Consider Using a Ranked Skills Section on Your Resume

rankLast month, I provided a few tips for working critical key skills/qualifications that you don’t have (yet) into your resume to increase your chances of making it past an ATS screen. Now suppose you’re reviewing a job ad and have the desired skills, but aren’t necessarily an expert in all of them. Is it misleading to list certain items on a resume, even if your understanding of them is rudimentary?

A great way to put your best foot forward and appease the ATS without feeling like you’re stretching the truth is to categorize the core competencies in your resume. Clearly ranking and visually separating skills can be advantageous for a variety of job seekers, including:

  • Career changers with entry-level experience in their target industry backed by expertise in other areas
  • New graduates with classroom AND relevant on-the-job experience
  • IT pros with varying degrees of proficiency in a large number of programs, systems, languages, etc.

Simple classifications could include Expert, Proficient, and Basic, though feel free to use synonyms that you’re more comfortable with or utilize more levels.

How should you set up a ranked skills section on your resume? Here’s an example for an administrative professional:


Expert: Scheduling, Customer Service, Data Entry, Expense Reporting, Purchasing, MS Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)

Proficient: Bookkeeping, Payroll Processing, Market Research, New Hire Onboarding, QuickBooks, MS Project

Basic: Database Design, Website Content Management, Adobe CS


How to Keyword Optimize Your Resume (Even If You Aren’t a Perfect Match)

emptyboxIf you’re looking for a job these days, chances are you’re spending the majority of your efforts online. And if you’re applying to openings online, your resume must be keyword rich. Those keywords have to correspond with the specific skills listed in a job ad in order to appease an applicant tracking system (ATS), if that potential employer is using one. But what can a job seeker do if they don’t have all the qualifications listed in the ad?

First, let’s discuss the “don’ts.” Don’t throw skills into your resume willy-nilly just to trick the ATS. A human will read your resume eventually, and if you land an interview, you’ll have to back up your claims. Don’t try the old hidden or white text trick, either. A simple click of the “Show/Hide” button or CTRL+A can expose your lame attempt. Finally, if you don’t have at least some of the qualifications listed in the job ad, consider applying to another opportunity that’s more appropriate for your background.

So, are there any “honest” ways to add skills to your resume that you don’t have? Here are a few ideas:

  • Create a section titled “Areas of Interest” or something similar. Make sure these are highly specific and relevant to the job you’re applying to (not to be confused with hobbies). Or, mix skills you have with skills you’d like to have in a “Skills & Interests” section.
  • Add a line to your summary paragraph that states, “Eager to expand proficiencies in [missing skill 1], [missing skill 2], and [missing skill 3].”
  • Take a class (perhaps even a free MOOC) with the missing keyword in the title, and list the course title on your resume in your “Education & Professional Development” section.

Note that none of the steps above are better than actually obtaining the desired ability. Simply working the right words into your resume won’t guarantee you an interview or equal ranking among candidates who DO have the preferred qualifications, but it should at least increase your chances.

Make Your Resume Shine with the Top Skills of 2015

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) published the results of their Job Outlook 2015 survey a few months ago that identified the top skills employers are looking for on a candidate’s resume:
















Have all of these skills? Great! Now all you have to do is work these into your resume summary and core competencies section and wait for the phone to ring, right?

Almost. What separates a strong resume from one that’s clearly packing in all the keywords it can is proof. Real-world instances of how the job seeker used these skills to make an impact. Consider this concrete example of how to display leadership in action:

Rallied 5-person team together to meet top client’s demands, including mid-project changes in scope, schedule, and resources; completed assignment on time and above client expectations, resulting in $50K in additional business.

Some of these attributes are more difficult to demonstrate on paper than others, especially soft or subjective ones like “friendly,” “tactful,” or “risk-taker”. It’ll take some creativity, but it isn’t impossible. Let’s take a stab at “friendly”:

Earned reputation as go-to customer service associate for handling escalated client calls; maintained positivity and professionalism in all communications and consistently upheld 5/5 scores on post-call surveys.

Oddly enough, many of these skills also show up on the “never use these words on your resume”-type lists making the rounds on career advice websites and social media. Do hiring managers want to see these skills or not? To be fair, many of these articles go on to explain that employers want to see how you put these “cliché” skills into action, not just bullet after bullet of empty language. So in addition to including these highly desired traits in your resume, remember to back it up!

10 Year-End Reflections to Improve Your Resume

2015So, how was your 2014?

Before marching into 2015 and leaving this year in the dust, I would encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your top achievements and “wow” moments. None of us had a perfect year, and being mindful of where we fell short is important too. Fortunately though, we get to pick what we do (and don’t) highlight on our resumes to market ourselves in the best possible light.

Whether you are actively looking for a job or not, reflecting on the past year’s successes will reenergize you for the year to come. Plus, your future self will thank you for taking the time to gather these essential details should the need for an up-to-date resume arise unexpectedly.

An internet search for “reflection exercises” will mostly bring you tips for educators, but many (such as this 20-question list from Minds in Bloom) can be adapted for a professional’s retrospective. Find a quiet spot, ready your laptop or pen and pad, and reflect on the following (I would suggest a freewriting approach):

  1. What critical objectives did you meet/exceed and how?
  2. What are the top 3–5 projects you are the most proud of completing in 2014?
  3. What new skills did you learn this year? What existing skills did you strengthen?
  4. How were you recognized for your accomplishments? A promotion/new job title? A formal award?
  5. How have your day-to-day responsibilities changed/grown?
  6. What major changes/challenges occurred in your department, and how did you overcome them?
  7. How did you help others in the company shine?
  8. What new initiatives did you contribute to?
  9. How would your direct reports, colleagues, and/or supervisors describe your year?
  10. Have your career aspirations changed? If so, why?

