Experience vs. Skills: What's the Difference?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published October 21, 2021

One element of applying for a job includes writing a resume and cover letter that show you can successfully handle the role's responsibilities. To do this, it's important to talk about your experience and skills, and although they're both used frequently in resumes and cover letters, there are distinctions between the two. Understanding the differences between your experience and skills can help you format your resume to best display your qualifications to employers. In this article, we discuss what experience and skills are, explore their differences, provide templates and examples for each and list some tips to guide you.

What is experience?

Experience is a section you can add to your resume where you list any work experience you may have that's relevant to the job for which you're applying. In this section, you list your place of employment, your position, the dates you worked and a brief description of your work responsibilities. Explaining your work experience to a hiring manager is important because it illustrates your qualifications and shows your ability to do the job well.

You can also explain your work experience in a cover letter. Cover letters are a good place to elaborate more thoroughly on your qualifications because it's done in a paragraph format rather than a bulleted list. You can describe specific instances of relevant work you've completed in similar positions and mention significant achievements that showcase your efforts in past roles.

Related: Listing Professional Experience on Your Resume

What are skills?

Skills are abilities and knowledge you've gained that allow you to perform an action or interact well with others. You can discuss your skills in both your resume and cover letter to showcase your abilities relating to the job. On a resume, you can present your skills as a bulleted list in a separate section, and then you can explain them in more detail in paragraph form in your cover letter. Examples of skills include:

  • Computer skills

  • Communication skills

  • Problem-solving skills

  • Customer service skills

Related: Skills Recruiters Look For in Resumes

Experience vs. skills

Both experience and skills are sections that many candidates add to their resumes. Knowing the distinctions between the two may help you create a better resume and increase your chances of getting selected for an interview. Some differences between experience and skills on a resume include:

Types

There are a few types of experience you can add to your resume, depending on whether you're applying for a position in a new career field or looking for a job where you've had similar roles. Here are a few types of work experience you might include:

  • Work history: If you've had jobs comparable to the one you're applying for, it's ideal to include your past work history in the experience section of your resume. Usually, you put your most recent job first, followed by the one you had prior and so on.

  • Internships: If you have little or no professional work experience for the position, you can include any internship experience you have that shows you're familiar with working in a similar environment.

  • Volunteer work: You can also add volunteering experience that relates to the position. This can demonstrate your willingness to learn and familiarize yourself in the career field.

There are two types of skills you can use in your resume or cover letter:

  • Hard skills: Hard skills include the technical or learned knowledge gained by education, past jobs or life experience. Some examples including typing 100 words per minute or speaking more than one language.

  • Soft skills: These are habits or personal traits that have impacted how you work by yourself and with other people. They include abilities such as people skills, time management skills and organizational skills.

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Purpose for resumes

The purpose of including an experience section in your resume is that it can show an employer that you've done similar work in the past and that you've performed the job consistently in other roles. In contrast, if you have little prior experience but possess a combination of hard and soft skills related to the position, many hiring managers may still be interested in hiring you. Listing skills can highlight the unique talents you can bring to the company.

Resume placement

Where you choose to place the skills section and experience section on your resume varies depending on a few factors. If you have some prior work experience in a similar role, you can place your experience section before your skills because employers typically like to know that you have work experience similar to the job for which you're applying.

If you're applying for a position and don't have a lot of experience to include, you may want to begin with the skills section first. Your skills can showcase the abilities you do have that make you qualified for the position.

Related: 7 Types of Resumes To Use in Your Job Search

Templates for experience vs. skills

Here are some templates you can use for the experience or skills section of your resume:

Experience template

There are a few items typically included in the experience section of a resume. You can begin with the title of the position you're referencing. Under the title, you can add the name of the business, followed by the dates you worked there. Below that, you can write three to five bullet points discussing some of your daily activities in that role that are relevant to the position you want.

Here's a sample template you can use in the experience section of your resume:

Experience
[Job title]
[Name of business organization]
[Dates of employment]

  • [Relevant daily task or experience related to new role 1]

  • [Relevant daily task or experience related to new role 2]

  • [Relevant daily task or experience related to new role 3]

Skills template

A skills section generally includes a bulleted list of four to six hard and soft skills relating to the position. Here's a sample template of the skills section of a resume:

Skills

  • [Soft or hard skill 1]

  • [Soft or hard skill 2]

  • [Soft or hard skill 3]

  • [Soft or hard skill 4]

Related: Steps and Tips for Developing Your Soft Skills

Examples for experience vs. skills

Below are some examples of what experience and skills look like on a resume:

Experience example

Here's an example of a job in a work experience section on a teacher's resume:

Experience
Eighth grade ELA teacher
Jones High School
July 2017–June 2020

  • Provided rigorous differentiated instruction for students at different learning levels

  • Raised student state exam scores by 13% in the 2019 school year

  • Designed curriculum for all eighth grade ELA teachers

Skills example

Here's an example of a skills section on a teacher's resume:

Skills

  • Student-centered learning

  • Classroom management

  • Teamwork and collaboration

  • Critical thinking skills

Tips for using experience vs. skills on your resume

Here are some strategies you might want to use to distinguish your experience from others:

  • Use specific instances. Try listing specific examples where your work brought a favorable outcome for yourself or the company.

  • Include quantifiable results. Use numbers in your experience, such as, "increased the company's overall fourth quarter revenue by 17%." This shows hiring managers your personal accomplishments.

  • Use action words. Choose your action words carefully, like using the word "consulted" instead of the word "talked." They can positively affect the way a hiring manager views your resume.

Here are some tips that can help strengthen your skills section on your resume:

  • Match your skills to the job listing. Some hiring managers choose candidates by using applicant tracking systems. These systems scan resumes to determine which applicants have mentioned similar strengths as the skills mentioned in the job listing.

  • Add your skills to the experience section. If your skills list seems encouraging to the hiring manager, they may want to see that you have used some of those skills in past positions. You can elaborate on this by mentioning them in your experience section as well.

  • Include multiple skills sections. If you have less work experience, you can create multiple sections to highlight your skills. You can divide them into sections such as "hard skills" and "soft skills" to show employers your personal abilities and skills you've learned.

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