Hard skills vs. soft skills
Employers are looking to hire employees who have the right mix of two different types of skills: Soft skills and hard skills.
Hard skills are abilities specific to the job and/or industry. Generally, these are more technical skills you learn in school, certification programs, training materials or experience on the job. Hard skills might include proficiency in things like:
- Foreign languages
- Operating certain equipment or machinery
Soft skills, on the other hand, are abilities that can be applied in any job. Often, soft skills may be referred to as “people skills” or “social skills” and include proficiency in things like:
- Customer service
- Time management
Hard skills are usually teachable while soft skills are typically personality traits much harder to develop, and therefore extremely valuable to employers. In most cases, your soft skills can enhance your hard skills. For example, if you’re a detail-oriented software developer skilled in a computer programming language, you’ll likely be able to catch errors and correct issues in the code you and your team create.
As a job seeker, it’s important to highlight your best hard and soft skills to position yourself as a well-rounded candidate. It’s also helpful to consider how the two types of skills relate to one another and the job so you can speak to this in your next interview.
To learn more, visit Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills.
How to identify your best skills
If you’re not sure which skills you want to share, consider your previous experiences. Where did you excel? Where would your peers say you’re especially practiced? Here are a few ways to determine good skills to put on a resume:
- Consider your awards and achievements
Did you ever receive recognition for meeting a particular objective or excelling in a specific area? If so, your skills likely assisted you in reaching this achievement. Consider what personal talents or attributes helped you meet that milestone.
- Ask former coworkers or fellow students
Sometimes others can help note strengths you may not recognize yourself. Reach out to a former manager or colleagues who worked closely with you. If you’re new to the professional world, reach out to students you worked with, teachers who know you well or someone you consider a mentor.
- Talk to professionals in the field
If you’re having a difficult time determining what skills an employer may want to see, consider contacting a professional already working in the industry or position similar to the one you’re applying for. Find out what skills they consider most important, and identify which align with your own.
When creating a list of skills for your resume, only include those you know to be your strengths. If there’s something you’re still learning, don’t feel pressured to include it because it appears in the job posting. If the employer mentions a skill you didn’t include during the interview process, you can discuss how you’re working to learn or improve for the role.
Related: Interview Question: “What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?”
How to list skills on your resume
Review the job description and research the company
Though you may have several different areas of strength, include only those that are relevant to the job. Recruiters often have limited time when reviewing resumes, so it’s best to keep your skills section specific and concise. Once you move on to the interview phase, you’ll have the opportunity to elaborate on additional skills not mentioned on your resume.
Start by reviewing the job description and making note of any required skills or abilities that match your own. In addition to job requirements, consider the description of the company and its culture.
For example, a job description for a medical assistant may require proficiency in electronic medical records software and scheduling programs. It may also share that the company values teamwork and patient satisfaction. In this case, the best skills to put on a resume might include the following:
- Electronic medical records (EMR) systems
- Patient scheduling software
- Team leadership
- Interpersonal communication
- Customer service
If you don’t see any clues about company culture listed in the job description, check out Indeed Company Pages or review the employer’s website for additional information.
Decide on a skills section format
You have several options when deciding where you should list skills on your resume:
- List your skills on a functional resume. This option is good for people changing careers or those with little or no professional experience.
- List your skills in a separate skills section. This option is good for those who have extensive experience but want to clearly highlight specific skills or qualifications that set them apart.
- Weave your skills into your professional experience section. No matter how you decide to list skills on your resume, you should include keywords from the job description when listing previous experience.
Let’s take a closer looks at each of these options as you decide which is best for your background.
1. List your skills on a functional resume.
If you are changing careers or industries and do not have extensive professional experience, you might decide to feature them at the top of your resume. This type of resume is called a functional resume.
To include skills on a functional resume, you should create skill sections that lists your successes with key skills relevant to the position for which you’re applying. Any professional experience you do have should go below your skills section.
Here’s an example of how to list skills on a functional resume:
Created customer service email scripts used across the company to interact with customers. Single-handedly created customer service representative training manual, reducing on-boarding process from 8 to 6 weeks. Reduced average customer representative call time by 90 seconds with intuitive online training
Answered an average 50+ calls per day from unsatisfied customers related to delays in shipment, order mistakes and lost orders. Achieved 97% average customer satisfaction rating, surpassing team goal by 12%.
Consistently exceeded application targets by 10%+ with innovative up-selling techniques. Pioneered development of improved system for following up with unsatisfied customers, reducing customer churn by 6%.
2. List your skills in a separate skills section.
If you want to support your professional experience with skills that are required by or relevant to the employer, you could include a separate skills section that highlights keywords from the job description. If you have extensive professional experience, your job history section should be highlighted as the first thing employers see. You can list additional skills in a separate section at or near the bottom of your resume.
Here is an example skills section for a payroll specialist:
Relevant skills: Mastery of Quicken and Quickbooks, employee benefits administration, new hire onboarding, multistate payroll, employee relations.
