How to Highlight the Right Skills in Your Resume


A resume is a document that you use to market yourself to a potential employer. It conveys your interest in a position, sure, but it must also sell a hiring manager on the value you would bring to an organization. As with marketing materials, you only have a few seconds to make a lasting impression.

The key to creating a compelling resume isn’t in your employment history or your education, but in your skills. Here are some helpful tips for highlighting the right skills in your resume.

Highlight the right skills in your resume

Search for Industry-Relevant Keywords

When including skills in your resume, you want to use quick, grabby phrases that stand out to both human hiring managers and artificial intelligence.

Think of it this way: a hiring manager is likely looking at a huge stack of applications. Pre-screening them might be as simple as glancing to see if anything relevant pops out. If not, it’s unlikely that they’ll get put aside for a closer look.

The same theory applies to businesses that use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to facilitate their candidate pre-screening. These tools are set up to find and highlight relevant keywords and use those findings to determine if a human sees the application.

Take some time to peruse through job postings in your resume and take note of any recurring qualifications or phrases. Not only will this exercise give you a better idea of what skills are worth highlighting on your resume, but it will also help direct the language you use to do so.

Use an Eye-Catching Format

Sometimes the thing that catches a hiring manager’s attention isn’t the content of the resume, but the appearance. If your resume is well-structured and visually appealing, it will break up the monotony and warrant a second look.

Use blocks and margins to add dimension to the document, moving away from the simple list structure that was so popular in the past. Pops of color or small, relevant icons can also help break up the text and add white space that encourages a hiring manager to keep reading.

Visual aids can also help draw someone’s eye directly to your skills list. ResumeBuild does this exceptionally well with scaled skills ratings that not only show how comfortable you are with a highlighted skill, but also uses icons to make it easy to digest.

Consider Hard Skills and Soft Skills

Companies are looking beyond the learned skills you possess to other traits that fuel a company culture. That’s why it’s important to list both your hard skills— things like knowing HTML coding or holding a certification— and soft skills.

Soft skills identify how you work, how you interact with others, and what added value you can bring in comparison to someone with the same background. For many hiring managers, soft skills outrank hard skills. In other words, they’d rather hire someone who needs to develop their practice a bit more but would fit well with the team over an expert with poor social skills.

Soft skills can be summarized in the skills section, but should also be used to frame your language throughout the resume. Basic soft skills include teamwork, time management, self-starting, problem-solving, and communication.

So, rather than saying “participated in weekly cross-functional team meetings,” you could highlight your soft skills by saying, “collaborated with cross-functional team during weekly communication meetings to manage productivity and keep timelines moving forward.”

Balance both soft skills and hard skills on your resume  

By including a balance of hard skills and soft skills throughout your resume, you’ll appeal to both human and ATS screening protocols.


Leave Out Irrelevant, Outdated or Expected Skills

Hiring managers are immune to resume fluff. In other words, don’t list skills to fill space or reframe basic skills to sound more impressive. When working with the limited real estate of a resume, leave irrelevant, outdated, and expected skills off of the page.

Irrelevant skills are those that have nothing to do with the career you are applying for. While it’s great that you took a mixology course for bartending to pay your way through college, it’s not going to impress someone who is hiring you as an accountant down the road. Save that skill as a holiday party surprise after you’ve landed the job.

Outdated skills include things that were once considered an asset, but no longer have merit in the modern world. For example, obtaining a certification in Microsoft Access or Project. These were powerful skills in the early 2000s, but are mostly obsolete thanks to cloud technology and remote access. Rather than listing these specific skills, reframe them to show that you have experience with database or project management.

Finally, don’t state the obvious. Some skills are considered expected or standard, and thus not worth listing. Knowing how to use Google Calendar, Microsoft Word, or email is a given.

Be Honest

Be honest about your abilities. If you’re listing something on your resume, it should indicate that you’re comfortable with that skill.

Don’t worry about not having all the skills on a job posting listed on your resume. It’s better to go into an interview based on the skills you possess and express how open you are to learning and improving, rather than getting caught in a lie.

Use these helpful tips for highlighting skills on a resume to create a useful document that markets your skills and lands you the job you want.