The rise, fall and rise again of Key Skills sections in CVs  

Key skills

To call anything in a CV fashionable may be stretching it. I mean, I’ve yet to find a Luis Vuitton branded CV template. However, there is one section that seems to go in and out of favour more often than flared jeans or tank tops. The Key Skills section. There was a time when the majority of CVs contained them. Then a few years ago they faded away. Now it seems they are back again with a vengeance.

Key skills sections of yesteryear…

Prior to the demise of the key skills section, they could take several forms. Some job seekers would write extended key skill descriptions of what, for example, good ‘communication skills’ means to them. Others would simply write key words or phrases in a list. Job seekers transitioning career might detail transferable skills to show how elements of their previous roles relate to the new career they are targeting.

Why key skills disappeared

Then one day, with the exception of career changers, Key Skills sections went out of favour. There was a good reason why this happened. A CV is all about convincing the reader you have what it takes to do the role you are applying for. The best way to demonstrate this is by example. Hence, citing specific achievements is much more powerful than simply listing key skills without actually showing how you have used them.

How ATS changed things

Things have changed again with the introduction of ATS. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) work by analysing the key words and phrases in your CV against those contained in a job description and person specification. Whilst you should weave key words and phrases naturally throughout your CV, a key skills section now acts as a container device making sure your CV includes words and phrases aligned to your target job. Key skills sections have found a new reason for being.

You still need to tailor your CV for every application

The key skills section can be used to include hard and soft skills. For the majority of job seekers there is no need to have more than one key skills section. You can include soft skills like ‘stakeholder engagement’ in addition to hard skills such as ‘Agile methodologies’ or ‘Excel’. Some organisations will use different words to describe the same thing. ATS systems work by word recognition so you need to use the exact words and terms associated with a particular job description to give your CV the best chance of making it through the filters. So, always adapt and tailor your CV for every job you apply for – including the key skills section.

This article is written by Neville Rose, Director of CV Writers.

See more about our CV writing services here.

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