100 skills common in your field. Most of those 50-100 skills won’t be used in this specific job – only maybe 5-10 of them figure into any specific job. We use them to figure out things like, “Is this applicant the right specialization of engineering? Is this applicant in the right sub-sub-field of physics? Is this applicant lose enough to need only moderate training, or will this be a completely new job?”

    That’s just not how a lot of other jobs work. I can look at 10 scientist applications and have them all be well-qualified specialists in the sub-field I’m working in, but with zero skills that I need for a specific job. We just don’t have a core set of abilities we rely on across the field – we’re extreme specialists. The only “core” abilities we all have in common are considered trivialities, not major job requirements. Whereas if you’re an accountant, for example, even if you’ve only ever done accounting at legal firms and never worked anywhere else, you have a set of core skills that are easily transferable to accounting for a big retail company. You may not know every detail of retail accounting, and you may not be as good as someone who’s only done retail accounting, but you have a core set of skills that are common to “accounting”. A vehicle engineer is not going to transfer well to, say, nuclear reactor engineering, but they’re both considered mechanical engineers.

  15. Fuzzy*

    I’ve always thought of them as places for skills that do require more explanation. I’m only going to include something if I can explain how I used it. But I’m not adding “editor of my high school literary magazine” on my resume just so I can explain where I got my InDesign knowledge.

    1. OP*

      I hear that. Organizing and staging a month-long fake beef between two girl bands that ultimately erupted in a fan-on-fan food fight at a live show might have showcased my project management skills, but I can never, ever put it in a cover letter.

      1. Mike C.*

        I think we can all agree that if you’re unable to put that in a cover letter, it’s because you’re applying to all the wrong jobs!

        1. OP*


          Don’t worry – I have another “work appropriate” rock promo story that sometimes finds its way in. Actually, I’m pretty sure my application response rate has jumped since I started using it (there’s no property destruction involved in this one).

      2. ExceptionToTheRule*

        Why not? I think you over-estimate the maturity level of people who work in video production…

        1. OP*

          Well…this particular position is in K12 education. So it might not be the right story to inspire a ton of confidence in my judgement.

  16. Anonymous Educator*

    It sounds to me as if these interviewers are skimming instead of reading the résumé. I don’t see that that’s a problem you can remedy. If you moved your Skills section to the top, and they skimmed only your skills, they would then neglect your actual work experience. Or, if they cared about only your work experience, they’d still just skip over your Skill section and jump down to Work Experience.

    The point is—they’re not reading the whole thing.

    And that’s fine.

    Some people aren’t big readers. I’ve had interviewers tell me “I’ve seen your résumé, but I don’t remember everything. Can you give me a brief sum-up of your work experience?” If I were a jerk, I’d say “Here. I happen to have a paper copy. Just read it again.” But some people are just more into oral/aural communication than reading/writing… or they want to hear it in your own words. Or they’re just plain lazy.

    I would say there isn’t really a problem, based on what the OP described. If it came up in the interview, that’s the perfect time to address it and say you have the skills!

  17. Cinnamon Biscuit*

    Are the hiring managers on this blog suggesting that a skills section be removed? What if they are relevant and qualified such as Excel (advanced including macros)?

    Honestly curious.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Can you include any macro writing you did under the appropriate section under Work Experience?

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      I like to see skills included on resumes in some way – either a skills section or embedded under jobs held. That choice really depends on the applicant’s career history and experience. If they’ve held four very similar jobs with similar skill usage and experience, I’d rather see one combined skill section than see the same skills repeated under each of the jobs held. But if their jobs have differed in skills experience – or better yet, there’s a clear skill advancement – I’d rather see the skills experience specified for each job.

      And p.s., the only time I want to see Excel listed is if there is mention of macros, pivot tables, and other advanced skills.

  18. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

    I know Alison said not to move your skills section, and I’m sure she’s way more knowledgeable about this than I am so take this as you will. But, I found moving the skills section to the top of my resume to be enormously helpful. I have a background in education and wanted to move into a tech field. On the surface my job experience doesn’t look tech related at all, but technology enablement has been a big part of many of my positions. I did what Alison suggests by putting bullets in my work experience to describe these things. But I had the most success once I moved my skills secion up (just under a highlights section) and titled it Technical Competencies instead of skills. I just listed the most advanced technical skills I had and left off anything average.

    Once I did that I got a lot more interest from tech jobs and in interviews they were always impressed by my strong technical skill set. I was eventually hired by a global software company. In my opinion, I do think it can be helpful to put it towards the top.

    1. OP*

      The jobs I’m mostly going after these days want to see more skills that are covered by my work history. I’m not actually in a very technical field. So I’m trying out Allison’s advice and adding a couple of volunteer positions to my work history where I get to talk about editing. (Also my teaching section just got a little more impressive now that “Intermediate fluency in Spanish” from Skills just got upgraded to “Taught biology in Spanish and translated reading materials for ESL students” in a job bullet point.)

