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What are the top CV skills employers look for?

Are you trying to make your CV stand out to employers but aren’t sure where to start? We take a look at some of the top CV skills employers look for, as well as other ways you can impress recruiters.

person writing a cv

What do employers look for on CVs? It’s the question that nearly every job seeker asks at some point. Whether you’re just starting on your CV/resume or you’re dusting it off after a few years without use, it can be difficult to know where to start. To help you out, we take a look at some of the top CV skills and features that can make you stand out from the crowd. 

As well as taking a look at the general things you should have on your CV, we also explore why hard skills and soft skills matter, why continued learning is impressive, and how you can organise your document. Whether you’re looking to make the first or the next step in your career, this is essential reading. 

What do employers look for on CVs? 

Let’s start by looking at some of the things employers are looking for in a CV. For many job roles, you’ll be competing against many other candidates, as well as the hiring manager or recruiter’s attention span. 

According to some UK recruitment statistics, each job posting receives around 250 CVs. This means that recruiters spend, on average, roughly 5-7 seconds looking at each one. As such, you need to make sure you stand out. 

1. A clear CV layout 

According to a survey conducted by recruitment experts Reed, 50% of recruiters considered a logical order for presentation as the most important things to consider on a CV. Clearly, in many cases, it’s as much about how you present the information as it is about your credentials themselves. You need a clear structure that draws attention to your career highlights, and you can find examples on our free CV templates articles. 

Professional services company Accenture affirms this sentiment. ‘For our Experienced Hire Recruits a CV is an introduction rather than the whole story,’ Adrian Love, UKI Recruitment Director at Accenture, told FutureLearn, ‘and as such, we look for clarity – a clear articulation of their career aims and objectives and definition of their past role responsibilities.’ 

Of course, as they go on to explain, it’s often a little different if you don’t have much experience, such as if you’re a graduate, intern or apprentice. Adrian shared, ‘In such instances, Accenture’s intuitive application process…delves into the traits and strengths that help predict future performance by focusing on potential.’ 

2. Essential information 

US-based careers company The Ladders ran a study in 2018 using eye-tracking software to determine how recruiters view resumes. The data showed that recruiters start by looking at your current job title and company before moving to your previous experience. Next, they scan for the dates of that experience before finally switching to your education. 

Of course, the things employers are looking for will depend on the role you’re applying for. But it’s clear that your CV employment history and education play a central role. You should make sure that these are error-free, clear, and easy to read. 

3. Key skills and keywords 

Aside from a clear outline of the essential information, employers and recruiters look for key skills and keywords relevant to the role. We’ve covered the basics of including key skills in your CV in a separate article, but it’s worth exploring in more detail further down in this one. 

Keywords and phrases are also important. When you’re reviewing a job posting, you should pull out some of the relevant and role-specific terms that crop up a lot. You can then weave these into your CV, making sure to highlight those that are particularly important. 

What skills should I have on my CV? 

A lot of people ask ‘what kind of skills are employers looking for?’ Of course, there are no exact requirements that apply to all documents. The skills to put on a CV will largely depend on the role you’re applying for and what recruiters are looking for. 

That being said, there are some general areas that you might want to consider when you’re writing your own CV. The goal here is to show a range of key competencies and strengths that you can transfer between roles. Often, these come in the form of hard and soft skills. 

Hard skills vs soft skills

You’ll see a lot of recruiters and job specifications mention hard and soft skills. If you’re not familiar with the terms, they’re not that easy to understand. Thankfully, they’re pretty easy to explain: 

  • Hard skills are the teachable and measurable abilities you need to do a specific job. They’re often part of a technical skill set that’s required for you to carry out your duties. 
  • Soft skills are the traits that make you employable. They’re sometimes called interpersonal skills or adaptive skills, as they often relate to how you interact with others and new situations. 

Employers like to see a mix of hard and soft skills on a CV as it shows a well-rounded individual. Therefore, you should spend some time thinking about the different qualities that each employer is looking for.  

Why is continuous learning so important for your career? 

One other factor worth thinking about when considering the skills to put on your CV is continuous learning. Essentially, this term refers to the steps you’ve taken for your personal and professional development.

This type of continuous learning helps you to keep your CV relevant and appealing. At a time where there is a skills gap across many industries, doing so becomes increasingly important. It’s part of the reason why we designed our new ExpertTrack learning subscriptions

ExpertTracks are series of online courses from leading universities, education institutions and businesses,  that focus, in detail, on specific areas of learning. They give you the chance to keep developing your skills and knowledge across a host of different subjects and industries. 

The top CV skills employers look for: 

We’ve seen that employers can be a picky bunch that spends only a little time initially glancing at a fraction of your CV. Yet it is possible to impress them with the structure and contents of your document. But what skills are employers looking for? 

There are many different ways we could quantify the top CV skills that employers look for. Some recruitment experts focus on interpersonal and soft skills, while others look at career-specific ones. We’ve looked at a variety of resources from industry names such as LinkedIn, Indeed, Reed, and Target Jobs to pick out some that are common across lists:

Hard skills

As we’ve established already, the top hard skills for your CV will usually depend on the type of role that you’re applying for. However, emerging industries and technologies often mean that some hard skills are highly sought after. Here are some ones that you can impress employers with, even a basic working knowledge:

Data analysis 

Data and business analysis have become essential across just about every industry. The insights that come from analysing data can transform organisations. As such, analytical abilities are some of the top CV skills employers look for. 

