The Key Skills/Core Competencies section is generally the second major section of the resume, placed right after your header – containing your name, email, phone number, and relevant social media links – and your professional profile. In Resume Yeti’s Anatomy of a Perfect Resume, we liken the Professional Profile and Key Skills sections to an “elevator pitch.” In other words, it’s a lightning fast way to create a portrait of your strengths. In a more technical sense, this section is also a way to clearly include keywords that will rank you higher in Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).

You can read more about ATS here, but in short, the ATS is the first step of the hiring manager’s resume screening process. If the company uses an ATS in the hiring process, then before a person ever looks at your resume, it will be fed through the system in order to select only the applicants that are a “match” for the job description. The ATS only selects resumes that contain specific keywords that are relevant to the position. So, it is crucial to make sure that your resume contains the correct keywords to be selected out of the first screening pool and move on to the next step in the application process, during which a person would evaluate your resume.

You inevitably include many keywords throughout your resume, in your job titles and the descriptions of your responsibilities. However, the Key Skills section is a place where you can take the opportunity to showcase your relevant skills all in one place. Some people recommend not including this section, but there is no reason why you shouldn’t. The benefits of listing your skills far outweigh any disadvantages to including them. Here are some of Resume Yeti’s Pro Tips on the advantages of including a Key Skills/Core Competencies section on your resume, and how to do it right.

Pro Tip:  Including a Key Skills section will help you rank higher in an applicant tracking system (ATS)

As previously mentioned, an ATS is often the first step in screening applications for an open position. If your resume does not include enough content that matches the filters the hiring manager has set in the ATS, your resume will not be selected to move on to the next step in the process.

The use of Applicant Tracking Systems is on the rise. An article on Recruiting Daily states that an estimated 75% of big companies use an ATS. And with developments in the technology, it’s becoming much easier and more affordable for small companies to use the programs, too.  Advertisements for Applicant Tracking Systems boast that for employers, the use of an ATS is cost effective and saves extensive amounts of time in the hiring process. Since most companies are using these programs, it is likely your resume will need to be ATS friendly. Therefore, it’s best to prepare your resume so that if it is screened electronically, you’ll have enough matching keywords to move on.

Pro Tip: Your Key Skills should mirror the job descriptions that interest you

So now you know why you need to include a Key Skills/Core Competencies section on your resume, the next logical question is how to do it. The best possible way that you can prepare your resume for an Applicant Tracking System is to be sure that it includes many of the same keywords as the jobs you’re applying for. Hiring managers will often pull keywords from the job description itself to plug into the ATS filters. It’s a good idea for your Key Skills section to mirror the job description.

Apart from those listed in the job description, you can include additional Key Skills that are relevant to the industry of the job you’re applying for. Browse similar job postings, and take note of the desired skill requirements that are being solicited.

We at Resume Yeti make this task even easier for you by providing a Resume Keyword index. In this Index, you’ll find categorized lists of the most common keywords for over 150 different professions. In addition to your own research, including some keywords from this index may help your resume to rank higher in the ATS, and hopefully get your resume in front of human eyes!

Pro Tip: Include a maximum of 20 Key Skills in this section

Once you realize the importance of trying to match your resume to the ATS filters, it’s easy to get carried away and want to include everything you find, to be sure that your resume passes the first screening. But you also have to remember that once your resume does make it past the electronic portion of the process, the same document has to pass a human screening, too. Listing 3 pages of Key Skills might make you appealing to a computer program, but it’s likely to deter human interest in your resume. Thus, you’ll need to strike a balance between optimizing your resume’s keywords for the ATS and optimizing your resume’s other content (like Professional Experience, Education, Noteworthy, Accomplishments, etc.) and aesthetic. We recommend making an extensive initial list of keywords and selecting your top 20 for inclusion in your Key Skills section. Most Key Skills sections will consist of 2 or 3 columns instead of one long list to save space, so you’ll want to make sure these columns are balanced out as well.


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