Complete Guide To Skills Section Writing

While often times the very last thing included on a resume, the added skills section is one of the most confusing elements and is all too often written more as an after thought.

This absolutely should not be the case. Ever square centimeter of space on a resume is valuable real estate and should be filled with strenuously thought out information designed to land the writer an interview.

While the career objective or professional summary are the opening act and start the resume off with a bang, the skills section at the bottom of the resume is the closer and will be the last thing the HR or hiring manager reads.

For this reason it’s important to get it right in order to leave a lasting impression.

In the guide below we outline everything a job hunter needs to know when writing their own resume. The tips and strategies advised below are the result of years of experience working in the HR world and are proven with real world experience.

What Is a Skills Section Exactly?

First off, let us define an “additional skills” section. The most direct definition used by HRs and resume writers is:

An element of a resume utilized in including additional skills, certifications, knowledge or experience that is relevant to the job being applied to yet was not included in previous work experience or educational sections.

This critical resume element is too often used just to fill space. Not paying appropriate attention to this element means lost space and ultimately a weaker resume compared to competition that put both time and effort in crafting an impactful skills section.

There are a few variants of the traditional additional skills section that we will include in this guide because they share the exact same purpose and format. These “brothers and sisters” of the additional skills section include but are not limited to:

Additional Awards/Achievements

Instead of listing more broad and relatively vague “skills” the achievements or awards section is a place specifically designed to highlight official recognition for achievements.

Below is an example of an awards section:

sample of awards section

This section is most often found in either entry level candidates who because they lack real world work experience are better suited to highlight academic or extracurricular achievements/awards or senior level candidates with industry recognition to note.

Technical Skills

Technical skills replace the more generalized additional skills for more technical professions including engineering, development work, sales and business management.

Many employers utilize very complicated and expensive enterprise level software so including experience with things like Hubspot, Adobe, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM or SAP solutions can mean saving days worth of training that would come with an applicant/new hire without said skills.

Below is an example of a technical skills section:

example of technical skills section

Technical skills are also highly valuable for coding and development work as there are dozens of different languages and programming scripts that companies will seek out in applicants.

Listing programming skills like Java, Python, C, Ruby, Javascript, C#, PHP, Objective-C, SQL and the like not only make it very clear to employers your established skills set but also make it easy for applicant tracking systems to pick out keywords when processing applications.

Training & Certifications

Having specific health, safety or other industry training is highly valued by hiring companies as they increase the value of the applicant since they don’t have to spend more time and money training them on necessary equipment and certifications.

Below is an example of a real world training and certifications section:

training and certifications example

Most fields in which there is any level of danger will value safety certifications. From OSHA training to basic CPR, communicating you are a safe employee will increase your stock with companies looking for reliable long-term human capital investments.

What is the Purpose of a Skills Section?

The purpose of the additional skills and certifications section is twofold.

First, as mentioned in the definition, it is designed as a catch-all for relevant skills that for one reason or another did not fit in the career objective, professional experience, or educational sections.

Second, besides the functional role of providing space for details that didn’t fit in above sections the additional skills section is an opportunity to augment previously mentioned skills and experiences.

For example, if at a previous work experience you had experience with basic HTML or perhaps Salesforce software, however the job title was not sales or coding specific so you didn’t mention it in the bullet points under the employment history section, you could easily put these skills in an additional skills section to augment the resume as a whole.

Proper Length & Formatting

Additional skills sections can actually vary quite a bit in terms of length depending on the experience level of the applicant, the industry in which the applicant is working as well as what types of skills and training are covered.

The format of this section is pretty simple, with a title that communicates what is listed (additional skills vs. awards & achievements vs. technical skills vs. training and certifications), followed by a series of more descriptive bullet points.

Depending on industry and experience level, most of these sections should be limited to 4-8 bullet points, with 8 being more common for technical skills sections, and 4 points being more common for a standard additional skills section.

You can also just list out skills separated by commas instead of doing a column style bulleted list. Both formats are completely acceptable, although the comma separated list will save space compared to a bulleted list.

How to Write Your Own Additional Skills

Writing this section requires a unique perspective even though the formatting makes it one of the simpler elements of the resume.

The best process for writing a skills section that impresses and closes the resume with a grand finale includes the following parts:

Reflect the  Job Description (quote listed skills from job posting)

Before you start writing anything take a look at the job posting for the position you are applying to. Most all job postings will list both “desired” and “required” skills, often in convenient bullet point lists.

The required skills are the most important and should be incorporated into the work experience and educational sections in the body of the resume. If for some reason they can’t all fit in the body they can be included in the additional skills section.

Also, as a supplement, it is advisable to select a few bullet points from the “desired skills” section and include them as well.

