If you are looking for your first serious job, you may feel like you don’t have much to talk about on your resume. However, your resume is still of vital importance when trying to land your first graduate job or a new role for a change of career. From the language you use on your resume to the existing skills you have been practicing during your life and education, there are plenty of things you should mention. This guide will take you through some of the key skills to mention and language to use that will improve your resume and help your applications stand out from the competition.
Transferable skills are any skills, developed during your education, work and elsewhere, that are also useful in your career. As your career progresses, you will develop a long list of related skills and experiences. However, if you are starting your career you may need to be a little imaginative when selecting some current skills that can be adapted for use in the workplace. But don’t worry, whatever your experience level, you are sure to have some transferable skills to add impact to your resume.
A note on layout: Your list of transferable skills is important and should be included near the top of your resume, under your short summary is often the best place for it. The list itself should be in bullet points (or similar) and a simple heading like ‘Skills’ will work well and allow you to be quite broad in what you include in your list. It’s advisable to group multiple skills under different bullet points as we have done below, but the specific groups you use should relate to the jobs you are applying for and your core abilities.
Skills to mention
Everyone has skills they will find useful in their profession, but they are not always obvious when writing your resume. To help, we have created this list of core skills people are likely to have already developed before embarking on their career. Employers may want to hire those with good technical knowledge, but for entry level jobs often this is less important than having a great general skill set. With some thought, careful phrasing and some examples from your life you can turn your everyday skills into personal advantages that will help you stand out from the competition and secure a great job.
Communication refers to the expression and interpretation of knowledge and ideas usually through written or spoken language. This broad definition means that anyone can prove they have communication skills to one degree or another. Pretty much all of us have sat through hours of classes, written everyday throughout our schooling, presented in front of classes and performed on-stage for our parents.
Here’s some ideas of things to mention and appropriate language to use regarding your communication skills:
- Speaking effectively and professionally
- Writing succinctly and clearly
- Listening attentive
- Expressing and explaining complex ideas with clarity
- Facilitating group discussions
- Providing appropriate and useful feedback
- Negotiating better deals
- Perceiving body language and nonverbal cues
- Persuading others
- Accurately reporting information
- Describing feelings
- Editing written work
- Public speaking, presenting and interviewing
Interpersonal skills and problem solving
These are all about teamwork, your ability to work with others and handle problems under pressure. For almost any job where communication is important, interpersonal skills are also crucial. Whether it’s working closely with colleagues or creating productive and professional relationships with clients, being able to win people over and keep cool in a crisis will help you excel in your career.
Here’s some ideas of things to mention and appropriate language to use when discussing your interpersonal and problem solving skills:
- Conflict resolution and problem solving
- Evaluation and decision making skills
- Teamwork, cooperation and sharing credit
- Relationship building
- Motivating others
- Delegating with respect when appropriate
- Counseling and supporting others
- Asserting opinions with confidence when appropriate
- Accurately perceiving of situations and other’s feelings
- Representing others and organizations professionally
- Conveying feelings appropriately
Research and planning
The ability to construct a solid plan and research the latest developments in your field are vital skills for a range of roles and industries and something that school has prepared most of us for. Whether it was researching a lengthy essay at university or planning a group project in school, it’s easy to offer examples of how you have developed, tested and proven your ability to research and plan effectively.
For pointers on the language you should use and things to mention on your resume see the following:
- Analytics, forecasting and predicting
- Creative thinking and ideation
- Identifying problems and finding solutions
- Finding and using appropriate resources
- Information and data gathering
- Developing evaluation strategies
- Project management
- Defining needs, requirements and setting goals
- Extracting important information
Organization and time management
Without much professional experience you may find it difficult to find examples of your ability to stay organized and manage time effectively. However, take a closer look at your daily life and you are likely to find plenty of examples of how you juggle your studies, hobbies, sports and social commitments. Most employers want to hire busy, interesting and well-rounded individuals with active lifestyles, so don’t be afraid to talk about time management and organizational skills in relation to your personal life during an interview. It may even give you the chance to find common ground with your potential new manager which can go a long way to helping your application stand out.
Check out this list for key points and language for use on your resume:
- Implementing new ideas
- Managing groups and driving projects forward
- Teaching, counseling and training
- Handling details
- Coordinating and planning tasks
- Setting objectives and planning activities to achieve goals
- Demonstrating effective time management
- Prioritizing activities and meeting deadlines
- Achieving a productive and satisfying work-life balance
Confidence and assertiveness
Coming across as confident and assertive is important when attempting to secure any job. It’s more easy to showcase your confidence during an interview, through a calm demeanor, firm handshake and carefully considered answers to any questions.
