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Written by Paul DruryPaul Drury

Skills-based resumes: a strategic approach to job applications

10 min read
Skills-based resumes: a strategic approach to job applications
Skills-based resumes put more of an emphasis on the skills required for a role, rather than what was achieved at each previous employer. We explore when this format (also known as a functional resume) may prove most useful for a job seeker.

Sometimes resumes aren’t the easiest documents to decipher.

With the attention spans of hiring managers and recruiters already famously short, some job seekers opt for a resume format that highlights their combined skills over their work experience. A skills-based resume will still use the same bullet points to highlight accomplishments, but these accomplishments are based on skill sets rather than each of their previous roles.

This approach is unconventional, but there are plenty of situations where it may make sense. Employers will immediately see that the candidate understands which skills are required, so their success will only depend on the strength of what they share. If your skills are less than impressive, stick with a chronological resume and keep it brief.

When should you consider a skill-based resume? In this blog, we consider:

  • What is a skills-based resume?
  • When do you use a skills-based resume?
  • How to write a resume with an emphasis on skills?

What is a skills-based resume?

A skills-based (or functional) resume is where a job seeker’s skills are featured prominently at the top of the resume before their work experience. These skills are collated from the breadth of their career and are not tied to one particular role.

A standard resume would include a list of skills with no deeper exploration, but the skills-based resume allows for a deep dive into each skill and exactly how it will impact your future career success. Bullet-pointed expositions of your skills tell a future employer just what you will bring to your work.

The prominent skills section will come just after your summary at the top of the resume and the two can be used in tandem to create an impressive career sales pitch. The summary in a skills-based resume is important as it offers the chance to share other important accomplishments and motivations that may not quite fit with the required skills. It is acceptable to write a longer summary of 8-10 lines in this case.

Some recruiters may consider that a skill-based resume could be used to conceal deficiencies in your work experience, so try to be as transparent as possible. There should still be a full list of your previous roles (with dates) as this is a critical ingredient for an appraisal of your career.

When do you use a skills-based resume?

There are two main job search situations where a skills-based resume may prove useful.

1. Early in your career

Firstly, if you are early in your career and wish to prove to an employer that you have the required skills for the role, it may make sense to pick out some specific skills from your limited work experience to show that you do have the potential to succeed. Assuming that the hiring manager will be able to read through the lines of a threadbare application may be a mistake. Lead with the skills required and match your experience as best you can.

2. At a career change

A skills-based resume may also be deployed if you are looking to make a career change. You can still include your chronological work experience after the skills section, but leading with transferable skills shows that you will be able to make the jump. Addressing the concerns of a hiring manager will go a long way to securing that interview invite. Hit them with your skills before they see that your last job title is different from the one they’re offering.

Other times 

Other times when you may choose a skills-based resume include:

  • You have a series of gaps in your work history that you wish to mask.
  • You have held multiple short-term jobs or internships simultaneously.
  • Most of your previous roles are similar and not worth including individually.
  • You are moving from a gig-economy career to a permanent role.
  • Skills-based resumes are a particularly good fit for creatives with a portfolio.

There are plenty of different approaches to writing a resume. The functional (skills) resume is not an uncommon choice. It is important to remember that you should only include the key skills for the role which may not be obvious from your previous experience. In this way, you complement the information that follows in the work experience section.

Risks of a skills-based resume

There is a certain risk in creating a resume that focuses on three or four key skills. It will require a forensic examination of each job description and it is likely that the skills section will need to be tailored for each role. If you are creating a skills-based resume you need to be certain that the skills are at the top of a hiring manager’s wish list. This isn’t always easy to ascertain before you have discussed the intricacies of the role with them at the interview.

How to write a resume with an emphasis on skills

A skills-based resume is very different from a normal chronological resume. It is far from a matter of shifting around the resume sections. The summary should be expanded alongside the skills section, while your employment history decreases in significance.

Resume header

The resume header should contain your contact details—full name, email, and mobile number. There is no need for a full home address at this stage—just your town or city of residence will be fine.

A skills-based resume will often be tight on space, so make sure that the design of the header does not take up too much of the page.

Resume summary

The resume summary (or resume objective) for a skills-based resume needs to do a bit more work than a normal resume and it will often be twice the length. 

When you are leading with your skills, it is vital to highlight the direction that you wish your career to take in the resume summary section. Employers would look at the title of the previous role to gain an insight into a normal resume, so given the relegation of work experience to a later point, the summary should contain a sentence about who you are and where you see your next career move.

Sharing some personality is also vital in this version of a resume summary. The bullet points that you use to outline your skills may be a little dry, so use those initial lines to let your future boss know what you are like. They will read the summary before the list of skills, so make sure that every sentence is compelling. They may not read any further otherwise.

Skills section

Now the resume truly starts to set itself apart. When you are up against dozens of rivals, being different is not always a bad thing. If your skills are impressive enough to merit increased prominence, this section could linger long in a hiring manager’s mind.

Start with some careful consideration of which 3-4 skills to include. They should be focused on the demands of the role, and they should have 2-3 great examples from your previous career experience. If you cannot share suitably impressive examples, pick another skill.

Include bullet points of your achievements to outline each skill. In a similar way to a normal work experience section, these bullets should contain career accomplishments that demonstrate the skill, ideally with some quantifiable statistics to back them up. These accomplishments do not have to be in chronological order, so lead with the most impressive one for each skill as that will be what catches the eye of the hiring manager.

Ideally, the bullet points should be significant enough to take up the whole width of the page. If they are too brief, you risk too much white space. As another option, you may consider two columns for the skills section. That would be the ultimate use of space, but you may not have enough space to detail the skills in enough depth.

You may also wish to include an “additional skills” section after the employment history with a list of skills that you do not explore in this kind of depth.

Employment history

Your employment history should be included in the same way as a normal resume, ideally chronologically, but with fewer details under each position. Each role should have a job title and dates of employment. A description of one or two key achievements would be useful if they fit with the role, but don’t repeat anything that you have said in the skills section. 

It is important to be honest in the employment history section. Even though your focus may be on skills, any omissions or exaggerations here could be grounds for dismissal if your employer finds out that you lied at a later point.

Make sure to focus on your softer skills in this section as it is unlikely that you will include them in the featured skills section. How you work with people around you is as important as your skillset and what you have achieved.

Education

The education section should be the same in any kind of resume. List the name of your college or university, whichever is later. Detail the nature of your qualification and when you graduated. You shouldn’t need many more details than this unless you work in academia. If that is the case, then a skills-based resume certainly won’t be for you.

Additional training and certifications are, however, especially important in a skills-based resume. Learning and development are often central to skills development, so make sure that you dedicate enough space to this section. If you are early in your career or changing occupations, any learning outside of the workplace can be an indicator of your passion.

Key takeaways

A skills-based resume may be effective, but it should only be chosen if you have a valid reason that a normal chronological resume will not work for you. Employers and recruiters will spend a few minutes wondering why you haven’t opted for the standard approach, so be careful not to jeopardize your application.

  • Analyze the job description and pick the right skills to highlight.
  • Include detailed bullet point achievements that highlight your skills.
  • Write a more detailed summary to complement the skills section.
  • Make sure that you are thorough in the depiction of your work experience.
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