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Is your CV costing you interviews?

  • Writer's pictureCV People UK

How to create a key skills section for your CV and what to include

key skills on cv

In today's competitive job market, having a polished CV is essential, but simply listing your experiences and qualifications isn't enough. To stand out, you need to target your key skills to the positions you are applying for. This tailored approach ensures that potential employers quickly see your suitability for the role, giving you a significant advantage. This blog post will guide you through the process of effectively targeting your key skills in your CV, detailing the differences between soft and key skills, the importance of a key skills section, and how to present it effectively.

Understanding Soft Skills vs. Key Skills

Before diving into how to target your key skills, it's important to understand the distinction between soft skills and key skills.

Soft Skills

Soft skills are personal attributes that enable you to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. These are often intangible and harder to quantify but are crucial for working effectively in any job. Examples of soft skills include:

  • Communication: The ability to convey information effectively and efficiently.

  • Teamwork: The ability to work well within a team.

  • Problem-Solving: The capacity to find solutions to challenges.

  • Time Management: The skill to manage one's time effectively to meet deadlines.

  • Adaptability: The ability to adjust to new conditions and environments.

Key Skills

Key skills, on the other hand, are specific abilities or expertise required to perform particular tasks. These are often more tangible and easier to measure. Key skills vary significantly between professions and industries but could include:

  • Technical Proficiency: Such as coding in specific programming languages for a software developer.

  • Project Management: Expertise in managing projects, often with certification like PRINCE2.

  • Data Analysis: The ability to interpret and analyse complex data sets.

  • Foreign Languages: Proficiency in multiple languages.

  • Sales Techniques: Knowledge of and experience with various sales strategies.

Why a Key Skills Section is Important

Including a key skills section in your CV is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Immediate Impact: Hiring managers often skim through CVs quickly. A key skills section provides a quick overview of your relevant capabilities, making it easier for them to see that you are a good fit for the role.

  2. Targeted Approach: Tailoring your key skills to the job description helps demonstrate that you have the specific skills the employer is looking for. This makes your application more relevant and compelling.

  3. Highlighting Strengths: It allows you to highlight your strongest skills right at the top, ensuring they aren't overlooked amidst your work history and education.

  4. Keyword Optimisation: Many companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to filter applications. Including the right keywords in your key skills section can help ensure your CV passes this initial screening.

How to Identify the Key Skills for a Job Application

The first step in targeting your key skills is to identify which skills are most relevant to the job you are applying for. Here’s how you can do that:

Analyse the Job Description

Carefully read the job description and highlight the key skills and qualifications mentioned. Look for repeated skills or competencies, as these are likely to be critical for the role.

Research the Company

Understanding the company’s culture and values can help you identify which skills might be particularly valued. Check their website, social media, and any employee reviews available online.

Benchmark Against Industry Standards

Research common key skills for similar positions within the industry. Professional associations, industry publications, and job boards can be useful resources.

Reflect on Your Experience

Consider your own experience and identify the skills that align with the job requirements. Be honest and realistic about your abilities.

Tailoring Your Key Skills Section

Once you have identified the relevant key skills, it’s time to tailor your key skills section to each application. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you do this effectively:

1. Prioritise Your Skills

Start by listing all your relevant skills, then prioritise them based on their importance to the job you’re applying for. The most relevant skills should be at the top of your list.

2. Use Specific Examples

Where possible, provide specific examples of how you have demonstrated these skills in your previous roles. Quantify your achievements to give a clearer picture of your capabilities. For instance, instead of saying "Project Management," you could say "Managed a team of 10 to successfully deliver a £1M project on time and within budget."

3. Align with the Job Description

Ensure that the language you use in your key skills section aligns with the job description. This not only helps with ATS but also makes it clear to human readers that you have the skills they are looking for.

4. Avoid Generic Skills

Avoid including basic skills like "timekeeping," "team player," or "hard worker" unless they are explicitly mentioned in the job description. These skills are generally assumed and do not add much value. Focus instead on profession-specific key skills.

5. Be Honest

While it’s important to present yourself in the best light, always be honest about your skills. Misrepresenting your abilities can lead to problems down the line.

How to Present Your Key Skills in Your CV

Now that you have tailored your key skills, it’s important to present them effectively in your CV. Here’s how:

Placement of the Key Skills Section

The key skills section should be prominently placed in your CV. Here are a few options:

  • At the Top: Placing the key skills section at the top of your CV, just below your summary or objective, ensures it’s one of the first things a hiring manager sees.

  • Near the Work Experience: Alternatively, you could place it just above or below your work experience section. This helps to provide context for your skills and how they have been applied in your previous roles.

Formatting the Key Skills Section

Use a clear, easy-to-read format. Here are some tips:

  • Bullet Points: Use bullet points to list your key skills. This makes them easy to scan.

  • Grouping Skills: If you have a long list of skills, consider grouping them into categories. For example, you could have a “Technical Skills” section and a “Management Skills” section.

  • Consistent Formatting: Ensure that the formatting is consistent with the rest of your CV. Use the same font, font size, and spacing.

Example of a Key Skills Section

Here’s an example of how you might present your key skills:

Key Skills

  • Project Management: Led cross-functional teams to deliver projects valued at over £2M, consistently meeting deadlines and staying within budget.

  • Data Analysis: Proficient in using Excel, SQL, and Python to analyse and interpret complex data sets. Delivered insights that led to a 15% increase in sales.

  • Technical Proficiency: Experienced in Java, C++, and Python programming languages. Developed and maintained software applications for FTSE 100 companies.

  • Client Relations: Managed relationships with key clients, leading to a 20% increase in repeat business.

  • Foreign Languages: Fluent in Spanish and French, with experience conducting business in both languages.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When targeting your key skills to the positions you are applying for, it’s important to avoid common pitfalls:

1. Being Too Generic

Avoid using generic skills that could apply to any job. Instead, focus on specific skills that are directly relevant to the position you are applying for.

2. Overloading with Skills

While it’s important to showcase your abilities, including too many skills can be overwhelming. Focus on the most relevant skills and avoid listing more than 10-12 key skills.

3. Failing to Customise

Each job application should have a tailored key skills section. Failing to customise your CV for each job can make you appear less interested or less suitable for the role.

4. Ignoring the Job Description

The job description is your roadmap to identifying the key skills required. Ignoring it or failing to align your skills with it can result in your application being overlooked.

5. Misrepresenting Your Skills

Be honest about your abilities. Misrepresenting your skills can lead to issues if you are hired and cannot meet the expectations.


Targeting your key skills to the positions you are applying for is an essential step in crafting a compelling CV. By understanding the difference between soft and key skills, identifying the relevant skills for each job, and presenting them effectively, you can significantly enhance your chances of securing an interview. Remember to prioritise profession-specific key skills, align them with the job description, and present them prominently in your CV. By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to creating a CV that stands out in the competitive job market.


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