However, it is still a good idea to think about the following when demonstrating your confidence on your resume:
- Willingness to express requirements, feelings and opinions with confidence, clarity and politeness
- Appreciation and understanding of your strengths and weaknesses
- Willingness to suggest ideas and stand firm, even when expressing an unpopular view that you still feel is correct
Every business will be on the lookout for someone who demonstrates enthusiasm for the role and the motivation to do well. This means being noticeably happy, engaged and invested in the role. In the interview, asking lots of thoughtful questions can help get this across to your interviewer. Although this is easier to demonstrate during an interview, it’s still worth mentioning on your resume.
For tips on the language to use, see this list:
- Energetic and enthusiastic approach
- Motivated to learn new skills, evaluate and continually improve my performance
- Perseverance in the face of obstacles
Leadership and Management
Whether you will be leading or managing a team in your new role or not, showcasing your ability to be a good leader will help promote the idea that you are confident and ready to rise to the occasion should they need you to lead a project or manage a new employee. Don’t think you have leadership experience? Try to recall a team sport, a time you organized or chaired a committee, or coordinated activities within a group project. Some things you could mention on your resume relating to these areas include:
- Possessing a clear vision for the company
- Gain the trust of colleagues
- Enthuse and influence others
- The ability to listen, share and delegate when appropriate
- Willingness to take ownership for a task or project
Proficiency in another language
Depending on the role this can be a crucial skill to mention. But, regardless of the role, learning a new language is difficult and shows your self-motivation, awareness of cultural differences, adventurous spirit, intelligence and dedication. Here are two ways to mention it on your resume.
- Skills to communicate and work with people from different backgrounds and countries
- Alternatively, just keep it simple: 'fluency in French - A1'
Openness to change and flexibility
Good businesses are constantly changing to continually improve, so showing you have the ability to work flexibly, take on new roles, and keep an open mind is vitally important. This can be anything from getting on with new colleagues or clients from different backgrounds or learning to use new computer software.
Here are some examples of how you can mention different variations of this skill:
- Ability to deal with change
- The flexibility to adapt to new situations, teams and task
- Ability to rise to new challenges and take calculated, informed risks
Customer service is crucial to most businesses and, even if your role is not directly client facing, it is still worth demonstrating your aptitude in this area. The chances are you will be expected to answer the phone occasionally and being able to deal with customers in a polite and professional manner will go a long way. Try drawing on any experience in retail (or similar) to show evidence of your practice in this skill. Here are some good ways to discuss it:
- Professional and polite approach to dealing with customers
- Ability to stay professional when faced with disgruntled customers
Phrasing and terminology advice
When considering the specific words and phrases used to describe yourself and your previous experience, the best approach is to think about the hiring managers, HR teams, recruiters and business leaders who will be reading your resume and applications. Keep in mind that these people will likely be reading tens if not hundreds of resumes on a daily basis, so ensuring your’s stands out should be your utmost priority. This means being creative with your language choices and avoiding using common phrases used by your competition.
Words and phrases to avoid
Many companies use language screening software for the first evaluation of the stack of resumes they will receive for any given recruitment drive. Then when it comes to the first human evaluation of your resume and application, you will have limited time to catch the reader’s eye and make a good impression. It is for this reason that you should avoid these words that commonly appear on resumes.
Negative words and phrases
Negative words should not be included in a resume or applications, you should be demonstrating what you can do and therefore avoid focusing on your limitations. There should be no need to use words like ‘can’t’, ‘won’t’ or ‘unemployed’ - any breaks in employment should already be obvious from the employment dates in your previous work experience.
Overly self-promotion language
You may assume it is fine to be extremely self-promotional on your resume or application which, after all, is there to sell your services; however, this is not the case. You should be factual and backup statements about yourself with evidence, not just proclaim yourself a go-getter and hope they believe you. With this mind here are some self-promotional phrases you should avoid:
- Strategic thinker
- Best of breed
- Expert (unless you truly are)
Your resume should be written as clearly as possible. Keep in mind that nobody will read the whole thing, so pointlessly complicated business buzzwords like the following will not make you seem clever, professional or hirable - but actually more like a timewaster.
- Core competency
- Thought leadership
- Value add
- Think outside the box
General things to avoid
Microsoft Office (or MS Office): Although it's popular to mention this on your resume, especially if you are new to the job hunt and want to make the most of your existing skills and experience, it’s never going to help you stand-out from the crowd. Include skills that are relevant to the role, like advanced Excel functions for example, but seeing as pretty much everyone can use some if not all of the Microsoft Office suite programs to some degree so listing it without a more detailed explanation is pointless.
I, She, He, Him or Her: Using the third or first person on your resume is strange and will put people off. Where possible keep things brief and to the point. For example ‘I led a team of four people’ uses a lot more space on the page than ‘led a team of 4’ which gives the reader the exact same information.
Reference available upon request: This is so often used by job seekers that the idea that your references would be unavailable if requested is unlikely to cross any readers’ mind.
