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What skills should you mention in your resume?
(Answer: maybe not so many) 

Gabe Heilig

Founder, Action Resumes—Pentagon

We’ve all been there.

You spot a job posting and see a few basic requirements. Sounds good!

You thought it went without saying these days that you could handle those things; but since they’re written down, you figure that you should probably throw them on your resume, too—just so there’s no doubt about what you can do.

And you do it without thinking twice.

And that’s where you go wrong.

Those basic skills aren’t listed there as a test to make sure you’re paying attention, but rather because they’re not as basic as you might think.

Take these three for example—you and the hiring manager probably have very different ideas of what they entail when they’re included in the job announcement.

1. Microsoft Office:
For example, when the job announcement says they want someone who knows Microsoft Office, sometimes this hiring requirement gets listed as “proficient in Microsoft Office,” or as “fluent in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.”

You think this means: that I know how to type a Word doc, insert rows in Excel, and add a few clever little animations to what might otherwise be a boring slide presentation in PowerPoint.

Hiring Managers think it means that you can merge mail documents, build formulae in Excel, and create time-saving “rules” in Outlook, and other complicated actions you may not have even heard of. In 2016, such fundamental computer skills are expected, in view of the increasing advance of technology, the integration of online management systems, and the nature of email.

Sure, during the technology boom in the early 2000s, an employee who could navigate Excel was considered well above average, but now the expectation is that you know Microsoft Office—far beyond your ability to navigate the toolbar on Word.

How to learn this skill: Companies are looking for employees who will take these skills to the next level with the use of pivot tables, VLOOKUPs, and macros to facilitate daily business, depending on the role and industry.

If your eyes instantly begin to glaze over with the mention of these integrated Microsoft capabilities, consider taking a quick class to brush up on your skills or play around in the programs during your free time to see how else they can be used.

Check out Udemy’s free PowerPoint training tutorial or its Excel “From 0 to Working Professional in 1 Hour” and see how quickly you learn the systems you’ve got listed on your resume.

2. Social Media proficiency:
Also called “social media outlets,” “social media marketing,” “social media savvy,” this is a skill you think that everyone who’s got any kind of online presence must have. And that certainly includes you. So you put it on your resume.

You think it means: that I’m on Facebook and Instagram and know how to use Twitter and Snapchat. No question about it—I’m up to speed here.

Hiring managers assume: That you can manage several social media accounts, build brand voices for each one, read and analyze data and run paid marketing campaigns. Today, social media management is respected as its own career field so it shouldn’t be listed on your resume unless you have real work experience using it.

While it’s OK to note that you’re using popular platforms to build your personal brand and network, don’t make the mistake of thinking a hiring manager is going to be impressed with your ability to tweet a witty response to the world topic of the day.

How to Actually Learn it: Expand on your social media skill set by learning more about analytics, reading up on content marketing, and familiarizing yourself with management tools like Hootsuite and Zoho.

3. Foreign language skills:
You studied abroad in Barcelona a few years ago. While there, you learned to converse a little in Spanish—enough to order a meal. You’ve got no use for the Spanish skills now, though—so it’s rusty, at best. But you figure it’s worth listing on your resume. Uh, maybe not.

You Think This Means: You think this means you know another language! You wouldn’t exactly call yourself bi-lingual, but the hiring manager is going to see Spanish and be impressed. So you put it down.

What the Hiring Manager Assumes: That you’re fluent. That your competence level goes above and beyond saying "Hello, how are you, my name is." If needed, you could carry on an entire conversation in your second language—and you could write a report and email in Spanish as well.

How to Learn This Skill: There’s no easy way around this. If you want to list proficiency in a second language on your resume, you’re going to have to be confident about your abilities to speak and write fluently. Knowledge of basic verb tenses and remembering a few words such as coffee, country, or beer isn’t enough. Take a class, then another one, buy Rosetta Stone or another reputable learning tool, and get to work.

My advice: until you start dreaming in the language you’re thinking of putting down on your resume, don’t even think about including it. There’s no point in listing items just to list them or because you believe that’s what needs to be there.

To position yourself as the best candidate for the role, you want to only include bullet points you can stand behind. It’s good to realize what employers and their HR recruiters think these phrases mean, not just what you hopefully think they mean. Because even if you get through the interview process, you’ll eventually come face-toface with the skill in question. And then you’ll have a lot of explaining to do.

Gabe Heilig has assisted over 5,300 people in advancing their careers. If you have a question, feel free to ask. Other people may have the same question you do and he may answer your question in print in a future column. You can reach him at gabe@ideadesign-dc.com