The first step to building a killer resume is to craft a comprehensive skills listing document.
If you’ve been at the same job for a while, or if you’ve been out of the job market for an extended period, writing down your skills and accomplishments in a loose format will prepare you to organize this information into a resume.
The beauty of a skills listing document is that you can use this powerful job-hunting tool for multiple purposes: building a fantastic resume, crafting cover letters, or answering tricky questions in job interviews.
If you do a skills listing properly, you’ll find yourself referring back to this document many times throughout the job-hunting process. You should have far more content in your skills listing than you can fit on your resume.
What exactly is a “skills listing document”?
Your skills listing is a loose brainstorm document. This exercise does not need to be organized according to any formal system. Whatever works for you is beautiful. You do you!
You will list everything about your past jobs without thinking too hard about how to organize your job history. Depending on how you think, this information may or may not flow in an organized fashion.
If your personal job history and accomplishments flow to the page in an organized fashion, you’ll likely just need to make a few minor edits before you’re ready to copy and paste the best parts of your skills listing content to the resume itself. However, don’t feel bad if you’re not that person. You don’t need to be that person. Let’s be clear – different people have different processes. The end result is all that matters.
You do whatever you need to do in order to organize the data in your head. If you are a visual person and need to complete this task on lined paper while doodling in the margins to process your thoughts effectively, do it!
For my own skills listing document, I used numbers for main points paired with letters for details under the main points (1a., 1b. 1c., etc.) This works for me, and you can view this pattern in the examples below.
Note of caution: This exercise will require serious mental work. I will provide examples of my accomplishments and other job activities within my own industry. You may have an entirely different career and a different set of skills. You can learn from the general ideas I provide here. After reviewing, you must come up with your own content and apply the same formula to your work history. Tailoring this formula to yourself can be tough and it requires creativity. As Einstein said, “thinking is hard work”.
Let’s get started.
Your first task is to zone in on your most recent accomplishments. Put on your thinking cap.
Can you think of three major accomplishments from your last job? Many people struggle to think of what they’ve done on the job in terms of an “accomplishment”. Keep in mind that your resume is a marketing document, and you are a salesperson. You are the product that you’re selling.
You must tap your inner salesperson and get creative about your “accomplishments”. An “accomplishment” can be something as simple as being a fantastic customer service person. That’s a great starting point.
If you are young and just starting out in the job world, you likely won’t have the experience to brag that you saved the company x amount of dollars on x project. This is also true if you’re returning to work after an extended absence. Maybe you entered the job market and then took a break to raise kids, etc. I don’t care how small or insignificant you think your three “accomplishments” are. List out everything.
The formula I want you to keep in mind through this entire process is:
The “what and how” are paramount here. We’ll start with the first example from my own skills listing document:
“Accomplishment 1: Saved the company thousands of dollars annually using creative ways to save money on Indeed.com and other job boards. Attracted qualified applicants.”
What = “Saved the company thousands of dollars annually.”
How = “using creative ways to save money on Indeed.com and other job boards.”
I’ve gone a step further above and added a Result statement. This is optional. But it’s a great way to wrap up your accomplishment.
Result = “Attracted qualified applicants.”
The phrase “creative ways” is also something to pay attention to here. You have limited space on your resume. It’s precious real estate that you need to conserve. “Creative ways” gets the point across. As a bonus, the phrase presents mystery and invokes curiosity. I’m planting an urge in the mind of the recruiting manager. They’ll wonder what my methods were, and they’ll have an urge to call me up for an interview so they can find out!
If you can think of a way that you saved your employer money – even a small amount of money – you’ve hit the jackpot. That is your biggest accomplishment. Saving a company money is a big deal.
If you’ve never saved a company money, you need to start thinking about ways you can save your employer money next time you’re on the job. You don’t need to be a manager in charge of a budget to save money. Remember that saving time is equivalent to saving money. Improving an outdated process to save time (money) is a great accomplishment.
Think creatively. Even if you’re not an HR person, manager, or office worker, I bet you’re saving the company money in some way. Think hard about that or think about how you can start saving money. How can you translate your daily duties into money-saving or timesaving?
Remember: “What Did I Do? + How Did I Do These Things?”
Next up, you’ll want to break the “How” part of this equation down even further. Why? Because when you zone in on the “how” and provide additional detail, you can use this information in cover letters and job interviews. In the example below, I broke the statement “using creative ways to save money” into 4 additional sub statements.
“ 1a. Inserted keywords into the ads, and relisted ads frequently while changing the job title using knowledge of similar titles (example: Care Team Member became Resident Monitor or Security Worker). I used alternate “out there/real world” titles that I knew would generate more clicks and interest.