      You raise a good point about listing advanced skills. I think within the video production field, listing use of Adobe Premiere is about as impressive as saying you know how to use MS Word. On-the-job context is making everything sound better.

    2. Melissa*

      That’s really helpful advice – I’m trying to transition from academia into tech, and I’ll definitely consider that move. Right now my skills are after my work experience, but I’m trying to break into a specific area in tech that I have considerable skill in, so i want people to see it.

  19. YandO*

    I am all sorts of confused now.

    I thought job description was for highlighting accomplishments, not the things that you’ve done on daily basis. Skills section is to list technical skills you have.

    At this point, I am realizing that I can’t make a hiring manager happy no matter what I do. So, to heck with it. I will make a resume that I *want* to read and let the chips fall where they may.

    1. fposte*

      It’s not about making a hiring manager happy, though; it’s about what the best way is to showcase what you can offer.

      Skills sections have their place, but that place isn’t universal. Some jobs are technical, and checking off fairly objective skills is useful for the hiring manager; they don’t need to look through the work history to find what tools you’ve used and to what end. But a lot of jobs aren’t technical, and when we hire for those we’re not usually looking for the kind of skills you can check off; we *want* the context so we know where you were handling the cashflow and negotiating with vendors, say. That doesn’t mean that a skills section is going to piss me off; it’s just not where I’m going to look for my important information.

      1. YandO*

        ok, I get that

        I am just overwhelmed with the contradictory advice from so many people on resumes and cover letters.

        It seems to me that at the end of the day people get jobs breaking all those rules and have a hard time even if they follow them. The job-candidate combination is unique to every scenario, so I am getting to a point where I don’t care about the rules anymore.

        I guess, when I started this process I was a fish out of the water because I could not trust my instinct. Now, I am just going to go with my gut and hope for the best.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I can see it can be disheartening. But I think that’s one of those “consider your source” and “know your field” things. There really isn’t advice that will be true for everyone everywhere applying for every job.

      2. themmases*

        I use a software section rather than a skills section for this reason. Impressive stuff that is not technical or objective, I find a way to weave it into a description of my job or accomplishments. If I know how to use a piece of software, I just list it. If I’m good with one important component but know there are others, I put that component in parentheses.

        1. Melissa*

          That’s basically what my skills section is right now: the statistical software I know how to use and the statistical techniques I know.

  20. CAA*

    How long is your resume? If the skills section is at the end of the 3rd page (or later), people might not be reading that far and it could be an indication that your resume is too long.

    That said, I also agree with other commenters that if you’re looking for a tech job, the Skills section usually appears on the first page, between Summary and Experience. If it takes more than 25% of the vertical space on the first page, it’s too long.

    I just did a quick check of the resumes that are currently in my “software devs” pile, and here’s what I see (these all come from outside recruiters, so they tend to force some similarity of formatting on their candidates):
    – 3 pages, no skills section, each job has “skills used:” bullet
    – 1 page, new grad, skills at the top of page 1
    – 1.8 pages, skills on pg 1, 25% of page
    – 2 pages, skills on pg 1, 25% of page
    – 5 pages, skills on pg 1, 30% of page
    – 9 pages, skills on pg1, 50% of page (above skills is Technical Summary, there are no jobs listed on page 1!)
    – 4 pages, skills on pg1 & pg2, taking up about 20% of each page, no jobs listed on page 1
    – 5 pages, skills on pg 1, 40% of page
    – 4 pages, skills on pg 1, 50% of page

    Yes, I get long, poorly written resumes. Sometimes I read this blog and fantasize about all the well crafted, easy-to-read resumes other managers must be getting.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        Why, everything! Every. Single. Twitch. Since. Entering. The. Work. Force.

      2. CAA*

        Detailed work history since 1997. This person is not from the U.S, so it’s possible that this is a cultural difference. There’s nothing actually inappropriate, just way too much of it. Also, this is not the longest resume I’ve ever received. I think that one was about 15 pages.

          1. jag*

            It’s sounds like a CV – a document describing an entire work history – rather than a resume.

              1. Melissa*

                Or if they’re coming from academia and don’t realize that they are supposed to change it for the non-academic market. Or both.

      1. CAA*

        I’m filling multiple positions, so these are the ones I hired or am in the process of hiring:
        – 3 pages, no skills section, each job has “skills used:” bullet
        – 2 pages, skills on pg 1, 25% of page
        – 4 pages, skills on pg 1, 50% of page

        oh and one that hadn’t made it to my folder yet, but is getting an offer
        – 2.5 pages, skills on page 3, just 2 bullets that are not related to technology

    1. OP*

      I can’t believe you got so many that are 4+ pages! Mine is 2 pages, and I list it 2nd to last, just above education – <20% of the page. I've done a lot of temporary jobs and made a couple of career changes since entering the workforce, so customizing my resume is a constant balancing act: omitting enough things to make my resume relevant to the job while still avoiding apparent employment gaps.

      1. CAA*

        Sounds like your length is fine.

