How to describe skills in your CV

Make your CV stand out to employers by showing them your skills and how you’ve used them.

Figure out your skills

If you’re not sure what your skills are, your first step is to identify them.

You gain skills from life experiences, such as paid and unpaid jobs, interests, hobbies, playing sport, belonging to organisations or school.

Find out what skills you have for your CV - video

Matt helps you find the skills you already have that employers want (Video - 2:49)

Matt: Need some help getting some skills down, eh? Don’t worry your magical guide Matt is here to help!

All jobs will expect you to bring some skills with you. Your skills are kind of what make you who you are and they’re also your biggest advantage. Skills are what employers are most interested in.

Student: But I don’t know what to put down here.

Matt: That’s ok. Don’t freak out, even if you don’t think you have the skills – you do. Let’s go see.

So you got a licence? Well, that’s a skill – it’s a technical one, like knowing a language or a computer program – like Photoshop. There’s a whole range of other skills like this that you probably have that you didn’t even realise.

Hold on, wait for me!

So, let’s have a look at some of these other types of skills that we can see in this job description, skills you can transfer from other areas of your life.

Student: Hmmm … must be able to work in a team.

Matt: Hey, heads up! Netball! You show up every week to the game, don’t you? You train hard, you work as a group.

Student: Yeah, but..

Matt: Well, this is teamwork! This is dedication! In order to find out what skills you do have, you need to look at all areas of your life.

Student: Mmm.

Matt: And don’t be shy, promote yourself! Everyone else does. You gotta put your best foot forward. Ha!

Thank you.

Awesome! This volunteer work shows us how well you can manage your time in your weekends, by balancing sport, study and volunteer work. And hey, you’re a natural at talking to people, and that shows you’ve got great communication skills as well! Here you go.

Student: So the trick is to think about different areas of my life: being in a young enterprise scheme at school, volunteering, after-study activities, sports…that kind of thing?

Matt: Exactly. Think about the skills the employer is looking for and an example from your life that demonstrates that. Then, describe the activity on your CV and the skill it taught you. It doesn’t have to be perfect at this stage, the important thing is you get something down and give it a go.

Student: Thank you. Bye! You may think you don’t have any skills, but you do – you just need to know how to spot them. Letting people know what those skills are lets them know just how good you are.

Identify skills employers want

To find out what skills employers are looking for, you can:

  • ask employers directly
  • read job adverts carefully
  • learn about employability skills.

Employability skills are seven personal skills or attitudes employers say are essential for their workplaces.

Top 5 skills listed in job adverts

The infographic describes the top five skills listed in job adverts which are passionate, communicates well, organised, flexible, motivated. It lists experiences that match this such as planned a scout camp, worked in a fast food restaurant, coached a sports team, supported and environmental group

You can get the top five skills listed in job adverts from everyday life, not just work experience.

Compare your skills to what employers want

When you read an advert, list the skills it mentions. When you know what skills employers are looking for, compare your skills to these.

Assess your ability in each skill as accurately as you can. Ask yourself if you have used this skill a little or a lot.

For each skill, write a sentence showing how you’ve used that skill. Then write a sentence showing how you could use that skill in the job you would like.

What skills should I put in my CV?

The skills in your CV should include skills from the adverts that interest you.

Look at this example:

"We're looking for a conscientious self-starter, proficient in Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop, who works well with others and can learn new computer systems easily."

The key words are:

  • conscientious
  • self-starter
  • proficient in Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop
  • teamwork
  • willingness to learn.

Show how you used skills

For each skill on your CV, include an example that shows how you used or developed it.

You could write:

I collected and managed money from my school’s 40 Hour Famine fundraiser.

Ran a coffee kiosk. Managed and counted the till takings, opened and closed kiosk.

Worked with the school trustees to make decisions about school issues. I played netball on a school team for four years and was captain in Year 13.

Willingness to learn
I updated my Microsoft skills (Excel and Word) through online courses.

Make your experience stand out

Employers may get many job applications from people who have, for example, 'good communications skills' or who are 'flexible'.

By showing how you can communicate well and be flexible, your CV can make a stronger impression.

You could write:

Good communication skills
Can follow instructions and ask questions when I need to. I'm confident in front of an audience. I was a member of my school’s debating team, took part in school drama productions, and won a regional speech competition.

I usually work after school, but I've taken on later shifts to cover staff shortages.

List technical skills

Employers may be looking for specific skills and recruiters may search for keywords in databases. Be specific when you list your technical skills.

For example, write:

  • Expert knowledge of Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office.
  • Good knowledge of social media platforms and WordPress.
  • Class 2 driver’s licence with F endorsement.

Choose strong words

When you write your examples:

  • Use 'action' words such as achieved, awarded, organised, led, assisted, managed, increased, developed, built or won
  • Use positive words to describe yourself and your achievements such as accurate, willing to learn, organised, hardworking, dependable, motivated or creative.

Writing your CV can prepare you for an interview

As well as helping you write a stronger CV, writing about your experiences will prepare you to talk about them if you get a job interview.

Updated 21 Oct 2019