When writing a resume, some folks subscribe to a “spaghetti on the wall” philosophy — throw everything that you’ve got on it and see what sticks. But to recruiters and hiring managers, it’s all about quality, not quantity. After all, with only about seven seconds to capture their attention, you want to make sure you get to the good stuff right away. Because of this, it’s probably a good idea to pare down your skills section from time to time.
Consider an artist’s portfolio, for example.
“Any serious practitioner will tell you that your portfolio is only has strong as its weakest piece. The same can be said of the skills you list on your resume — less is more,” says Aurora Meneghello, career coach and founder of Repurpose Your Purpose.
Wondering what exactly you should strike from your resume? Start with these seven items.
1. A Language You Only Studied in High School
Sure, you took French in high school for a few years, but are you really at a level where you feel comfortable holding everyday conversations with native speakers, or reading in that language? If the answer is “no,” it doesn’t belong on your resume.
“It doesn't matter that you have basic or intermediate understanding of a language. Unless you have mastery of it, and can actually use it for work, leave it out,” suggests Meneghello.
In a worst-case scenario, your recruiter or hiring manager could be fluent and try to engage you in conversation — if they call your bluff, you can bet that you won’t be invited to move forward in the hiring process.
2. Basic Computer Skills Like Email and Microsoft Word
At this point, listing “email” or “Microsoft Word” as skills is almost equivalent to listing “reading” or “basic math”. They’re not differentiators — they’re expected.
“By adding [these] as a skill, candidates may appear to be trying to add ‘fluff’ to their resume, i.e., that they are grasping for anything to include because they don’t have enough relevant skills to list out,” says Peter Riccio, Founding Partner of recruiting firm Atlas Search.
One exception to this would be if you’ve honed a very specific practice using these programs, such as “[creating] an access database from scratch and [importing] data from Excel and other databases,” says career coach Mary Warriner. “Now that is worth mentioning in your skills section.”
3. Social Media (If You Haven’t Used It as Part of Your Job)
You might have thousands of Twitter followers, tons of Facebook friends and countless Instagram likes, but managing your personal brand and managing a company’s professional brand are two completely different things. Working in social media in a professional setting often requires much more than just posting engaging content — it often involves data analysis, experience with paid media and more.
“You may be awesome at posting pics of your friends and even sharing news about your current company; however, if you are not applying for a Social Media Strategist position, you shouldn’t mention your Facebook skills,” Warriner says. “Instead, review the job posting for the required skills and be sure to list the significant skills that you do possess.”
4. Soft Skills
This one’s a little tricky, because recruiters do love to see soft skills on your resume. However, they need to be demonstrated through examples rather than stated flat-out — saying that you’re a good communicator, for example, is useless without concrete examples to support it.
“The single most common mistake job seekers make is to list out soft skills on their resume — for example communication, multitasking, leadership, problem solving, etc. The message that sends to anyone reading the resume is ‘I may not have made clear what my soft skills are, so I’m listing them out just to make sure you see them,’” Riccio says.
Instead, demonstrate those soft skills by showing rather than telling.
“It’s so important to make sure that your soft skills are very clearly communicated in the body of the resume. For example, instead of listing ‘multitasking’ or ‘leadership’ as a skill, candidates should write ‘led multiple concurrent projects through to completion leading to x% ROI’ under the relevant position,” Riccio advises.
5. Exaggerations or Flat-Out Lies
Job seekers are often told to pepper in keywords from the job description to their resume. But if you don’t have one of the skills listed in the description, you shouldn’t include it in your resume just for the sake of mirroring the language. While you might think you can get away with it now, it will eventually come to light.
“If you are not an excellent oral communicator, don’t put that on your resume… If the job requires you to stand up in front of a group of people and deliver a message on a daily basis, you will probably fail miserably in that job,” Warriner says.
But that doesn’t mean you need to have every single skill listed in the job description to apply for a job — a good rule of thumb is that you should be an 80 to 90 percent match.
6. Outdated Tech
The preferred software and technology used in the workplace can change rapidly, but it’s important to stay on top of it nonetheless. Otherwise, you risk looking like you’re unable to keep up in a dynamic workplace.
“Companies are looking for sophisticated, flexible professionals who understand technology. By including technology that’s outdated in the skills section of your resume, it gives employers the impression that your skill set is stale and that you will have a much steeper learning curve,” Riccio says. “In a competitive market, employers want to invest people who have demonstrated an ability to learn quickly.”
So leave off things like coding languages that are no longer widely in use, outdated versions of modern software programs and other irrelevant technology.
7. Irrelevant or Joke Skills
This may sound obvious, but there truly are people who still list things like “expert-level guacamole maker” or “certified ping-pong champ” on their resume.
“Do not include skills that are irrelevant to the job you are applying for. I know I am amazingly proud that I make the best ‘award-winning’ cookies, but I’m in HR — I do not put that on my resume!” Warriner says.
Sure, there probably are a few recruiters and hiring managers out there who will find it funny or charming. But when you’re applying to a job, you don’t know who will appreciate that and who won’t — so it’s better to err on the side of professionalism.