If your employer completes annual performance reviews, you may have already documented a majority of these things and can further reflect on a more personal level. Either way, capturing your key accomplishments at the end of each year (or even better, as they happen) will make it far less overwhelming and time-consuming to update your resume in the future.

9 Common Career Transitions

And the Transferable Skills that Support Them

careerchangeAs a resume writer, I frequently work with individuals who have made or are seeking to make significant career changes from one industry to another. Some of the most critical elements of an effective career-changer resume are transferable skills – the experience and qualifications from Career A that will help the job seeker succeed in Career B.

Below are a few common career changers along with examples of applicable transferable skills.

  1. HR to Social Work: Conflict Resolution, Assessment/Evaluation, Advocacy, Documentation, Reporting, Interviewing
  2. Sales to Recruiting: Account Management, Networking, Relationship Building, Cold Calling
  3. Educational Leadership to HR Leadership: Performance Evaluation, Change Management, Employee Relations, Staff Training & Development, Regulatory Compliance, Hiring/Recruiting
  4. Nurse to Medical Billing & Coding: Charting, Filing/Recordkeeping, Medical Terminology, Patient Relations
  5. Retail to Financial Services: Customer Service, Needs Assessment, Product/Service Knowledge, Cash Handling
  6. Medical Device Sales to Radiologic Technology: Customer Service, Technical Troubleshooting, Medical Terminology, Data Entry, Filing/Recordkeeping
  7. Law Enforcement/Public Safety to Nursing: Assessment, Emergency Response, Communication, Documentation, Patient/Public Relations
  8. Legal Services to HR: Filing/Recordkeeping, Documentation, Staff Support, Regulatory Compliance
  9. Real Estate to Insurance Sales: Networking/Community Relations, Relationship Building, Marketing, Account Management

Regardless of the career change you’re making, be sure to go beyond simply listing your transferable skills somewhere in the resume. They should also be demonstrated with concrete examples of how these qualifications were effectively put into action and the tangible results of your efforts (sell it; don’t tell it). Plus, highlighting achievements from your prior career will give you an advantage over new graduates with little to no professional experience.

Healthcare and Medical Resume Writing Tips

When writing resumes for healthcare professionals, it is all about quality, competence, versatility, and compassion. As a Certified Resume Specialist in Healthcare & Medical (CRS+HM), I understand how critical it is to strike the perfect balance between hard and soft skills while still keeping the reader engaged. Specialization in a specific patient population or medical discipline will help you stand out. Degrees, licenses, certifications, and other credentials are required in this industry whereas they may simply be preferred qualifications in others. Quantifiable achievements for this field are different from other career paths as well. Instead of highlighting increases in sales, achievements such as growth in patient satisfaction levels, expanded caseloads, decreased safety incidents, reductions in supply costs, and improvements in inspection ratings will make your healthcare resume shine.

Here are a few of my key observations/insights for the following healthcare professionals that I write resumes for on a regular basis:

Nurses: Often a nurse will tell me, “I just did my job,” but after asking the right questions and digging deeper, I will find ample information to include on their resume. For example: filling in as a Charge Nurse during their supervisor’s short-term leave, covering the night shift independently, creating a new way to organize patient charts that increased HIPAA compliance, participating in quality improvement programs, or leading training sessions for new hires. Essential skills to emphasize (and demonstrate with concrete examples) are a collaborative attitude, ability to handle fast-paced and high-pressure settings, and an unwavering focus on patient care and safety.

Pharmacists: The interesting thing about writing resumes for pharmacy professionals is that the subject matter (and overall resume strategy) will differ drastically based on their specific background: retail/community, hospital, mail order, nuclear, etc. A retail/community pharmacist might have increases in revenue to tout, whereas a hospital pharmacist might have participated in committees or research endeavors. Additionally, I have worked with many pharmacists wishing to make a change from one setting to another, presenting the challenge of highlighting transferrable skills and accomplishments that will create excitement for their intended audience.

Healthcare Administrators: Though primarily involved in the business side of things, healthcare administrators should equally show their dedication to profitability as well as quality patient care on their resumes. While they are not performing medical procedures, these professionals are expected to create and maintain efficient work environments for those who do. The specific medical settings they have experience in should be mentioned (hospitals vs. private practices, for example) as well as their ability to liaise between multidisciplinary medical team members, patients, and community resources and navigate the complex and ever-changing insurance landscape.

Radiologic Technologists: Entry-level radiologic technologists (including career changers) are among my most common clients. Quantifiable achievements can be difficult to come by for this role – especially for new graduates – so I will often focus on skills gained and the diversity of clinical rotations completed. In many cases, I will create an expanded skills section to cover exams performed and equipment systems used as well. To supplement that, accomplishments might be earning the trust of superiors to train others and/or work independently, being recognized for consistently producing top-quality images, or receiving personal commendations from patients and family members for delivering outstanding care. For career changers, I will include a brief line in the summary covering their transferrable skills or a separate “Additional Experience” section at the end of the resume to show those skills in action and potentially help the job seeker stand out against brand new professionals.

It may be difficult at first to look beyond your day-to-day job duties, but by asking yourself (or getting a colleague to ask you) those probing questions, you’ll discover the unique skills, qualifications, and accomplishments to include on your resume. Remember: as a healthcare professional you chose your career path for a reason – to help others – so be sure to carry that theme throughout your resume.