Soft Skills on Technical Resumes

I was in Google Docs collaborating on a resume for a Resume Raiders client the other day when a comment popped up regarding soft skills. The client was an accomplished mobile developer with many years of experience, but he wanted to be sure that his “ability to communicate with clients, present ideas, and collaborate on designs and specifications” was prominently featured on the resume.

It’s incredibly difficult to demonstrate soft skills on a resume, and spending significant amounts of resume space in an attempt to do so is typically ineffective. These attempts often become long lists of self-assessments that come across as entirely trite and cliche, and they end up wasting a large amount of space that may be better dedicated to other things.

Some writers choose to use some kind of key skills/attributes section somewhere in the top third of the resume, which often looks like a tag cloud with phrases like “requirements gathering” and “business analysis,” or even more generic, “interpersonal skills” or “excellent communicator.” These sections are again somewhat useless self-assessments that I generally refer to as “fluff” when speaking to clients. It’s noise, not hiring signal. Don’t waste the space.

Telling a reader that you gathered requirements or worked with end-users provides insight into a responsibility, but it doesn’t provide much information about skill level you demonstrated during those interactions. This is where some will pepper a sentence with words like “adeptly” or “skillfully”, which again has no real value to the reader.

A brief mention of having responsibility for some human interaction is helpful in showing that you’ve at least performed that task before, but trying to expand with self-assessments is probably not the best way to get your point across.

Is There a Better Way?

How to demonstrate those soft skills?

  • Tell the reader about presentations or training that you have given, whether publicly (at meetups or conferences) or in internal company settings. Audience size and frequency is a relevant metric. Link to audio or video if possible.
  • If you’ve been successful in working as part of distributed/remote teams or team members, that is usually an indicator for communication ability.
  • Share anecdotes of when you influenced management to implement your suggestion or reference the negotiation of a vendor contract.
  • Leading a development team meeting, Scrum, or a client demo/sales presentation? That’s worthy of a sentence.

Conclusion

Simply writing “I have good interpersonal skills” seems like it could be effective, but it isn’t. Everybody says it. Use these more creative approaches in describing these skills, and try to associate the soft skills with a tangible result.

One comment

  1. Bob Waldo

    Some excellent points, Dave. Having read so many resumes of candidates that claim the ability to communicate clearly (only to find their communication skills to be marginal at best), these are great differentiators that can give the reader an insight into just how likely that candidate has the sort of soft skills required for certain positions.

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