How to present soft skills on your CV

A good CV is a combination of hard and soft skills, demonstrating to a potential employer that you not only have the industry and role-specific knowledge to perform well in the vacant role, but also have the attitude and aptitude to succeed.

They’re a vital part of every job, but also very hard to pinpoint and include convincingly on a CV. CV Knowhow have seen this done with varying degrees of success, so we’re here to share some thoughts on how you can attack this aspect of your CV.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are those that you can use in almost any job or sector. They aren’t role-specific, like computer programming or risk analysis, but more to do with interpersonal skills and character traits. Examples would include teamwork, attention to detail, a positive attitude and common sense.

Why do I need to include soft skills in my CV?

Soft skills are particularly important on CVs for school leavers, recent graduates and applicants at an early stage in their career. You may not have a great deal of professional experience to draw on, so soft skills are a great way of showing that you can still contribute to a business.

As you progress in your career, it can still be useful to include soft skills on your CV. For example, to demonstrate your leadership style or show a recruiter how you fit with the company culture.

What soft skills should I include?

The soft skills you highlight on your CV will depend on the types of role you’re applying for. Have a look at the job advert to get an idea of what the employer is looking for and try to cover as many points as possible.

If you’re at an early stage of your career, consider: verbal and written communication, teamwork, attention to detail, flexibility, problem solving and time management. Remember, however, to back them up with concrete examples, showing when you’ve used each skill and the outcome.

Later in your career, you can add higher-level skills such as leadership, influencing, stakeholder engagement, strategic thinking and so on. Again, including positive outcomes for each skill will strengthen your CV.

How should I present my soft skills on my CV?

The key to successfully including soft skills on your CV is to avoid clichés as much as possible. If you say “I’m a hard-working and enthusiastic team player”, the recruiter can only see that you’re capable of reading a list of key words to include on your CV.

Sentences like this are virtually meaningless and recruiters see them so often that they’re likely to send your CV straight to the bottom of the pile.

However, if you say “Contributed to the team that achieved the highest sales figures in the store”, or “Organised social events to improve team morale” or “Took responsibility for ensuring that team performance reports were delivered on time”, you’re proving to the recruiter that you can work well in a team.

Don’t just tell a recruiter that you possess a skill. Back up your claim by proving it – put it in context and wherever possible frame it as an achievement. This immediately makes your CV more credible.

You may have heard of the STAR technique for presenting your skills on an application form or during an interview. You can apply the same theory to your CV.

Consider times that you used a particular skill in terms of Situation, Task, Action and Result, and phrase your CV accordingly.

That said, your CV should be much more concise than an application form or an interview, so keep it tight – ideally no more than 2 lines per example, with a focus on the result.

Where should I include soft skills on my CV?

The most obvious place for soft skills is in your career history section. However, don’t focus the information you give here entirely on soft skills. Spread them throughout your career to ensure you have plenty of scope to include your hard skills as well.

If you’re in the early stages of your career, you won’t have much career history to draw on. In which case, it’s fine to include sections for interests or voluntary work to enable you to emphasise transferable skills from other parts of your life.

If you’ve undertaken work to support you financially whilst studying, consider including this on your CV briefly. It may not relate directly to your desired career but a short summary is a great opportunity to present transferable skills.

The key skills section shouldn’t focus on soft skills, as it then begins to read like the meaningless list I described above – save this section for industry – and role-specific skills.

In summary:

  • Identify skills relevant to your desired role
  • Spread them throughout your CV
  • Show, don’t tell – prove and quantify!

If you’d like more advice on balancing hard and soft skills on your CV, or would like a free review of your work, contact CV Knowhow who would be more than happy to help and advise.

About the author: Jen David has been a CV Consultant since 2010 and currently works for CV Knowhow, the UK’s leading career and CV writing consultancy. She has written CVs for thousands of job seekers from all industries and at all stages in their career, from students to senior executives. Jen aims to add value to CVs, enabling her customers to increase their chances of securing an interview and progress in their chosen career.

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