As your personal sales document, your CV really needs to highlight your key skills to a potential employer. The skills you include – and how you include them ‒ can make the difference between progressing to the next stage or landing in the reject pile. We always hear about hard skills and soft skills, but what are they, and how should you present these skills on your CV?
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are ones that apply to numerous different jobs in any sector because they aren’t specific to any particular role. Soft skills are linked to personal or character traits that can be transferred into many roles, such as teamwork, communication and problem-solving. You’ll need to include some soft skills on your CV so that recruiters can understand how you would fit into the role and company culture.
What are hard skills?
Hard skills are specific to a particular job and relate to the knowledge or ability required to do that job. For example: threat analysis, account reconciliation or computer programming. Hard skills don’t usually transfer well from one role or sector to another. They’re crucial to your CV, as they enable a recruiter to see whether you are able to perform the role they’re recruiting for.
Hard skills versus soft skills: What’s more important on my CV?
It’s generally easier to train a new recruit in hard skills than soft skills, so try to ensure your CV reflects the soft skills that will enable you to thrive in a role. That said, it’s unlikely that you’ll get a job based on your soft skills alone, so it’s vital that your CV strikes exactly the right balance. You’ll need to include both, but the proportion of each will vary according to the roles you’re applying for and the skills employers look for.
A remote IT worker, for example, will need to put most emphasis on their hard skills. It’s important that they prove that they have the technical skills and knowledge to do the job successfully. Soft skills, such as face-to-face communication and teamwork, are less important in this situation. A call-centre worker, on the other hand, will need to focus on their communication skills as this is critical to their ability to do the job. They can be trained in product knowledge, so their CV should have a greater emphasis on the relevant soft skills.
Start by writing a list of skills you need to do your target job well, and then reflect those skills on your CV.
How should I include soft skills on my CV?
Having identified the soft skills list that you need to include, you now need to think about how you’ll present them on your CV. Simply listing ‘teamwork’, ‘problem-solving’, ‘critical thinking’, ‘time management’, ‘communications skills’, ‘people skills’ and so on really isn’t very meaningful, so it isn’t likely to impress.
To take your CV up a level, you need to show how you use these skills, rather than just tell. Choose a concrete example of when you successfully used each soft skill and try to present it as an achievement. For example, instead of ‘teamwork’, say ‘Increased customer satisfaction levels by sharing knowledge of new products with the team’, or ‘Improved team morale and communication by organising regular informal team lunches’. Specific examples are much more credible than a dry list of skills on your CV.
Ensure that your soft skills align with the level of the role you’re aiming for. Whilst simply demonstrating the ability to communicate professionally and articulately may be enough at entry-level, a senior executive will need to show higher-level interpersonal skills. For example, under the umbrella of ‘communication’ at this level, your CV will also need a list of skills that includes stakeholder engagement, negotiation and influencing.
Soft skills should be included throughout your career history. They are not as necessary in your professional profile, where the emphasis should be on role-specific hard skills.
How should I include hard skills on my CV?
As hard skills relate to the specific jobs you’ve done, you’ll probably find them easier to include. Cross-reference your hard skills list with a few adverts for roles that interest you (and even your current job description) to make sure that you’ve included everything relevant. Again, solid examples will help you to build a stronger CV. Put the skills into context rather than just writing a list on your CV so that employers can understand how you apply the skills practically. Aim to quantify your claims as much as possible.
For example, rather than simply stating ‘training’ as a hard skill, you can say ‘Delivered training in crisis management to audiences of up to 20’. Instead of saying ‘monitoring and evaluation’, say ‘Monitored and evaluated a portfolio of 20 concurrent projects and provided reports to inform funding decisions’.
As well as including hard skills within your career history, you should highlight the most in-demand skills within your personal profile too. Your key skills section should also focus on hard skills to ensure that you have the right keywords early on in your CV. This will ensure it scores well with both human recruiters and the ATS.
How can I use my hard and soft skills list to create a strong application?
Don’t forget that as well as emphasising your hard and soft skills on your CV, you should also aim to strengthen your application with a well-written cover letter or personal statement ‒ this should also highlight skills that make you suitable for the role. Cover letters and personal statements are generally more flexible than a CV, so you can even employ the STAR format (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to give credible, high-impact examples of your skills. With a CV and supporting documents that make both your hard and soft skills stand out, you’ll be giving yourself the best possible chance of securing your next role.