What skills to put on a cv?

Writing a CV can often seem like a daunting and, let's face it, boring, task. Everybody needs one, but aren't they all more or less the same? Listing our experience, our qualifications, and our key skills feels like we are trying to sell ourselves, yet at the same time, it can be difficult to communicate who we truly are - the things that make us unique, interesting, and the best candidate for the job!

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Hard skills vs. soft skills

A good starting place can be to take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle, and make two columns under "hard skills" and "soft skills". This can help to give an overview of what makes you you, and a good starting point from which to write your CV. So what are hard skills and soft skills?

It is rarely an either/or, but a both/and, when it comes to employers seeking hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are the things that are more likely to have been actively learned, through education or experience, and will be specific to the needs of the job. Soft skills are more generic, and things that will be important for almost any job. They are more relational and personality oriented. Want some examples?

Hard skills are hugely diverse, and entirely dependent on your background in education and employment. They could include things such as coding, languages, plumbing, graphic design, mechanical engineering, sewing... The possibilities are endless. Think back over your education and career. What qualifications or certifications do you have? What skills have you learned to do specific jobs? Answering these questions should help you figure out what your hard skills are.

Soft skills are often harder to communicate, because you're unlikely to have qualifications in them. They can also be considered as "interpersonal skills" - things like teamwork, empathy, leadership, communication, and commitment. One way to figure out your strengths in these areas is to consider how you have been a positive part of a workforce or class, rather than the things you did. Were you great at listening to your colleagues? Did clients find you likeable? Did teammates find you approachable? 

Now, go back to that piece of paper, and write down everything that pops into your head under each column. You don't have to be expert level in the things you write. You simply need to be able to justify why you consider this a skill, and know which are core skills.

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What skills should I put on my CV?

This is the million dollar question! What will employers be impressed by? What will make them roll their eyes? What can you say that will make them remember you above other candidates? What are good skills for any potential employee to have?

The exact skills for CV will, of course, depend on the job you are applying for. Start by taking a close look at the job description, and checking which key skills they explicitly require. These should be the things you draw attention to. It can be worth taking a pen to paper, and physically highlighting the skills mentioned in a job description, or listing them. Then, make sure you mention them in your CV. Don't lie - if you can't ride a horse, then don't say you can! But emphasise the required skills you do have, and mention an eagerness to learn any that you don't.

In addition to your hard skills and soft skills, think about transferable skills. These are good skills that are likely to be useful in many jobs: computer skills, deadline management, writing and comprehension skills, and basic mathematical literacy would be a few examples. Again, think carefully about what the job requires: if you are applying for a position as a nanny, then perhaps computer literacy is irrelevant, but your employers might be happy to know that you can organise your time efficiently.

How do I prove that I am skilled?

Of course, successfully writing skills for CV is more than simply listing the skills you have. You have to set them within a context that demonstrates how you learned the skill, and/or how you have used it. For example, if you want to say that you speak German, write which qualification you have or how you came to learn it, and if possible, an example of when using it helped you professionally (e.g. "I was able to handle German-speaking clients"). 

You can find different templates of CVs online, which may advise different ways of organising your CV. Some suggest organising it chronologically, starting with your most recent experience. Others suggest organising it in terms of relevance to the role. Either option can be good, but which you choose may depend somewhat on your circumstances. If you've already been in the workforce for 25 years and have wide and varied experience, there might be some things you choose to omit. If you are applying for a job as a human rights lawyer, you can probably skip the summer you spent working in the college bar (although you never know! Some people are great at making links between seemingly unrelated fields). 

On the other hand, if you are a student who freshly graduated with your bachelor's degree, you probably don't have a lot of experience behind you. In this case, employers will be interested to know all that you've done in order to get a sense of the type of person you are. Even if you are applying for a graduate scheme in an accountancy firm, they may be interested to know that you did babysitting for the same family for 2 years, simply because it demonstrates commitment. 

There are many different ways to format a CV, and it's a good idea to browse templates to find the best fit for you.

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What skills are employers looking for?

As mentioned above, if you are applying for a specific job, then it is essential to look closely at the job description and check which skills they explicitly ask for. However, it may not be this straightforward. Perhaps you are sending your CV speculatively to many companies with a range of focuses. Maybe you are uploading it to a networking website for potential employers to find.

If this is the case, think about what you most want to communicate about yourself. If you are desperate to find paid work as a writer, then make sure your skills pertaining to that come across saliently: writing for the student newspaper, your personal blog, the column you wrote for your hometown paper. If you want to keep things more open, it may be better to briefly list your education and work experience, focusing on the soft and transferable skills, and on your eagerness to learn. 

Finally, if you know someone in the field that you are interested in getting into, or someone who deals with a lot of CVs (e.g. someone in human resources or administration), then it can be incredibly useful to ask them for advice. What are the things that really stand out to them? What is irrelevant? Are they more interested in your hard skills or your soft skills?

Key tips for the skill-section on your CV

It's strongly advisable to put skills on your CV. However, the way you do this is just as important. If the skills on there don't make any sense for the application or are way too generic, they will not help to get you invited for a job interview. Please take note of the following tips;

  • Take a close look at the job description before working on the skill section on your CV. Questions yourself; what are the minimum required skills for this job? What other skills will help to be successful in this role? What are the most important skills? Try to order your skills accordingly.
  • Hard, job-specific, skills can be seen as the required minimum for candidates. In order to pass the first selection, the candidate must possess these skills (e.g. a driver must be able to drive, a programmer must know certain programming languages). Soft skills is where a candidate can excel. Having good communicative or collaborative skills, for instance, will make you a better colleague to work with.
  • Try to be as specific as possible; instead of just mentioning computer skills, you could better mention being skilled at making presentations, working with large Microsoft Excel files or understanding HTML for instance.
  • Be prepared to name examples during your job interview when asked for specific skills that you mentioned on your cv. Anyone can list a skill, but you must be able to demonstrate the skill with a real-life example.

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