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How to Decide What Skills to Put on a Resume

And how to show, not just tell, the reader you possess them

Engineer at work
Image courtesy of This is Engineering RAEng

The goal of a resume is to highlight your value as a candidate, but how do you know exactly what a recruiter or hiring manager is looking for? And how do you best demonstrate the skills, both hard and soft, your potential employer is looking for? 

What skills are employers looking for?

The job you’re applying for will largely determine what skills an employer will look for on your resume. The best way to choose which of your skills to include is to closely read the job description to see what hard and soft skills the job requires. 

Hard skills are ones that can be easily taught, measured, and documented, like proficiency in a coding language, the ability to use a software, or even holding a certification or license. 

Soft skills are your more fluid skills, like communication, negotiation, adaptability, leadership, and management. Unlike hard skills, they’re not typically quantifiable, so they’re a little bit harder to show on your resume.

Popular skills

There are some widely coveted skills many employers seek out.

Problem solving

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 81 percent of respondents noted that they look to see problem-solving skills represented on a candidate’s resume. Problem solving may be reflected on your resume in a variety of ways, like resolving a complex financial issue or inventory discrepancies in a warehouse, or reworking a project to meet a client’s change in preferences. 


In 2020, many companies that previously focused on in-person workplace culture shifted to remote work, and many workers have been laid off. Amidst uncertainty, the ability to learn new skills and adapt based on an ever-shifting landscape has become more important than ever. 


According to a study done by The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), “collaboration is highly correlated with market performance,” and organizations that encourage and reward teams for collaboration often see strong employee performance. 


Leadership is another key skill to highlight if you can. Depending on the job you are applying to, leadership may be a small or large aspect of it, which will determine how much you should highlight this skill on your document. If you are applying for a managerial role, you may have to lead teams, whereas in a freelance position, you may lead your own projects according to client specifications.

Other common soft skills that employers look for across industries include:      

How do you decide which skills to include on your resume? 

The best way to decide which skills to put on a resume is to review the job description of the position you’re applying for and integrate those keywords into your resume. Whenever skills are listed in the job description, the hiring manager or recruiter will likely keyword search resumes to see which candidates hold those skills.

Many job descriptions will have a “required qualifications” section that lists software proficiencies, certifications, and other hard skills needed to effectively carry out the job. Some will have a “preferred/required experience” section that lists soft skills like team management or project management experience.  

For example, if a job description notes that the candidate should be familiar with Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, and InDesign, and those are hard skills you have, you should include them on your resume. 

When considering which skills to put on a resume, it’s extremely important that you don’t assume anything. One of the biggest mistakes that many candidates make is assuming that the reader will know they possess a certain skill. With so many applicants applying to each job opening, the recruiter or hiring manager may not even read your resume before keyword searching it, and if the correct keywords or skills don’t come up on their search, you might lose out on the opportunity.

How do you list hard skills on a resume? 

The best way to integrate hard skills into your resume is to include a skills matrix toward the top of the document. A skills matrix is a visual tool to highlight a candidate’s skills. This list usually uses bullet points to list out hard skills such as software and phrases like “event planning” or “worker’s compensation.”


Fluent in Farsi

Proficient in Quickbooks and Concur

Certified Payroll Specialist (since 2014) 

The skills matrix should go under the resume summary (a more modern and effective version of an “objective”) and before your career history. This will allow you to integrate essential keywords into the top third of the document, which is where readers focus most. That way, when someone does keyword search your resume, they come across the required hard skills immediately.

A great way to demonstrate hard skills is to include continuing education classes you’ve taken on your resume. The name of the course will add keywords and hard skills to your document. 

Relevant coursework

Machine learning by Stanford University, via Coursera, 2019

Data engineering with Google Cloud, professional certificate, via Coursera, 2020

“Jobs and skills are rapidly changing and it’s crucial to always be learning and staying ahead,” Reggie Hanson, a customer success manager at LinkedIn, explains. “Taking advantage of any opportunity to hone a new skill or advance another puts you in a great position to consistently cultivate a growth mindset.”

Read more: 8 Tech Courses We’re Taking to Level Up Our Skills

How do you show your soft skills on a resume? 

If a job description asks for a detail-oriented candidate, don’t list the term “detail oriented” on your resume. Instead, show how you are detail oriented by customizing your resume to the job description you’re applying to. 

There are all kinds of soft skills a potential employer may want to see on your resume, and a long list of skills you may possess, but here are three examples of how to demonstrate your soft skills on your resume.


To highlight collaboration skills on your resume, articulate how you have worked with others to achieve a common goal. You might discuss working with teammates, how you rallied other members of your community, or even how you collaborated with clients to bring their visions into reality. The more examples you can provide to illustrate your collaboration, the better.

Collaboration consultant Baily Hancock advises: “If you worked with colleagues or coworkers to complete a project, launch a new offering, organize and execute a meeting or event, or any other task that involved you collaborating with others to succeed, you can highlight it on your resume by saying something like, ‘Worked cross-departmentally with colleagues to plan and implement _____ in a highly-collaborative capacity.’"


Share any projects you’ve led, initiatives you’ve spearheaded, or people you’ve managed. (Be sure to quantify wherever possible!) 

Note that this does not have to be in a professional capacity. If you organized a social justice effort, include information about how you guided outreach. And when highlighting leadership, it’s important to show results. If you coached a team, note what the team achieved. For example, you could say: “Clarified advocacy strategy and organized an event supporting [initiative] that generated regional media coverage.”

Problem solving

For an easy way to put together your thoughts and gather information about what problems you’ve solved and how you solved them, use the STAR method (situation, task, action, and result) for yourself. You can then use this information to highlight problem-solving on your resume, or even clearly depict this information during an interview.

For example, you might say: “Designed and implemented a program to onboard new marketing hires more quickly. Reduced onboarding time by 30 percent, and my plan was adopted company-wide.”

Read more: 7 Brain-Teaser Interview Questions & How to Ace the Answers

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