Hard skills are those skills which are very easy to teach and measure, with well defined right and wrong answers. This includes mathematics, computer programming, basic engineering principles, legal knowledge, and many areas of accounting and finance. These are often very specific (to a particular industry, technology, or business activity) and highly measurable. For example, computer programming skills may be closely associated with a particular technology platform (Linux vs Windows).
The tricky part comes when you have to figure out what to do with all of the OTHER hard skills in your background. This is where many candidates get off track and lose their audience. Suppose, for example, you are applying for a web development job and have twenty years of diverse database experience in small manufacturing companies. For those who haven't seen a manufacturing IT resume, this frequently turns into a quarter page list of different software. Unfortunately, this often works against you - losing your audience or worse, making your skills sound dated. So what you need to do is very specific on the required hard skills and summarize the rest of your hard skills at a higher level. For example: Three years of web development and twenty years of broader development experience.
What Are Hard Skills?
Basically any skill that can be reduced to a testable body of knowledge, often with third party certification such as degrees and industry credentials.
Some common examples include:
- Project Management Certifications: Are you a PMP (Project Management Professional)? Have you completed a certificate program in an area such as Business Analyst or Quality Assurance? Do you have a certification in Lean or Six Sigma? These are examples of process and project hard skills. You might even be able to list the various tools or methodologies you've worked with. Caution: Don't go overboard on listing tools. Remember everyone else from your training class probably learned the same things...
- Finance and Accounting: Ranging from formal designations such as a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) or CMA (Certified Managerial Accountant) to more informal areas of expertise such as financial modeling, mergers and acquisitions, and internal audit experience. There's also a certified fraud examiner and bank examiner credentials that carry weight in certain fields.
- Data Analytics: Very broad range of potential skills, including statistical modeling, machine learning, optimization, and design of experiments. Also includes more basic business analysis skills for areas such as marketing, forecasting, and operations planning.
- Technicians And Mechanics: Do you know how to work with a specific machine or industrial production line? How about repairing an HVAC system or boiler? Or having expertise in working in hazardous environments? These are hard skills that you should definitely include on your resume for maintenance and repair jobs.
- Medical Certifications: Another set of hard skills that is required for many medical positions - nursing, pharmacy, and medical assistant credentials. These are something of a world unto themselves, but be sure to mention them for relevant jobs if you have them.
Important - remember, in many cases, you are still just "checking the box". While your hard skills may qualify you for a job, you will frequently need to explain how your soft skills set you apart from the other qualified candidates. So be ready to explain how you're a great team player with a strong eye for detail and focus on quality (if that's what they want), in addition to being a certified mechanic for that particular piece of equipment.
Demonstrating Hard Skills On A Resume
This is one area where a simple list of credentials and experience works well. The tricky part is setting yourself apart from everyone who claims to have the same experience. You can do this in a couple of ways:
- Proper Positioning: Add some language to the summary section at the top of your resume to help guide the reader on what to look for. This is especially useful if you have a very diverse set of skills (IT professional) but are truly an expert in a narrow set of them (Python Developer specializing in analytics). Remember that most of your readers are going to be focused on "checking the box" so make it very easy for them to figure it out. I once lost a shot at a great pricing job because the recruiter couldn't figure out I had experience in their pricing system (right there on the page). A good summary might have saved this.
- Focus Accomplishments: One side effect of a twenty year career is you accumulate twenty years of "stuff" that you've done, ranging from a few very awesome achievements to a laundry list of every job duty that you ever held. Don't dwell on lower level jobs and lesser projects. You may well have half a page of accomplishments from your first job twenty years ago, but use that resume space to talk about the cool stuff you did in the past few years. Every high level job has certain prerequisites - your audience is smart enough to assume that their pricing director was once an analyst or manager and did appropriate things to prepare for their current job.
- But Show Your Stuff: Pick a couple of projects and go deep on them, showing that you used your hard skills to make money or take the business to the next level. I usually pick a couple of projects in each category for "show and tell" during the interview. Be sure to have both - sometimes the high dollar projects are surprisingly simple and you need to be able to show your technical chops through other means. For example, I have a huge win on my resume that was basically cat herding (no technology involved) and a far small one where we did some cool (but unpaid) visualization work for a client.
- Mix In Soft Skills: Don't underestimate the value of experience in training, communications, leadership and change management. A good set of soft skills (with accomplishments) can set you apart in a hard skills job.