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it's less about your skills and more about what you can do with them.

by Greg Fall

Everyone has “special” skills … but should they be given their own “special” section?

The key question is: “do they constitute the core of your value proposition and brand differentiation?” 

If they do – as often times is the case for software engineers – then they should have their own section. If they do not, then make sure they are prominent in places such as profile and experience. 

Probably 90%+ of resumes would only be cluttered up by a “skills” section. Companies are much more interested in some detail surrounding your accomplishments, which allows them to picture just how you might make an impact when coming to work for them. Appropriately, then, specific skills are often mentioned when describing “how” you were able to get certain results or “how” you performed a function. Sometimes they are even mentioned in the summary/profile section at the top of your resume, an example being the CFO's resume profile which reads: “Highest level of competency with Excel, JD Edwards, Hyperion, and other software tools.” Skills should usually be integrated into the heart of the resume.

Now, for the exceptions ...

a recent graduate, especially coming out of a technical program, may very well wish to highlight relevant skills in a separate section.

an engineer – whether working on the process or design side – may need to demonstrate a high level of competency with certain concepts and tools.

a software engineer may choose to showcase technical expertise in several separate sub-sections, such as “hardware,” “software,” “systems,” and the like.

a health care or lab technician should demonstrate proficiency on a number of instruments required in their daily routine.

What should you call this section?

Well, here are a few thoughts:  

Technical Skills
Core Competencies
Technical Competencies
Areas of Technical Expertise
Design Instrumentation
Laboratory Techniques and Protocols
Technical Abilities

Certainly, you’ll want to stay away from any titles or descriptions that will date you, such as including the word “Computer” in the title or “DOS 3.0” in a list of skills. Unless, of course, your current work with DOS is sought after just because it is now so uncommon …

And, while we are on the subject, every Tom, Dick, and Hortense who is over the age of 40 (that includes me!) should certainly refrain from having a “software skills” section to show that they can use MS Word and Internet Explorer. It’s sort of assumed at this point, with rare exception.

How should you make your list? Completely up to you. Some prefer strings of words separated by commas, some prefer using the column/bullet approach. Here, I am less concerned about the reader “remembering” a manageable number. However, you will want to force rank your list in order to highlight the 2 or 3 most important. Remember that readers will be reading/scanning “top to bottom” even a tad before “left to right.” 

The location of a “Technical Skills” section? Either right after your profile/summary (if critical to your value proposition as in the case of a software engineer) or following the “Education” section, which is usually found near the end of the resume. If you aren’t sure, use “cut and paste” to try it out in both locations. Chances are a solution will become visually evident.