A skill is a skill, right? Well — sort of.
When it comes to applying for jobs, there are hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are specific and demonstrable — think foreign language skills, proficiency with a particular software or coding language, or degrees and other qualifications. Soft skills, on the other hand, are a lot harder to prove. So what exactly are they, and how do you include them on your resume?
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are the kinds of skills you can pick up from everyday life. Leadership, communication, teamwork, and time management are all examples of soft skills. Soft skills are hard to evaluate and even harder to prove — unlike most hard skills, there’s no piece of paper you can point to saying you’re a hard worker. Despite that, most job descriptions will list soft skills in their “must haves,” which means they need to be on your resume somewhere.
What not to do
Don’t list soft skills directly in your skills section.
That might seem counterintuitive — surely listing your skills is the best way for employers to see them? The problem is, people are notoriously bad at evaluating their own soft skills. Nobody looks at a job ad asking for a hard-working, detail-oriented team player and thinks, “no, that’s not me.” Soft skills are incredibly subjective, which means that hiring managers don’t want to see people describing themselves as “visionary leaders,” “excellent communicators,” or “self-starters.”
If you’re wondering what the harm is in listing them anyway, here are two things you should know:
- Applicant tracking systems (ATS) don’t screen for soft skills. Even if a job description lists “leadership” as a key skill, there’s no point in simply listing it in your skills section — it isn’t a keyword the ATS is looking for.
- Buzzwords like these are red flags to most recruiters, since they’re often listed by people who don’t meet other criteria of the job description. Put plainly, listing soft skills outright is more likely to get your resume thrown out than given a second look.
How to list soft skills
Show, don’t tell. The best place to demonstrate your soft skills is in your accomplishments. When writing your work experience bullet points, consider the soft skills you want to emphasize and choose accomplishments that effectively illustrate them. Start with an action verb that highlights the soft skill in question, and use numbers and metrics to substantiate it. For example:
- Instead of saying you’re a team player, talk about the size of the teams you’ve worked with, what your specific role was, and what the team achieved.
- Don’t just say you have excellent communication skills — instead, mention a conference you’ve spoken at, an article you’ve published, or the percentage of new customers you’ve gained through cold calling.
- Want to show initiative? Include a process you streamlined or automated, or a new approach you spearheaded.
In other words, hiring managers don’t want to read opinions — they want facts that will allow them to make up their own minds.
Other things to keep in mind
Tailoring your resume
Most soft skills are less industry or role-specific than hard skills. Some “core” soft skills you’ll need in nearly any position are teamwork, initiative, leadership, analytical, and communication. You should choose accomplishments that highlight these skills in nearly every resume — to see how you score in each of these core competencies, upload your resume to our free Score My Resume tool.
Some roles may require a stronger focus on particular soft skills. Management or senior-level roles, for example, are likely to require strong leadership and motivation skills, while for client-facing roles you should emphasize your communication and customer service skills.
Advice for career changers
As a career changer, most of your transferable skills are likely to be soft skills. If you’re lacking hard skills in the industry you’re moving into, make sure you emphasize your soft skills. For example, if you’re transitioning from marketing to project management, highlight any accomplishments where you’ve led teams, managed campaigns, or organized events, since these all demonstrate relevant transferable skills.
If you’re looking for a practical way to list soft skills on your resume, keep scrolling for examples that cover some of the most common soft skills.
Examples of showing soft skills on your resume
With very few exceptions, most roles require some degree of teamwork. Companies want employees who are reliable, can get along with others, and are pleasant and professional to work with. To show teamwork skills, you should emphasize accomplishments that demonstrate your role in past teams and what you achieved. For example:
- Collaborated with marketing and web development teams to deliver all projects on time or ahead of schedule.
- Worked in a team of 5 people on a sustainability project that reduced waste by 25% and saved 5% in company overhead.
When hiring managers are looking for employees who show initiative, that means they want people who can make decisions, work independently, and be proactive in suggesting solutions. Use action verbs like “Conceived,” “Overhauled,” and “Pioneered” to show how you’ve taken initiative in past projects. For example:
- Introduced new backend project management system;, leading to a 90% reduction in client complaints.
- Identified steps to reduce return rates by 10% resulting in an eventual $75k cost savings.
If you’re applying for a senior-level or management position, leadership is likely to be your most-needed soft skill. In your resume, give examples of teams you’ve led or people you’ve mentored and what they achieved. For example:
- Coached 30 summer interns and launched a mentorship program for new employees.
- Taught workshops on team building and cooperation; improved team productivity by 50%.
Analytical & Problem Solving skills
Even if the role you’re applying for doesn’t work with data, basic analysis and problem-solving skills are used in just about any profession. Recruiters want to see how you approach unexpected hurdles and solve problems before they become major issues — especially if you’re in a public-facing position or one which works closely with clients. For example:
- Resolved hundreds of client escalations, leading to a 40% increase in client retention.
- Developed an Excel macro and standardized reporting templates, resulting in efficient data collection and a 35% reduction in turnaround time.
Communication is one of the most frequently-listed soft skills in job descriptions. It’s also one of the most difficult skills to self-evaluate. Point to examples where you’ve used those skills in a professional capacity. Organizing an event, speaking at a conference, and spearheading marketing initiatives are all relevant illustrations. For example:
- Organized and conducted monthly meetings with city council executives and other community leaders to raise funds for city recycling initiative.
- Proposed new marketing initiative, focused on digital campaigns, which generated $500k of additional yearly revenue.
Creative and Design skills
Not all positions require design skills, but if you’re in a creative industry or role, it’s likely to be at the top of the “must-have” list. Choose examples for your resume that show your ability to conceptualize new ideas and see projects to fruition through the entire design process. For example:
- Designed a new user interface for the company app using Sketch and Figma, leading to 50% higher click-through rate.
- Redesigned company logo as part of a rebranding initiative that resulted in a 30% increase in brand awareness among the target demographic.
Attention to detail
Attention to detail is particularly necessary for administrative and clerical professionals, as well as anyone who works with data, finance, or sensitive documents. For example:
- Handled all aspects of preparing the weekly payroll and expense reporting for a 200-person office; kept detailed audit records and processed 100% of payments on time.
- Monitored inventory of needed supplies and reduced supply shortages by 30%.