The Most Important Part of Your Resume is Also The Most Likely to Be Left Out — Here’s What it Is

Woman on laptop


Profile Picture
In 2021, many resumes are first read by an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) that filters applications by keywords. Those that pass the ATS test — or that aren't subjected to ATS at all — are read by recruiters, who spend an average of seven seconds reviewing a resume, according to a study conducted by The Ladders in 2018. The presence of ATS and the short review period by recruiters both say the same thing: Employers want to see what you're capable of in just a few words. How can you get that done? Enter the core competencies section of your resume. 

What is a core competencies section on a resume?

A core competencies section, otherwise known as a core qualifications section or a skills section, is a space to highlight the key skills and qualifications you have as an applicant to the job you're seeking. It may include your skills, personality traits, certifications or knowledge of technologies. 

Why is a core competencies section important?

Despite this section's importance, it is often left out in favor of listing more experience or formal education. However, this list does more to illustrate the results of your education and experience than does an entire page of a resume. And it does it in a more practically useful way. Like I alluded to before, having a core competencies section on your resume is a strong solution to two problems: That your resume is more likely to be read and rejected by a machine than by a person and that your resume is only glanced at by human hiring professionals. 
ATS Systems read resumes for keywords before deciding to forward the application or filter it into the trash. Taking keywords from the requirements listed in a job description and referencing them in your core competencies allows the ATS to read your resume as a fit for the employer and potentially forward it on. Meanwhile, because recruiters only spend a few seconds looking at your resume, they want to see as much evidence that you're good for the job you're applying to as possible in the least amount of words. Seeing a list of competencies is the perfect way to achieve that. 

5 tips for writing a core competencies section

1. Be concise. 

Your core competencies section should be written as a list of single words instead of as sentences. It is best to use a single word (or as close to a single word) as possible for each qualification. This is cleaner and more eye-catching. 

2. Make it visible. 

This section should be put at the top of your resume, right under your name and contact details, so that it is one of the first things recruiters see.

3. Don't keyword stuff. 

While including keywords the ATS and recruiters are seeking is helpful, including too many can cause them to flag your resume. Include up to 12 core competencies that are relevant to the job description's requirements in this section, then speak to the rest of the requirements in the body of your resume. 

4. Tailor it to each application. 

Make sure you using keywords from each individual job description you are applying to instead of sending the same resume everywhere. Each core competencies section should look slightly different based on the desired role and employer. 

5. Choose a layout that fits your resume format.

Sometimes, it's best to make your core competencies section a running list of individual words that go across the page, separated by a comma or a break. Other times, it's best to write your competencies in a bulleted format. This depends on your resume's design and the role you're applying to. Try both formats to see which method looks better — and which saves more space — with your design. Ask a friend or professional reviewer to check that your intuitions are correct! 

20 core competencies to use on your resume 

  1. Training/Development
  2. Time Management
  3. Detail-Oriented
  4. Microsoft Office
  5. Team Management
  6. Public Speaking  
  7. Customer Service
  8. Brand Development
  9. Project Management
  10. Works Well Under Pressure 
  11. Results-Driven
  12. Collaborative
  13. Flexible
  14. Adaptable 
  15. Organized 
  16. Multilingual
  17. Problem Solving
  18. Committed to Excellence
  19. Certified in...
  20. Salesforce, Adobe PhotoShop, etc.

5 examples of core competencies sections 

1. For a Teacher: 

Special Education | Multilingual | Curriculum Development | Public Speaking | Parent Leadership | Patient | Organized 

2. For an Administrative Assistant: 

Microsoft Teams | BookingKit | Strong Verbal and Written Communication | Professional | Flexible | Punctual | Friendly | 

3. For a Digital Marketer: 

Brand Development | Project Management | SEO | Adobe PhotoShop | Video Marketing | Team Management |

4. For a Python Developer: 

 Database | MS SQL Server | Oracle | SQL | SQL Server | Python | PyCharm

5. Sales Representative

 Email Marketing | Pricing | Documentation | Cross-Functional Team Leadership | Multilingual | Results-Driven |