1b. Posted additional free ads in nearby towns that were part of the same general municipality. (e.g., Chehalis versus Centralia and Spokane versus Spokane Valley). In the case of prison positions, I posted ads in towns nearby (an hour away usually) to attract willing commuters.
1c. Relisting the free ADP ads on a weekly basis, or more often if possible. This was effective because the relisted ad would then appear as new and would be distributed to ZipRecruiter and other job boards.
1d. Optimized job ads using writing and editing skills. This served the purpose of making ads easier to read and more marketable.”
In the example above, notice that I came up with four statements supporting the assertion that I saved the company thousands of dollars and attracted qualified candidates.
What actions have you taken that support your accomplishment statement? Can you break it down and come up with 3 or 4 “how” statements to pair with accomplishment #1?
Since this is a creative brainstorm document, you are free to add random notes anywhere you please, if you find that helpful. Below, you can see that I included a section called “Special Note on The How” where I took the additional step of noting what special qualities allowed me to achieve the sub-bullet items.
“Special Note on The How: My accomplishments above concerned a stern willingness to do tedious things that other HR professionals are often unwilling to do because these tasks are unpleasant and labor-intensive.”
If you’re the type of person who is willing to go the extra mile and do unpleasant things, then mention that in your brainstorm document.
You don’t have to say this in an interview exactly the way you say it in your document. This document is for you. By making a confident statement on your personal skills listing document, you’ll remind yourself, reaffirm it, and build self confidence.
Below that section, I included a concrete example of how I used this method to fill a tricky role. Here I continued the “what” + “how” pattern in loose paragraph form.
“Recent example of job board trick: Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner role. After optimizing ad with relevant keywords, I listed the ad in 5 different Washington cities since it was a remote position anyway. This was effective in pulling in additional applicants and saved the company money on outside recruiting agencies. I worked in tandem with a recruiting agency. It took the recruiting agency a whole week to find one resume, and by that time I had already selected 10 qualified resumes to present to my boss.”
Again, these “special notes” are for cover letters, interviews, and for boosting your own ego. Your brainstorm document must be as detailed as possible. As I said in the beginning, this document is your holy grail combination of resume content, interview stories, and cover letter statements. You need to include anything and everything. Accomplishments, boring everyday duties, “what + how” and special notes to yourself about your soft skill qualities.
Let’s look at another example. I used a similar but distinct achievement for the second accomplishment. While the first example was about attracting applicants, the second accomplishment is about chasing after the applicants.
“2. Succeeded in finding applicants for hard-to-fill roles in remote locations, often specialized addiction counselor roles operating inside of prisons an hour or more outside of the nearest city.”
This time, I did not include a how statement attached to the “what”. And that’s okay. I chose to do something a little different in this statement. Instead of connecting the how in the sentence, I used a clarifying statement to identify the hard-to-fill roles.
What = “Succeeded in finding applicants for hard-to-fill roles in remote locations,”
Clarifying Statement = “often specialized addiction counselor roles operating inside of prisons an hour or more outside of the nearest city.”
The clarifying statement proves that I filled difficult roles by mentioning the hardest role to fill and why, specifically, it was so hard to fill. A clarifying statement can be just as effective as a “How”. It’s also an effective way to add variety to your resume statements and avoid repetition.
Moving on, we have our additional “How” subsection, plus another “special note on the how” section.
“2a. Searched resumes using Indeed’s Resume Search tool and LinkedIn search tool. Became adept at using creative and effective keywords to maximize search results.
2b. Example: For Therapist, keywords listed were: Mental Health Therapist, Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Mental Health Therapist, Mental Health Professional, Licensed Professional Counselor, Psychotherapist. For Substance Abuse Counselors, the keywords were: Substance Use Disorder Professional, SUDP, SUD Counselor, Substance Use Disorder Counselor, and similar. Used both abbreviations and full titles. Did separate searches on each key phrase to maximize search results.
*Special Note on the How:
This creative laundry list of keywords on each role allowed me to leave no stone unturned in my searches. Using broad keywords in addition to searching nearby towns and experimenting with radial specifications would often populate resumes that would otherwise be missed.”
For me, the “special note on the how” trick is a place to note why my method is special in some way, beyond what can be stuffed into the “1a., 1b.” format.
Now we move onto accomplishment 3.
“3. Brought Chehalis facility into compliance by conducting file audit and amending issues. My work on this resulted in the facility going from mostly out of compliance into 95% compliance. This was achieved over 2 months in between other duties.”
