Resume Core Competencies — How to Make Them Count!

January 4, 2023 | By | Reply More

core competencies and core competencies section

For many professionals, core competencies are just a part of who they are. This can make it difficult to express them on their resumes.


Professionals at mid- and advanced-stages of their careers are expected to have proficiencies relevant to their fields. “Core competencies,” as they’re often called, refer to high levels of proficiencies individuals have that make them valuable assets to their companies..

After many years of doing their job these competencies become part of who they are. Their expertise automatically kicks in as they work, enabling them to pull their weight toward their company’s metrics or goals for success.

In fact, their competencies are so automatic that they can’t identify them or put them into words. This becomes a problem when they want to change jobs and must recall them for a resume—in particular, the “Core Competencies” section.


What is a core competencies section?

What is a core competencies section? Let me first tell you what a resume’s core competencies section is not. It’s not a section to cram in keywords as an easy way to get past an applicant tracking system (ATS). Words placed in this section might help you avoid getting dumped by an ATS, but it will not help you get an interview. Also, it is not a place to list a skill that you can’t clearly include in your experience section. (More on this later.)



A core competencies section that follows your professional profile allows a reader to quickly see your best, relevant skills that you will bring to the table. It should make a recruiter excited to read the rest of your resume and want to pass it on to their hiring manager.

Unfortunately, what professionals often do is read several resume articles, and default to regurgitated lists of generic core competencies or skills they see in dozens of resume templates. (See image 1.)

These may all be excellent skills. But are they your best competencies, ones you want to showcase? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on the job for which you are applying, the stage you’re at in your career, and many other factors. Generic competencies won’t impress anyone; and they won’t move you toward an interview.


core competencies and competencies section

[Image 1]

In fact, depending on the position, some competencies are givens and don’t need to be highlighted. Accountants, for example, should have excellent math skills. So, will highlighting math as one of their “core” competencies give them an edge over another accounting candidate?

As a professional resume writer, I see identical competencies on resumes submitted to me for rewrites, regardless of a client’s profession or career level. To some extent, the blame rests on how job descriptions are written, as these, too, rehash the same desired qualifications irrespective of the type of position they’re seeking to fill.

But I believe candidates can do better for themselves, and their resumes.


Keyword placement matters

Resume writers all agree it’s important to use keywords from a target job ad,  incorporating them into your resume. Where we disagree is whether keywords placed in the core competencies section can substitute putting them in the experience section, within the bullet points. It cannot.

While companies’ ATSs vary a bit from each other, many of them have similar scores that weight keywords differently based on where they are on your resume. Keywords placed in a list (such as core competencies) do not receive the same weight as those incorporated in a sentence of your experience section. What does this mean when, say, a job ad requires five years’ experience for a particular competency?



This means, an ATS may “credit” a skill listed in the competencies section as having as little as six months of experience. But the same competency included in your experience section receives credit for the full length of time you were in that position. So don’t rely on your competency section to handle your keyword job. The words may match, but the required length of experience will not!


Why to have a “Core Competencies” section

Use your core competencies section to communicate directly with the recruiter that reads your resume, not an ATS. The core competencies section is to give them a quick overview of what makes you standout, not to match their ad’s keywords. It lets them see your skills are relevant, and encourages them to read further to see how you’ve used those mentioned core competencies in your experience section.

That said, either make this section count, or omit it altogether. Resume real estate is precious, so if anything on it doesn’t make you stand out in value, leave it off. Otherwise, you’ll just be wasting your time, as well as the recruiter’s.


core competencies and competencies section


Tips to discover your core competencies

Perhaps now you’re wondering which proficiencies to include in your core competencies section to make you stand out. It all depends on your target job, your experience, and your career level. To help you figure out your own standout competencies, here are a few steps.

Step 1.

Wait to assemble your core competencies section until after you’ve written the experience and education sections. Writing those other sections will jog your memory. And, the accomplishments are what you’ll use to help you identify the actual skills used to achieve them.

Step 2.

Go through each bullet point under your experience section. For each accomplishment, brainstorm everything you had to do to succeed. (Note: I said accomplishment, not duties or responsibilities.)


Example accomplishment from the experience section:

  • Authored 7,000-word white paper in four days, which was purchased over 100 times.


What you had to do to accomplish this:

  • Drank a ton of coffee.
  • Survived on power naps, rather than regular sleep.
  • Kept ear plugs in to avoid being distracted.
  • Had sister watch kids.
  • Gave up a week of gym time.
  • Did a lot of research
  • Called co-workers in the middle of the night to double check data sources. Some have now blocked me.


To do that, what skills did that take? Delve deeper to translate into competencies.


Translated to competencies:

  • Highly resourceful
  • Excellent writer
  • Research savvy
  • Determined to get the job done
  • Able to prioritize on behalf of goals
  • Super Organized
  • Unafraid to get what you need
  • Extremely Dedicated


Translated into Core Competencies:

  • Self-directed
  • Technical writing
  • Resourceful


This may not seem like much, but it’s only one of out of several lists you’ll make from brainstorming your skills. Afterwards, you’ll choose the best of the best to include in your final core competencies section.

Tip 3.

After writing your lists of skills and competencies, review the job ad (again), and start editing. Select the top 6-12 hard and soft competencies that are relevant to your target job and company. The example writing project might not be a requirement in the new position, so regardless of how impressive that is, focus on competencies that best fit with the actual job requirements.  You can only impress a recruiter and hiring manager if they read what they want to see, not what you want to tell them.



Putting it together

Do your lists remind you how talented and competent you are? I hope so! They will also make it a snap to create a solid core competencies section that is 100% genuine. You’re not just copying keywords, or using suggestions from an article about skills that don’t resonate with you.

Closing: In the final list example above, note that I wrote the competencies without using “extremely,” “highly,” and other verbiage. That’s because an ATS doesn’t weight adjectives. Even if you have “strong communication skills,” the ATS weighs it the same as just “communication skills.” Writing “extremely or highly” will only be read by a person, so be deliberate with your use of adjectives to avoid fluff.



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Category: Resumes

About the Author ()

Pamela La Gioia is a resume writer and LinkedIn profile expert. She is also a pioneer in remote work, and has been researching and writing about remote work since the early 1990's. You can follow her on LinkedIn, for resume tips, LinkedIn insight, and general career help.

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