STEM Resume Breakdown, Part 4 of 6 – How to Highlight Skills on Your Resume

In part 4 of my 6-part STEM resume writing series, we will focus on one of the most overlooked, yet important elements of a STEM resume—the skills section—and the role of applicant tracking systems (ATS) in the hiring process.

We will specifically examine the following topics:

  • The relationship between ATS and resume skills
  • The different types of resume skills and keywords
  • How to identify and integrate relevant keywords

This article will also include links to other informative blog posts that you may find helpful to build out your resume’s skills section. Let’s get started!

What do skills have to do with ATS?

Today, 97% of large companies and over 80% of small- and medium-sized companies use ATS to scan resumes for keywords and other selection criteria for a specific role. Unfortunately, this system screens out many highly qualified applicants.

If your resume fails to connect the dots between your qualifications and skills to the job target, it’s likely that your resume will never be seen by a human reader.

One of the easiest ways to integrate keywords into your resume is by creating a ‘Key Skills’ or ‘Core Areas of Expertise’ section, or including them in your summary. Recruiters and Hiring Managers like the skills section because it makes it easier to pick out keywords and selection criteria without scanning large chunks of text.

To help you visualize this on a resume, let’s look at some examples. These samples also include the most important elements that we covered in part 1, part 2, and part 3 and the different ways you can position this information on your own resume.

These examples are based on real Scientech Resumes clients. Any potentially identifying information has been removed or disguised to protect client confidentiality.

One of the most common and easiest ways to display skills on your resume is by organizing them in a column-like format, like the example above. Using the shading and borderline techniques we went over in part 1, we are able to draw attention to specific information while adding style.

Let’s take a look at a second example that uses a different style.


In this example, we’ve positioned the ‘Core Skills & Knowledge’ section alongside the client’s summary. This is an effective way to utilize your resume space, although it requires using the table’s function in MS Word.

Note: I said ‘tables’ instead of ‘text boxes.’ I highly advise against using text boxes on a resume. Reason? You guessed it. ATS compatibility.

What types of skills can you include on your resume?

Keywords are incredibly diverse and can take various forms.

  • Hard: Technical/job-specific skills, job titles, industry licenses, certifications, computer programs, degree/field of study
  • Soft: Leadership, teamwork, communication, relationship management, problem-solving, organization, personality traits
  • Adaptive: Ability to make decisions, influence people, meet deadlines, or handle criticism
  • General: Company names, products, foreign languages, professional affiliations, locations (city, state, country)

Most STEM professionals tend to overly focus on technical skills over transferable and adaptive skills.

However, a 2019 survey of more than 2,000 adults conducted online by the Harris poll on behalf of Yoh indicated that 75% of employers prefer to hire candidates with strong soft skills, rather than choosing someone with direct experience and qualifications who possess poor interpersonal skills. Reason?

It’s much easier to train someone in a hard skill than a soft skill, whereas soft skills govern human interaction. 

How many skills do you list?

It is tempting to list every skill that you possess, but that would negate the purpose of enhancing resume readability. The skills section should focus on the most relevant skills and attributes you bring to the position. The sweet spot can range anywhere from 5-15 skills.

4 tips to identify resume keywords?

This process may be hard for some and easier for others. If you’re currently working in a position similar to the next role you want to target, you will have an easier time aligning your skills and knowledge to your next job.

If you’re looking to change careers, transition to a different industry, or advance to a managerial or high-level leadership role, you’ll need to show how your skills and qualifications will translate into future success in your target role(s).

  • Study the job posting. Look closely at the “Qualifications” sections. Write down the ones that align with your skills, qualifications, and unique value.

  • Narrow down your list. Doing the exercise above may leave you with a long list of keywords. Review your list and compare it to the job posting. Look for the words that are repeated and make a point to connect these keywords to your career story.

  • Identify specific action verbs. While nouns are the most important, you can uncover additional keywords by studying the verbs that the job posting uses.

  • Balance the keywords in your resume and cover letter. Don’t overlook the opportunity that a cover letter provides in introducing your resume. Use your cover letter to sprinkle in the most important soft skills relevant to the role while emphasizing more of the hard skills in your resume.

Where else can you find keywords?

There are many resources out on the Internet that can help you find common keywords used in your industry:

  • Company website
  • Google
  • O*Net Occupational Directory
  • Word cloud apps. One of my favorites (and easiest to use) is TagCrowd. With this app, you can copy and paste job descriptions into a text box. From there, the app generates a nicely organized word cloud to help you visualize word frequency within a specific job post. Plus there’s no sign-up required!

Whether you’re targeting a specific job or a few different roles, the details are important. Keywords are broad and diverse. You may need to add, remove, or modify certain keywords depending on your job targets. In part 5, we will discuss the experience section and how to create achievement-oriented resume bullets.

Scientech Resumes is dedicated to helping science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals find fulfilling work through targeted, branded, and keyword-optimized resumes and other career marketing documents. Schedule a FREE 20-minute discovery session to get some real-time feedback on your current resume and job search strategy. Let’s get you where you want to go, with greater results!



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *