How to Know Which Skills to Write in a Resume

If you’re a savvy job seeker, you already know that your resume isn’t about you; it’s about what you can do for the company, and to do that you have to know which skills to show in a resume.

These steps will walk you through how to select those skills, as well as a few tips and hacks most candidates aren’t aware of when writing their resumes:

First: Understand How Applicant Tracking Systems Work

Applicant tracking systems function like Google. They’re like a search engine where the only results are job applicants – those who have used the right keywords.

This is fantastic for recruiters because they can sift straight through and find candidates who meet a job’s requirements in seconds. But it’s also responsible for creating what you’ve probably heard called the “resume black hole.”

Even the most qualified people get ignored because of the way recruiters search through an applicant tracking system.

Let’s say a recruiter is looking to hire a technical project manager for a healthcare technology company. They need someone that understands HIPAA, someone that’s a certified Project Manager, someone that has five years of experience, understands insurance and insurance claims. The recruiter has a handful of buzzwords: “HIPAA, technical project manager, claims, insurance, and certified.”

If your resume contains those keywords, you’ll turn up in the recruiter’s search. Without them you won’t.

For this reason, you’ll want to think of every skill on your resume — transferable, hard, soft, and those in between — as your ticket to showing up in the right research.

Next: Do Your Research

As a first step, spend some time on Google to familiarize yourself with the industry jargon. You’ll see words that come up again and again. You’ll see what people value in any given industry.

From there it’s time to dial into the role you’d like to apply to, to compile a specific keyword list for your resume (you’ll want to do this for each resume you send out). An ATS typically looks for hard skills when it scans your resume, so review the job ad and note any hard skills you spot. You should end up with a list of anywhere from 10-20 skills, depending on the ad.

(Need help with your resume? We’ve got you covered!)

Don’t be clever or use terms like “coding guru, ninja rock star.” Write “Ruby Developer” and “Used Ruby on Rails versions 3-4.3.” And let’s say you are in fact a Ruby Developer: You will also want to include the related technologies you used with Ruby on your resume.

You can list them out in the skills section as well as scatter them throughout your work experience where relevant. It might look like this:

“Full stack Ruby Developer experience with: HTML, Sass, RoR, JavaScript” or “Built high-performance web applications in Ruby on Rails.”


“Developed sophisticated client-side applications with backbone.js” or “Strong testing experience primarily with RSpec” or “Developed in both SQL and PostgreSQL” or “Strong experience scaling a web application.”

The point is, you want to be sure you’ve included as many skills (keywords) related to the specific job role at hand.

Last: Translate Your Transferable Skills

A recruiter or hiring manager is not going to stop and see if you have transferable skills.

It is your job to spell them out for them on your resume.

Here is an example of what I mean:

I had a client who was moving from academic research to market research. She knew that everything she did in her previous positions in academic research was the same thing as what you do in market research, but market research companies and employees used different jargon or language than academic researchers.

So, instead of writing “Administered SCID assessments” as her job description, she wrote “Conducted comprehensive In-depth Interviews or IDI’s” because that’s what market researchers called it — and she determined what they called it by performing thorough Google research and reviewing the job ad with a close eye.

You’ll also want to translate the company names of your past employers if you’re making a career change. If you worked at “Smith and Jones, LLC,” write out that it was an “IT Consulting Company” in one of your bullets, otherwise the recruiter might assume it was a law firm or construction management firm or…anything really. Likewise, if you have worked anywhere that wasn’t a recognizable brand (such as Google) you will want to write one to two sentences on what the company does.

You don’t have to end up in the resume black hole. Don’t invest your energy in being upset by applicant tracking systems; learn to outsmart them. By spending 15-20 minutes of time to research each role you apply to and weave the right skills into your resume, you’ll ensure that you show up in recruiter searches for the roles you’d like interview for.

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