Knowing what to include on a resume can be nerve-racking—especially when you’re applying for a dream job. Listing your previous job responsibilities, technical skills and education is relatively straightforward. However, communicating intangible soft skills on your resume, like attention to detail, work ethic and people skills, can be more difficult.
Even though it’s tricky, effectively communicating your soft skills on your resume can give you an advantage over other applicants. You only have so much space on a resume, so you want to use it to show that you’re a team player who can work independently and has good time management skills while highlighting your technical skills.
So, what are the soft skills you should list on your resume, and how do you do it effectively?
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are personality traits or behaviors that can be hard to define. While each position will need a specific combination of skills and traits, many of the most common soft skills include:
- Customer service
- Analytical thinking
- Time management
- Organizational skills
- Communication skills
- Work ethic
- Flexibility or adaptability
Soft skills are hard to quantify, but they can make a considerable difference between success and failure in the workplace. Even if you have the most impressive technical skills, you won’t be an effective team member if you can’t collaborate, communicate or meet deadlines.
Some companies may even hire a candidate with exceptional people skills but little technical knowledge, figuring that learning technical aspects is easier than learning how to work effectively in a group.
Why is it important to list soft skills on your resume?
According to Monster.com, soft skills are in high demand. Although soft skills won’t replace technical know-how in some positions and industries anytime soon, many hiring managers are eager to find a candidate with technical expertise who can also complete tasks effectively and get along with team members.
Including a list of soft skills on your resume can help prospective employers and hiring managers determine if your particular people skills align with their needs and what the job requires. Whether you’re interested in an internal promotion or looking for a role with a new company, showing how you’ve used your interpersonal skills to succeed in past positions can make you a much more attractive candidate.
How to choose which soft skills to list
The soft skills required will vary from job posting to job posting and company to company. Job descriptions may list the soft skills candidates need with the required technical skills, but you may also have to make an educated guess based on the subtext in a job description.
As you research the company, start a list of soft skills needed for the job description. Based on your assessment, rate the skills from most to least important, and compare the necessary skills against your experience and training.
Then, highlight those skills on your resume according to the rankings you assigned in your research. Career website Indeed.com recommends including 10 to 30 skills on your resume, with soft skills taking up no more than half the list.
How to list soft skills on your resume
The way you list the soft skills on your resume can be just as important as what you list. Keeping your resume to one to two pages is generally considered best practice. Since your resume real estate is at a premium, it’s crucial to make every word count while still giving an accurate picture of your skill set.
To help you best highlight your soft skills, consider the following:
Tailor your skills to the specific job
It may seem obvious, but just like you should customize each resume based on the job requirements and company research, you should also curate your list of soft skills to fit the specific position. For example, if you’re interested in a project management role, highlighting your time management and analytical thinking skills may be more important than focusing on customer service or creativity.
Focus on tangible outcomes
To set yourself apart from other candidates, note how you used your soft skills to achieve effective outcomes. Don’t just create a list of generic soft skills on your resume that you think sound good based on the position. Remember that other applicants will also have most or all of the soft skills you listed, so you need to set yourself apart from the competition.
Call out any outcomes you achieved with your soft skills, and include hard data if available. For example, if you helped HR create a training program for new hires, you might say:
- Helped the HR team create and implement new hire training video courses using clear explanations of company policies and expectations, resulting in a 10% decrease in policy violations over 12 months.
Reinforce your soft skills in your cover letter
Resumes should be brief and to the point, which doesn’t leave you much opportunity to go into detail about your soft skills. In a cover letter, you can go into more depth on a particular situation and reinforce how your skill set aligns with the company’s goals and the position.
Your cover letter shouldn’t be more than a page, possibly even shorter depending on the specific directions provided by the employer. Work on succinctly, but thoroughly, describing at least one relevant work experience or situation that demanded soft skills and how you achieved a favorable outcome.
Use keywords carefully
Using the right words in a cover letter and resume can help you get past the initial screening and get your information in front of decision-makers. Identify the soft skill keywords in a job posting and include the relevant ones in your resume and cover letter.
While skillfully using keywords can be effective, use them wisely. Stuffing your resume full of them can make it sound fake or grammatically incorrect.
Be prepared to back up your skills in your interview
A cover letter and resume can help you land the interview, but you’ll also need to effectively communicate your soft skills in-person or over video chat. Prepare for your interview by thinking about your skills and practicing the most common interview questions with a friend or family member.
Be sure to prepare tangible examples with actual data, if possible, along with examples of how you overcame conflict or were adaptable and a team player during difficult times.
The best soft skills for your resume
While each position and company will have specific skills it’s looking for, some soft skills to highlight on a resume are:
- Communication skills
- Attention to detail
- Customer service
- Time management
- Project management
- Emotional intelligence
- Active listening
- Analytical and critical thinking
- Flexibility and adaptability
- Work ethic
While acquiring soft skills in a formal setting can be challenging, consider taking online courses or training to fill any gaps. If you have a mentor, discuss where your soft skills may be lacking and brainstorm ways to improve. Stay open to feedback and make conscious decisions to change behaviors that are holding you back.
While soft skills can be challenging to teach or master, they can be learned with time and effort. A benefit of soft skills is that they are generally easily transferable between jobs and industries. If you’re good at communicating or problem-solving in one position, you’ll likely be good at those things at a different company.
Look for ways to improve any areas you may be lacking, and consider the best soft skills to put on your resume when applying for a new job to help you stand out from the crowd.
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