7 Resume Skills That Make You Stand Out from the Competition (That You May Not Realize You Possess)
Updated: Sep 25, 2022
Little known fact—long before I decided to become a career counselor, I started a resume business as a way to pay for grad school at the University of Iowa. I called myself Square One Resumes (later changing it to The Write Type when I decided to add dissertation editing skills to my list of services) and printed up flyers fringed along the bottom with tear-off phone numbers. (I also waited tables at a mid-scale casual dining restaurant that served continental cuisine and at a Holiday Inn as a banquet services host for events, like weddings and conferences.)
Back then, no one worried about the applicant tracking systems (ATS) that now scan through resumes to search for distinct keywords and keyword phrases and minimal requirements, like education levels and certifications. It was a simpler time, but it taught me that I sometimes needed to dig a little deeper to elicit the words to describe a client’s work experience in order to help them truly stand out. People (especially in Iowa) tend to be modest about their strengths and skills, and now when I conduct an intake for resume work, I remind people they may have skills that they are glossing over or neglecting entirely.
We also tend to dismiss these early experiences in our careers, often deeming them irrelevant to our current profession, but this is a common mistake. These early jobs made us who we are and likely shaped critical social skills that we continue to develop. I, for instance, would never have had the nerve to start a career counseling practice if I hadn’t started a resume side hustle at age 25. (Similarly, waiting tables helped me overcome my shyness and gave me the ability to carry twelve dishes at once without the benefit of a tray.)
We may not list all of these skills on our resumes, but we should take time to contemplate the ones we have continued to cultivate and strengthen as we gear up for a job search. Below is a short list of skills I like my resume clients to consider including on their resumes if they have indeed fostered it in job experiences, both past and present.
Cross-Functional Team Collaboration / Cross-Functional Team Collaboration Leadership
Both of these skills are a mouthful, I admit, but they do show up in job postings. Really all they refer to is the ability to serve on a team and simultaneously collaborate with other teams on either individual projects or multiple projects that affect or cross-pollinate with one another in significant ways. If you have experience leading a team that is collaborating with another team, you can claim to have cross-functional team collaboration leadership experience; however, if you have served as a member of a team that is working together with another team, you can only claim cross-functional team collaboration experience.
Project Management / Program Management
Even if you weren’t bestowed the title of “project manager” or “program manager” in past roles but still planned projects, events, initiatives, or programs, it’s likely that you can claim project or program management as a skill. What’s the difference? Project managers create strategies and schedules for specific groups, while program managers usually plan a series of projects for a given department or work group. While both entail leadership and management skills, program managers will usually bear more responsibilities and may do more to ensure the goals of the programs they are leading but less focused on the scheduling and deadlines as project managers typically are. The scope of a program is usually larger than a project and is more likely to be ongoing or indefinite in its endpoint. The goals of each differ as well—project goals are usually short-term, while program goals are long-term.
For instance, a nonprofit might have a program that recruits and trains volunteers for various fundraising events, but a specific fundraising event would more exclusively qualify as a project.
Interpersonal Communication Skills
If you have worked in roles where you have been required to routinely interact with the public, respond to questions or inquiries, smooth out (or prevent) interpersonal conflicts, make small talk with clients, put anxious people (like patients undergoing uncomfortable procedures or counseling clients eager to see their therapist) at ease, or facilitate complex meetings with high-stakes outcomes, you have likely honed your interpersonal skills. Some people are naturally gifted in this area, while others have to work hard to master the ability to successfully communicate with people in unpredictable situations. If your success in a past role ever depended on your ability to calm tensions, diffuse conflict, or simply inspire confidence and trust, you can safely list interpersonal communication skills on your resume.
Written Communication / Editing
Most leaders and supervisors rely on written communication and editing skills to complete reports and correspond with direct reports and other colleagues. Those who serve in an administrative capacity or any kind of supporting role to someone who communicates often in written form are often expected to create newsletters, write or edit reports, ghost write correspondences, and complete other tasks that include writing and editing. If you have worked on any books or articles that were formally published in print or digital media, you can definitely take credit for written comments and editing chops. Social media content counts, too, if it extended to blog posts or video content scriptwriting for YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and the like in the promotion of a business brand. If you have written grants or proposals, list this experience, too, and describe the successful results of these efforts as well as any follow-up reporting that was required (i.e., Wrote a grant proposal to Southeast Uplift to start a farmers market that yielded $3,000).
Have you ever been responsible for keeping a massive database updated and maintained? Have you ever “scrubbed” a database—fixed incorrect, incomplete, duplicate, or otherwise erroneous data in a data set? The ability to maintain data is a skill that is ever-growing in demand and should definitely not be missed if you’ve made it your mission in a job to update and maintain a large data set.
Are you able to hold the attention of a crowd when you speak? (Yes, teachers, I’m also talking to you. The ability to captivate and compel any group is impressive; accomplishing that feat with anyone under 18 should earn you bonus points in this skill set.) You may still be developing this skill, or may loathe it altogether, but if you’re at all talented in this area, it is definitely worth mentioning—especially if you hope to apply for a leadership or management position.
Conflict Resolution / Conflict Mediation
Few people enjoy using this skill, but anyone in a leadership role or working in the human resources, education, healthcare, or mental health fields has likely honed these skills. Even if you have stealthily developed the ability to prevent conflict among team members or direct reports by encouraging open, honest communication and creating conditions that promote collaboration and harmony, you can take credit for this skill set. For those few people who do enjoy resolving conflict, there are conflict mediation certifications you can earn that are specific to workplace settings. The book Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen is also a great conflict resolution primer.
Kristin Schuchman, MSW is a career counselor and author based in Portland, Oregon who works with creative and mission-driven professionals. She writes resumes and coaches individuals seeking support for career indecision, next steps, work re-entry, advancement, starting a business, and work-life-balance. She offers a free 30-minute Zoom or phone session and presently works with clients remotely. You can find her books The DIY Website Workbook and Jump Start: How to redirect a career that has stalled, lost direction or reached a crossroads on Amazon.