What Are Relevant Skills for Resumes?

Updated: October 17, 2019

Your resume’s primary job is to grab the reader’s attention and show that you’re a great fit for the internship or job in question. The right skill set, presented in the right way, can accomplish both of these goals. The key is to focus on skills that are relevant to the job to which you’re applying.

First things first: If you haven’t done so already, get up to date on the resume basics. You can start by reading our How to Write a Resume guide and browsing some resume samples.

Done? Okay, let’s focus in on those skills.

What skills should you highlight on your resume?

For current students, recent graduates, and seasoned professionals alike, the answer to this question is the same: Above all else, your list of resume skills should include most (if not all) of the skills mentioned as “Required” and “Preferred” in the job posting.

Hiring new employees costs a significant amount of time, money, and resources. Smart employers want to hire the right person the first time around by listing the skills they need for the position. Use this information for guidance as you determine which skills you’ll highlight on your resume.

Let’s look at a sample job posting:

Seeking electrical engineer with 3+ years of experience in power systems engineering, smart grid technology, and CADD systems maintenance. Must hold a minimum of a bachelor’s in engineering and be NICET- and LEED AP-certified.

Notice that this job description contains absolutes (“must”). For the employer, this quickly eliminates unqualified applicants. For you, this means that your resume must mention these required skills to have any chance of receiving an interview.

For jobs with hard, specific requirements, we recommend including a resume objective, summary, or summary of qualifications section. This allows you to clearly indicate that you have the required experience and training from the get go—so the reader will keep reading. For this example, you’d want to highlight your experience with smart grid technology, power systems engineering, and CADD systems maintenance. Additionally, you should acknowledge that you have the required NICET and LEED AP certifications.

So, your resume summary for this job might look like this:

Resume Summary: NICET- and LEED-certified electrical engineer with 5+ years of cross-industry experience in power engineering and specialization in renewable, energy-efficient power grids and systems. Team leader with knowledge of CADD systems file management and operations.

This strategy may seem simple, but it’s the same way certified career coaches and professional resume writers determine appropriate skills for resumes. They understand that the job description provides the keywords employers are looking for in a candidate.

Another reason to focus on keywords for your skills: Oftentimes, an actual human being won’t even see your resume at first; instead, you’ll be selling your skills to a robot. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are software that companies use to sort, analyze, and rank resumes. They’re a company’s first line of defense against getting 300 applications for a single position—and they’re often designed to scan for and identify the number of keywords in each resume in order to filter out unqualified applicants.

To ensure you make it past the ATS, incorporate skills from the job description into every section of your resume, from the summary to your professional experience. Given that 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS these days, you need to pass this initial screening!

Another way to ensure you get those keywords in is by adding a “Core Competencies” section, following your summary or objective. Sticking with our previous example, this section might look like this:

Core Competencies:

  • Photovoltaics
  • Computer Hardware
  • Smart Grid Technology
  • Construction Design
  • CADD
  • Power Systems Engineering
  • Engineering Inspection
  • Biomedical Devices
  • Energy Code Compliance

Those with few hard skills should avoid using the “Core Competencies” section. This format is not appropriate for listing soft skills (see below).


Beyond what’s listed in a job description, how do you determine what skills to include on your resume?

Job descriptions are expensive and often priced based on word count. To save money, hiring managers may list only the primary skills sought for the new hire. Of course, there are other skills they’d like the new hire to possess.

Consider the sample electrical engineer posting above. Perhaps the company informed their hiring manager or committee that they would prefer someone who was experienced in assuring energy code compliance and conducting engineering inspections, too. These skills were on their “wish list,” but they figured they could quickly train a new hire in them. So, the hiring manager didn’t include them in the job description. In this case, how would a candidate know that those skills were important for their resume?

While there’s no sure-fire way to know, this is where your network comes in. Starting with professors and cohorts in your major, it is vital that college students and new graduates build a strong professional network. All industries change and evolve over time. In our example, the unique skills preferred for electrical engineers 20, 10, or even five years ago are now likely commonplace, possessed by nearly all electrical engineers.

How will the field of electrical engineering evolve in the next 5–10 years? What skills will be critical five years down the line?

Consider these possibilities and be mindful of such skills, as many employers are on the lookout for them. By staying connected with your college professors, fellow graduates, and other professionals, you’re more likely to be knowledgeable about developments in your field. It’s especially beneficial if you network with professionals who spend time on hiring committees. They can tell you which skills are rising in importance.

Other ways to stay apprised of developments and desired skills in your field including taking continuing education classes and/or attending workshops, conferences, and presentations. Additionally, you should look through job descriptions related to your field periodically. Identify any skill sets that appear frequently in job descriptions, and if you don’t possess them, work on acquiring them so you can include them on your resume for future roles.


What if you don’t have some of the required skills listed in a job description?

College students and recent graduates often struggle to find jobs because they don’t have many specialized skills. Furthermore—and more problematically—they don’t have the minimum years of experience listed in the job description.

If this is the case, focus on the specifics of how your experience links to a role’s required skill sets. Discuss the relevance of your degree, your extracurriculars, and your summer jobs. Emphasize your history of quickly learning new skills. In many instances, if you have comparable skills and/or are close to having the minimum years of experience, you can get an interview—especially if you’re not applying to uber competitive positions. And remember: the experience of applying is an important skill set in and of itself, so apply away!

Note well: if you don’t have any of the required skills, save yourself time and effort and look for another role. You run the risk of having future applications deleted outright, particularly if you regularly apply to jobs for which you’re unqualified.


What are hard skills?

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at different types of skills and how you determine their importance. First up: hard skills. Hard skills are measurable skills that tend to require specialized training. In a job or internship description, they’re typically identified as “Required Skills.” Examples include specific software knowledge, bookkeeping, fluency in another language, or your typing speed.

Hard skills are what hiring managers and committees look for in job applicants. Any hard skills noted in job descriptions are skills you want on your resume. The more of these skills you possess and advertise, the more likely you will be called in for an interview.


What are soft skills?

Soft skills are personal qualities that can help you succeed in the workplace. Unlike hard skills, soft skills are not quantifiable, and they’re often overused—or used ineffectively—on resumes. Examples include being a leader, an effective communicator, team-oriented, patient, or a critical thinker.

Too often, people list soft skills on their resume without context. Your resume should include both past accomplishments and relevant, current skill sets. In listing said accomplishments, you’ll often verify that you’re a critical thinker, team-oriented, or patient—without having to write those terms explicitly in your summary.

Keeping with the electrical engineering example, when listing a past job, this hypothetical electrician could write the following:

  • Surveyed apartment complex’s energy grid; identified and rectified short in system, saving owner over $3,000 in monthly electric bills.
  • Collaborated with architects to design a more energy-efficient power grid for new apartment complex.

These accomplishments indicate that the electrical engineer was patient and utilized critical thinking strategies to identify why the complex owner was accruing high electricity bills. Then, by being an effective communicator and collaborator, the candidate resolved the issue and contributed to new designs that could prevent similar issues in the future. This is the best way to include soft skills in your resume. Keep in mind, too, that interviews allow hiring managers to gauge soft skills, particularly regarding teamwork, critical thinking, and the ability to remain calm in difficult situations.

Here’s the takeaway: When listing job skills on your resume, focus more on hard skills. Illustrate soft skills within your accomplishments, then elaborate on them in the interview.


By now, you should have a newfound understanding of how to determine and integrate relevant skills in your resume, propelling you to the top of the (virtual) stack and earning you an interview.