It is of critical importance that each resume be customized to reflect the specific needs of each individual employer in which the resume is sent. Yes, this means each resume you send out should be different from the last.

This process takes longer but has a much higher success rate than sending the same generic resume to every open position.

Once you’ve made sure you have all the required elements included, or if you for some reason the employer does not list skills in their job posting, you can move on to the brainstorm phase.

Brainstorm process (mix in unique skills)

You will not want to reflect the skills listed in the job posting 100% as it will be obvious you are just reflecting their job posting back to them.

Instead you will want to sprinkle in some skills that you think make you stand out from other candidates. This will require a little brainstorming.

Instead of writing whatever pops into your head as you are writing your resume, take a piece of paper and a pen/pencil and sit down and recollect each one of your professional experiences.

Try to recall what made you unique over your coworkers, or what on the job skills you were most commended for by management.

Sprinkle in a few of these unique skills, mixed with skills listed in the job posting, in roughly a 60/40 or 70/30 split between “listed desired skills/unique non-listed skills”.

Do all of this and you will have a skills section that both answers the essential questions HR professionals look for to screen qualified applicants as well as leave a lasting impression as a truly unique applicant worthy of an interview and further screening.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Now that you know exactly what to write, how to write it and how it should look we will cover some of the most common mistakes people make when writing their own skills sections from scratch.

Being Too lengthy

The number one most common mistake when writing an additional skills section is making the entire segment too long.

Additional skills comprise a supplementary element to your resume. As mentioned above it includes information that A. did not fit in the above experience sections and B. add unique variety that may help you stand out from other applicants.

The additional skills section is NOT a place to list achievement-oriented experiences. The appropriate section for that is the professional experience section.

Keep your skills section limited to 4-8 bullet points or skills, depending on the industry and your experience level. The sections total length should never eclipse any given work experience section length.

Being Too Generic/Vague

The second most common mistake is writing an overly generic skills section with a whole bunch of vague skills like “communication” that don’t give the reader any real useful information on the applicant.

Generic and vague bullet points/skills usually only happen when people either copy unprofessional samples from the web or write their resume in a hurry without stopping to think exactly what it is the employer is seeking in a candidate.

While tossing in a bunch of vague skills may make a resume “look” more complete at a quick glance, the fluff will ultimately detract from the overall potency of the document once the reader gets to the end.

Furthermore, as the skills section is often the closer for most resumes, including generic and vague skills will only ensure you are remembered as a generic and vague applicant, which is obviously not a desirable outcome.

Including Too Many Soft Skills

Similar to having too many generic and vague skills, having too many soft skills also leave the reader confused about what exactly makes an applicant a perfect fit for the position.

Soft skills like “problem solving” and “communication skills” are all too often encouraged by low-quality resume writing companies as a way to make an applicant seem more attractive. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Sure, there are instances when specific soft skills are highly desired and should be listed. For example, if working in customer service having great verbal and written communication skills will be great for a person spending a lot of time answer customer phone calls and replying to customer emails.

But all too often including things like “team player” or “problem solving” do nothing to increase the overall quality of the resume as these skills are so soft, so basic, that most employers simply expect them to be givens.

Think about it…what company wants to hire a person incapable of solving problems? Not many.

For this reason, while one or two may be acceptable depending on the industry, it is better to focus on “hard” skills, skills which can be deployed and result in real ROI, rather than obtuse soft skills that are impossible to quantify and thus place a value on.

Alternatives to Additional Skills

Sometimes an additional skills section just won’t work. For example, professionals who work in academics will instead of a publications and references section.

As mentioned previously, more technical oriented professions will have technical skills sections that focus on things like software and industry-specific requirements.

Executive level candidates will forgo the additional skills section altogether as it key skills will instead be listed as achievements at the top of the resume in an executive summary or professional summary.

Certifications and training replace additional skills for professions that require equipment operation or include hazardous working environments.

It is critical to match the appropriately corresponding skills section to the profession in which you operate.

If you’ve adequately described your key achievements in your work experience section and your resume fills up a page then you can skip the section altogether since it is supplementary in nature.

Summary & Review

In review, it should be abundantly clear now both the importance of a well-written skills section as well as how a job hunter may go about the process of composing one themselves.

Your resume can mean the difference between getting the job or not, which, if it turns into a lifelong career, could mean the difference of making millions of dollars of said career or making nothing.

Don’t skimp on resume writing. Take the time to craft a document you can be proud of, that will leave zero doubts in your mind upon submission to an employer.

Always put your best foot forward, starting with a cover letter and concluding with a descriptive, constructive and industry-relevant skills section.

Still have questions? Let us know in the comments below or in our Community Help section!