        For tech jobs, getting very long resumes from international candidates is really common. I very rarely read past the 3rd page because the relevance of the info drops off so rapidly, so it’s not actually helping them to submit these huge documents.

  21. AnotherFed*

    I like the skills section, but most of my hiring is new college grads in science, engineering, and math. For them, it’s a great place to tell me which programming languages, software development environments, CAD software, and modeling and simulation software tools they know how to use.

  22. OP*

    Thanks to Alison for printing my letter and to everyone here for weighing in – it was especially helpful to see input from people who make hiring decisions. (And comforting to see that I can rest easy with my decision to leave MS Office stuff out of my resume.) It was also interesting to see the skills specificity logistics as they played out for the Student [of physics?] – I used to work in biotech and always wondered about the appropriate amount/type of lab skills to list.

    I’m taking Alison and other hiring managers’ advice, and adding skills into existing job duties when I can, and adding a couple of volunteer listings (where I’ve edited) to be able to cover more ground.

  23. random person*

    Academic CV including everything the person has ever done? (I just finished my PhD and my CV is already 5 pages. My resume is 2. Not everyone knows there is a difference – I only had a resume until most of the way through grad school.)

    1. Melissa*

      Yeah, same – my CV is 5 pages, but I didn’t make a resume until I got near the end of graduate school and applied for a few non-academic internships. I just made a new one because I’m now applying for non-academic jobs.

  24. Kala*

    I also do tech interviews, and I was surprised how many candidates list skills that they haven’t worked with in years, or have no practical experience with.

    At this point, I glance at the skills section, ask them which their main skills are, and then direct my questions that way. It sounds like your interviewers are giving you a chance to bring up the skills that you have, and that your skills section may be helpful in getting you past the resume filtering process to the point where you are speaking with an actual person.

  25. Technical Editor*

    In my field, not having a Skills section is a great way to get your resume thrown out. The hiring managers in my field that I’ve spoken with want (or are trained to look for) proficiency in a very specific set of tools. I think the Skills section (at the top or at least on the first page) is the easiest way to present this information so the hiring manager doesn’t have to scour Every. Single. Bullet in order to find this information. In our field, “Don’t make me think” (and, depending on the product “Don’t make me read”) is the mantra we live by, and it applies to both end-users and hiring managers.

  26. Hooligan*

    I’ve found that employers don’t read resumes period – or forget the info. I was job searching early in my career, and an employer asked me when I’m graduating. I was like, uh, I already graduated 9 months ago and I’m working full time. I ended up getting the job, and loving it. Sometime people even forget what was said in an interview. I had two interviews with my current manager, with a 2 month time gap in between interviews. I just repeated a lot of the information from the first interview in the second. My managers competent – but she just didn’t remember. So I never assume anyone interviewing me remembers anything in my resume or cover letter when we interview. In way, it’s a relief. I don’t need to come up with a whole new set of information to talk about. I just talk through what’s in my cover letter and resume and expand upon it.

    1. penny*

      But remember, this could be your only interview while your interviewer has looked through tons of resumes and done many interviews. People can get mixed up. Or it may be on purpose. Sometimes I ask the same questions because it illicits different or more in depth answers if I ask again or with different wording or maybe I didn’t have time to ask follow up questions the first time.

      I always read the skills section because it’s usually relevant to the job, but be prepared to answer questions about those skill sets. And I agree to only put technical/software skills, not subjective ones. Communication and customer service skills are different to everyone.

  27. Meg*

    When you’re trying to highlight specific skills versus the job experience, definitely put it at the top. My resume flows like this:

    – Contact info (in a header, so if it’s 2 pages, my contact info is on both pages, plus using the header function in word processors utilizes some of the top margin room, leaving you more room on your page for more information)
    – Short profile summary
    – Skills (in a three-column table – my skills are broken up into three categories – programming languages, tools/software, methodologies [my field cares if you know TDD or BDD, Agile/Scrum, RWD, OOP, etc])
    – Work Experience (how I used those skills + outcomes of my efforts)
    – Related Projects (I’m a programmer, so I have other projects to showcase my skills outside of my work experience)
    – Education (I leave mine off completely now with my latest resume – I only listed the school and the major, since between my skills, work experience, and project, no one cares that I didn’t graduate from college, and it fills two pages quite neatly without it now)

    My resume kinda shoves it down your throat that I’m a programmer and there isn’t any ambiguity in what I do for a living by looking at it. I would say it’s specifically tailored for each position I apply for, but I rarely make changes between applications. If the employer was looking for a skill (in the ad) that isn’t covered on my resume, or they focus on one particular skill in general, I will tailor it to make that skill more prominent in the resume – mention it in the profile section, mention in the skills, mention it in the work history.

  28. HAnon*

    Of note: the skills section is more of an opportunity to use relevant keywords related to a job description when applying online. The parsing programs have different sections that they will read for keyword content that matches the job description, so it’s a good way to reiterate your match for the position to the computer so it doesn’t throw your resume out because there aren’t enough keywords to match.

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