3. Weave your skills into your professional experience section.
While many job seekers may list skills in a separate section of their resume, it’s also important to weave them into descriptions under each of your previous positions. This is where you have an opportunity to strengthen your skills section with additional context and specific examples.
For example, if you include the skills “project management” and “time management,” you could illustrate this by providing a real-life example, like: “Successfully managed six projects across three separate teams during the first half of 2018, and delivered all completed items by the deadlines.”
Example skills to put on a resume
While you can often easily determine hard skills to list based on details in the job description, selecting relevant soft skills is not always as clear. To help narrow down which soft skills to put on a resume, review the various duties of the position and determine which of your personal strengths will help you successfully complete those tasks.
Related Article: 139 Action Verbs to Make Your Resume Stand Out
Here are several examples of popular soft and hard skills employers may be seeking:
1. Active listening skills
Active listening is the ability to focus completely on a speaker, understand their message, comprehend the information and respond thoughtfully. Active listeners use verbal and non-verbal techniques to show and keep their attention on the speaker. Developing and using active listening skills can show your colleagues that you engaged and have interest in the project or task at hand.
Related listening skills include:
- Asking questions
- Verbal/Non-verbal communication
To learn more, visit Active Listening Skills: Definitions and Examples.
2. Communication skills
Communication skills are abilities you use when giving and receiving different kinds of information. Some examples include communicating ideas, feelings or what’s happening around you. Communication skills involve listening, speaking, observing and empathizing. Having strong communication skills is important in every industry at every career level.
Related communications skills include:
- Active listening
- Constructive criticism
- Interpersonal communication
- Public speaking
- Verbal/Non-verbal communication
- Written communication
To learn more, visit Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples.
3. Computer skills
Computer skills involve the ability to learn and operate various technology. Hardware skills allow you to physically operate a computer, and can be as simple as knowing how to turn devices on and off. Software skills help you to efficiently use computer programs and applications. There are some software skills that employers may consider as prerequisites to employment, like using spreadsheets or knowing a certain coding language.
Related computer skills include:
- Typing/Word processing
- Fluency in coding languages
- Systems administration
- Email management
To learn more, visit Computer Skills: Definitions and Examples.
4. Customer service skills
Customer service skills are traits and practices that help you address customer needs to create a positive experience. In general, customer service skills rely heavily on problem-solving and communication. Customer service is often considered a “soft skill,” including traits like active listening and reading both verbal and nonverbal cues.
Related customer service skills:
- Active listening
- Interpersonal skills
To learn more, visit Customer Service Skills: Definitions and Examples.
5. Interpersonal skills
Interpersonal skills are traits you rely on when you interact and communicate with others. They cover a variety of scenarios where cooperation is essential. Developing interpersonal skills is important to work efficiently with others, solve problems and lead projects or teams.
Related interpersonal skills include:
To learn more, visit Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples.
6. Leadership skills
Leadership skills are skills you use when organizing other people to reach a shared goal. Whether you’re in a management position or leading a project, leadership skills require you to motivate others to complete a series of tasks, often according to a schedule.
Related leadership skills:
- Ability to teach and mentor
- Team building
- Time management
To learn more, visit Leadership Skills: Definitions and Examples.
7. Management skills
Managerial skills are qualities that help you govern both tasks and people. A good manager is organized, empathetic and communicates clearly to support a team or project. Managers should also be adept in both soft skills and certain technical skills related to their industry.
Related management skills:
- Project planning
- Task delegation
- Team communication
- Team leadership
To learn more, visit Management Skills: Definition and Examples.
8. Problem-solving skills
Problem-solving skills are qualities that help you determine the source of a problem and quickly find an effective solution. This skill is highly valued in any role for every industry. Solving problems in your role might require certain industry or job-specific technical skills.
Related problem-solving skills:
- Attention to detail
To learn more, visit Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples.
9. Time management skills
Time management skills allow you to complete tasks and projects before deadlines while also maintaining work-life balance. Staying organized can help you allocate your work day to specific tasks by importance. Deeply understanding your individual, team and company goals can provide a starting point when deciding how to manage your time.
Related time management skills:
- Delegating tasks
- Goal setting
To learn more, visit Time Management Skills: Definitions and Examples.
10. Transferable skills
Transferable skills are qualities that are useful to any employer as you change jobs or careers. Often soft skills, these might include things like flexibility, organization, teamwork or other qualities employers seek in strong candidates. Transferable skills can be used to position your past experience when applying for a new job—especially if it’s in a different industry.
Related transferable skills:
To learn more, visit Transferable Skills: Definitions and Examples.
The best skills to put on a resume vary by job type, career level, education and other factors. For example, the skills most important for a commercial truck driver will differ from those of a marketing manager. Before you apply to any job, take time to review the skills that are most valuable to the employer and tailor your resume based on which of your personal skills fall within their requirements.
The goal of your resume skills list is to show the recruiter or hiring manager that you’re the best candidate for the role and will bring defined value to their team. By paying attention to the type of candidate an employer is looking for and making connections to your own strengths, you can quickly stand among the competition.