Skills section in a resume

I was helping Jaspess prepare her statement of purpose and her resume for a PhD program she’s applying to. She asked me about what to put in her skills section, and my response was basically like that one meme with the blonde lady who says “The … What??” :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

I always thought that any “skills section” should just have technical or other specific skills, and that just saying things like “attention to detail” and “collaborative” makes it into a worthless Buzzwords Section.

So I did some research. Apparently I’m in the minority on that, and the generic terms populated Skills Section is a thing on a resume. But some authors also caution about making sure that it’s done well so that it isn’t just all buzzwords.

I don’t know. What does GoA say about the “Skills Section” of a resume? Am I wrong to think that it’s a pointless waste of space if it’s not specific like with technical skills?

1 Like

I find that any “skill” that will be useful to help one do their job is fair game for that section.

When applying for a job that requires considerable technical skills (like actuarial work), then it makes sense that the primary skills to list are the technical ones.

But I see having soft skills for any PhD program will be helpful (there is a lot of politicking that goes on, even at that level); so demonstrated soft skills can be a good signal of being able to complete the program.

Tutoring can also be a useful non-tech skill to list; especially listing out particular subjects that might relate to the degree.

Whatever you place on there, you should be ready to talk about situations where you have demonstrated those skills. The better you can articulate that experience, the stronger your case will be for claiming that skill.


My last resumes were almost all skills as opposed to the work I did, as from job to job it got repetitive.

So eI would talk about software I can use, programming languages, negotiating with states, reserving. pricing models, managing people, languages I speak, lines of business I know…

my 4 skills are:

Hard-working, Alpha male. Jackhammer. Merciless. Insatiable .


Isn’t that list a bit redundant? :wink:

1 Like

That’s 5 skills. Or are your skills just so skillful that they have skills of their own?

This is an early candidate for “Post of the Year” consideration

1 Like

I will put something like:

Significant experience with T-SQL, VBA, Access, R, and Excel
Certified Base Programmer for SAS
Proficient in R and DB2 (SQL)
Familiar with Python and C#

This tells the employer that if they’re expecting an out-of-the-box Python genius, I’m not their person. If they’re looking for somebody to train up in a Python-heavy role, I might be appropriate.

I almost wouldn’t even put Excel in there, because I could mean anything from “I know VLOOKUP” to something of significance. But I include it to potentially ping automatic HR systems that I can, in fact, jockey a spreadsheet.

Something like “attention to detail” or “hard worker” wouldn’t cause me to throw your resume away, but it definitely awards you no points and takes away from space that could have been positive.

A skills section is a good way to pad out a page if you can’t fill it with work-related topics. Better than 3/4 of a page. Mine has gotten smaller as my career continues, and might not be on my next resume. Hell, on my first out-of-college resume I included “President of Club XYZ”, because I had little of value to put following my internship, tutoring, McDonald’s, and refereeing.

1 Like

To the rest of you, for shame in RNN’ing.

…Happy Days is my favorite theme song
I can sure kick your butt in a game of ping pong
I’ll ace any trivia quiz you bring on
fluent in JAVA Script as well as Klingon…

1 Like

I also think that just listing “attention to detail” and “collaborative” under skills is pointless. Nothing is stopping the least collaborative, most error-prone person from listing that without any repercussions. Unlike if you list Python and then can’t answer a basic question about it.

But you can put in your regular experience stuff that highlights those skills. Did you work on a project where you weren’t the boss, but nevertheless got things done across different groups? Definitely collaborative. Did you pivot your project based on feedback from others? Also, collaborative.

Did you get feedback from your colleagues or former bosses that your work is high quality? You can mention that and that says you have attention to detail. Were you given increasing responsibility in a position that demanded more attention to detail than usual? Same.

Take all the above with a grain of salt because all I know is actuarial hiring… not Phd program acceptances. Although I did get into a Phd program. I don’t remember it being that hard to get in, so maybe you could try to find out the admit rate and see if it’s even worth stressing over.