If anything that you have done protects the employer from negative consequences (in this case auditors), that’s a win. This accomplishment only has one “how” sub-item:
“3a. Conducting the audit, communicating with managers and employees, sending e-mails to employees. Tracking and updating files and system.”
Not all accomplishments will have 2 or 3 “how” statements in the subsection. That’s okay. You want to start with the biggest accomplishment. By its nature, a big accomplishment will usually have a few different moving pieces to it. As you move down the line, lesser accomplishments might only have one explanation to the “how”. That’s fine!
There’s only so much you can say about auditing files. You do the audit, you harass the managers about getting overdue required certifications submitted to HR, and you track your progress. That’s all there is to the story.
Moving on, we have an “Standard Duties” section at the bottom of this job. This “standard duties” section is more for job interviews and cover letters.
I want you to keep one thing in mind: Your resume should highlight accomplishments.
Standard routine duties should take a backseat. That’s difficult for most people to wrap their heads around. It’s easy to list out a laundry list of routine duties. it’s a lot harder to list out accomplishments.
As a recruiter, I saw tons of resumes with routine duties listed and no accomplishments. They’re boring. They don’t set you apart. If you’re applying for a job where you’re competing with other candidates (like, you know, most jobs), the recruiter or manager is looking for the resume that stands out.
Standard duties do have a place, but they should not be front and center. When you grab their attention with the accomplishments, they are much more likely to pay attention to the standard duties on your resume listed below the accomplishment section.
Below is an example of listing the routine duties after the accomplishments. Ideally, you want to list tasks here that you don’t have room to list on the resume (remember – the resume is a marketing document, and you cannot list everything you have ever done on it!)
5. Conducted new hire onboarding and pre-onboarding activities; drug tests, background checks.
6. Educated new hires and current employees about benefit offerings during time of hire and during open enrollment.
7. Handled the HR Recruitment inbox. Took care of requests immediately where possible and maintained a high level of positive customer service.
8. Managed social media for the company. Utilized Canva to create attractive designs for the company newsletter and social media postings.
9. They opened several new facilities over the last few years, and I recruited all the roles for the brand-new facilities by myself (interview)
10. I worked creatively and effectively within a very tight budget and my only search tools were Indeed Resume search, LinkedIn for a shorter time, and the job boards. (interview).
The “standard duties” section is an excellent place to list daily activities you conducted that took 20-30% or less of your time. In my case, that was onboarding, benefits, managing HR e-mail inbox, and social media management.
It’s not that these tasks did not matter – all of them certainly did – it’s that sourcing candidates and manipulating the job boards was vastly more important to the company’s needs and took up more of my time.
When you do your skills listing, you’ve got to think of your accomplishments in terms of what is more important to company priorities. AND what will impress your next employer.
Remember, this is marketing, and this task requires a marketing mindset. Even your skills listing brainstorm document should skew toward marketing on the final draft. You might start off with a sloppy brainstorm document, and then revise and organize it further as you think of more accomplishments, more duties, and more personal qualities that make you stand out.
You should be free-writing and brainstorming, but since the resume is so important, you want to always be thinking of how you might highlight key parts of this information on your resume.
Notice that in the parenthesis above, I designate interview content. These are items that I probably cannot work into a resume or even a cover letter, but they work for interview answers. Put the thing that hooks them into the resume and cover letter and save some of the “dragon-slaying stories” (to quote Liz Ryan) for the interview.
What goes into the cover letter? What goes into the resume? And what do you save for interviews? Only you can make those decisions.
Continuing the theme of “interview items”, at the end I include an “other notes / things about me” section that highlights soft skills. Again, I cannot fit this into a resume format. I may be able to slip them into a cover letter.
“Other notes / things about me: I have “clean desk” habits. I receive e-mail, respond, and take care of task immediately. If research must be done, I communicate to original sender that I am working on it and move e-mail into relevant folder with flagging. Then I follow through. This allows my inbox to always be clean and I don’t miss anything. I am both analytical and creative. I have writing skills.”
This is a good section to include soft habits. If you tend to respond right away and let them know what action you are taking, then promote it. If you’re a procrastinator and you don’t see that changing, promote other skills you have that make up for your procrastination tendencies. We all have different skills and styles. I’m sure there’s a procrastinator out there who has some higher-level skill set I couldn’t dream of utilizing. Everyone has a place.
After you complete the final draft of your skills listing – congrats! You are ready to create a killer resume, write cover letters and nail the interview.
Thanks for reading.
If you have any questions, post them in the comments and I will answer.
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