Dabbled: Don’t mention experience, tech or systems that you don’t know well. Saying you have dabbled in Python coding, is as good as admitting you don’t know how to do it at a professional level.
Unnecessary personal info: there is no need to tell your employer your date of birth, marital status or personal interests. If they are not relevant to the job don’t waste valuable space writing about it.
Lies: Skills are commonly lied about on resumes. Don’t think that because you listed every skill in the job spec you will get the job. Soon you will have to prove you can do what you said you could and when you can’t it could destroy your reputation.
Irrelevant hobbies: Although you may think it adds color to your resume, the reality is that your irrelevant hobbies outside work are not important enough to include on your resume. Of course, you can always bring them during your interview if it feels natural.
Stay-at-home mom: Don’t feel obliged to explain gaps in employment in this way. Giving away more personal information about how many kids you have is not necessary. In fact, employers are not even allowed to ask about your family status.
Generalizations: Be specific in regards to your accomplishments and experiences. Where possible include actual facts, figures and metrics that show how you achieved your objectives.
Takes with or Responsible for: Filler language like this is commonly seen at the start of a statement about your previous experience, but it is completely unnecessary. Instead, start your statement with stronger language that dives straight into your experience e.g. ‘Marketing Manager for Biggest Revenue-Generating Product, exceeding competition by 30-40% in revenue growth each year.’ You don’t need to write in full sentences, just get the important, impressive information across.
Words and phrases to use
Your resume is there to give you a positive impression and make an impact, so using powerful action verbs will help. Take a look at the following list for suggestions of powerful verbs to use in different sections of your resume.
Describing something positive you increased:
Amplify, Advance, Accrue, Boost, Bolster, Enlarge, Expand, Enhance, Gain, Generate, Inflate, Lift, Improve, Increase, Maximize, Multiply, Outpace, Propel, Raise.
Describing something negative you reduced:
Decrease, Save, Drive down, Lower, Slash, Drop, Shrink, Reduce, Diminish, Minimize, Cut, Trim, Lessen, Curtail, Eliminate, Consolidate, Shrink.
Describing how you communicated with colleagues and customers:
Advise, Address, Brief, Convey, Correspond, Consult, Compose, Converse, Discuss, Explain, Illustrate, Introduce, Liaise, Listen, Negotiate, Network, Persuade, Present, Relay, Specify, Verbalize, Write.
Describing how you managed teams/projects:
Administer, Coordinate, Conduct, Command, Direct, Facilitate, Guide, Govern, Head, Helm, Manage, Mobilize, Mastermind, Oversee, Pilot, Run, Supervise, Shape, Superintend.
Describing how you organized teams/projects:
Arrange, Accumulate, Allocate, Chart, Compile, Collect, Classify, Divert, Divide, Document, Integrate, Label, List, Merge, Officiate, Organize, Rank, Reorganize, Rate, Research, Reposition, Standardize.
Describing how you led teams/projects:
Appoint, Aid, Coach, Command, Champion, Designate, Delegate, Enforce, Enlist, Enlighten, Educate, Foster, Facilitate, Guide, Hire, Mobilize, Mentor, Nurture, Orchestrate, Oversee, Supervise, Train.
Describing how you took initiative:
Anticipate, Commit, Carry out, Deliver, Endeavor, Forecast, Handle, Improve, Overhaul, Spearhead, Shoulder, Specialize, Undertake, Volunteer.
Describing how innovated a process:
Build, Create, Conceive, Conceptualize, Charter, Devise, Design, Draft, Engineer, Formulate, Improvise, Invent, Launch, Mastermind, Pioneer, Revolutionize, Spearhead, Unveil.
Descriptions of your accomplishments:
Accomplish, Earn, Establish, Execute, Exceed, Outperform, Overcome, Produce, Raise, Realize, Reach, Revitalize, Surpass, Succeed, Transform, Top, Win.
Descriptions of how you built relationships and brought people together:
Assist, Cooperate, Contribute, Collaborate, Cultivate, Enable, Foster, Guide, Involve, Join, Motivate, Meet, Participate, Reconcile, Support, Suggest, Unite, Unify.
How to use action verbs
When using these action verbs on your resume, the best place to include them is in your experience section. Include specific, quantifiable accomplishments and then use action verbs to make your bullet points and starts of sentences more engaging.
For example, Instead of: ‘Went to weekly company meetings and shared department statistics’.
Write: ‘Spearheaded weekly company meetings by communicating departmental growth and productivity metrics’.
The use of the action verb at the beginning and being specific about the information shared makes the accomplishment sound more impressive and the sentence far more likely to hold the attention of a reader.
For many job seekers taking their first step into the job market, and writing a resume and applications, can seem like a daunting task. However, by being careful with your language choices, honest about your skills, and drawing on your past experiences you will soon land your dream job.
As a recruiter, I have been helping candidates find a new job for over ten years. On this website I share my knowledge to help you make a good resume.