Check out our data analytics ExpertTrack: Data Analytics for Business

Artificial intelligence 

AI is just about as cutting edge as it gets. With this technology, businesses can address and overcome a whole host of different problems. As well as automating work and enhancing human capabilities, it can also help to increase sales and detect fraud. The possibilities are vast, and it’s truly a future-proof skill. 

Check out our AI course: Digital Skills: Artificial Intelligence

UX design 

As more of the world becomes digital, creating intuitive and human-centric products and experience is increasingly important. User experience (UX) design plays a central role in this, mixing elements of psychology, business, and market research. 

Check out our UX design ExpertTrack: UX Design Fundamentals

Cloud computing 

Businesses around the world are moving many of their services onto the cloud (a network of remote servers). Those who have the technical skills to understand and implement cloud computing solutions will be valuable to employers over the coming years. 

Check out our online cloud computing course: Microsoft Future Ready: Azure Cloud Fundamentals

Soft skills

These are generally the transferrable skills you can move between roles, industries, and careers. They’re the types of things that employers look for on CVs regardless of the job in question. Working on your soft skills can also help in both your professional and personal life. Here are some of the top soft skills for your CV: 

Leadership

Leadership doesn’t necessarily equal management, but it’s a skill that employers always value highly. Whether it’s leading a project, helping to motivate others, or taking responsibility for goals, it’s a soft skill your CV needs. 

Check out our leadership ExpertTrack: How to Become an Entrepreneur: From Design Thinking to SWOT Analysis

Project management 

In reality, project management is often a mix of other soft and hard skills. However, it’s always a useful area to have an understanding of. Project managers can find work in just about any industry, and having skills in this area is a great way of boosting your CV.

Check out our project management ExpertTrack: Project Management and its Role in Effective Business

Communication

Many of us have seen a change in the way we work, particularly when it comes to things like remote working. This shift has meant that written and verbal communication skills become more vital than ever before. Getting your ideas across effectively, actively listening, and negotiating with and persuading others are often essential skills.

Check out our online communication course: Communication and Interpersonal Skills at Work

Teamwork 

Collaborating with others is a central part of many jobs. Being able to work together towards a common goal is a real asset in life, whether you’re leading or being an effective team member. Many employers see this as a must-have skill for your CV. 

Check out our online collaboration program: Collaboration, Communication and Remote Working

Should I use a skills-based CV? 

Clearly, your key skills are something that employers look for in a CV, but does this mean that a skills-based approach for your resume is the right way to go? In reality, this choice depends a little bit on your current career situation and ambitions. 

As we saw in an earlier section, most employers look at your key information before turning their attention to your work experience. However, if you don’t have a lot of experience or it isn’t relevant to the job, you might want to try a different approach. 

A skills-based CV can be useful when you’re first applying for jobs or when you’re trying to change careers. You can focus on your key skills and give relevant examples, often focusing on the soft skills and transferable knowledge you’ve gained. Of course, if you already have experience in a similar role, this approach doesn’t make much sense. 

There are pros and cons to using a skills-based CV:  

Pros: 

  • Any gaps in your work history become less-obvious with a skills-based approach.
  • If you don’t have relevant experience, you can focus on your other achievements and successes.
  • When changing careers, it gives you the chance to highlight your professional skills. 
  • You can emphasise some of the top CV skills and transferable knowledge employers look for.  

Cons: 

  • If you do already have some relevant experience, you can’t draw it out in the same way. 
  • Jobs in certain industries tend not to use this type of CV structure. 
  • Because chronological CVs are so common, employers may find a skills-based approach unfamiliar. 

So clearly, there’s a time and place for a skills-based CV format. If you’re a school-leaver or recent graduate, it’s an approach that can get you noticed in the job market. Similarly, if you’re switching between careers, you might want to use one. Aside from that, you might want to stick with a tried and tested CV template. 

You can learn more about succeeding with writing your CV and job applications, acing your job interview or other career skills for the 2020s with one of our online courses.  

What do employers look for in graduates? 

One final question that’s often asked in relation to the top CV skills is what employers want from graduates. Trying to get a graduate job can sometimes seem like a daunting task, particularly if you’re going into a competitive field. So what is it you should include on your CV as a new graduate? 

As we’ve seen, a skills-based approach can be useful if you don’t have much in the way of experience. What’s more, the same soft skills mentioned above are all still relevant. Communication, teamwork, leadership, and time management are always sought-after by graduate recruiters, as are things like resilience and problem-solving

For a specific example, we spoke with City & Guilds about their experience with the recruitment process. They think that the emphasis needs to be on you to ‘make your CV/application work hard and be relevant to the position you are applying for.  Your application should be truthful and emphasise the skill set you already have and your ability to learn from new experiences.’

That fits in with much of what we’ve outlined in this post. However, they also mention that ‘Whilst skills are important, even more important is your attitude and professional behaviour, so make a point of emphasising these in your application.’ You’ll want to back up your skills with examples of where, when and how you’ve applied them. 

Final thoughts 

That wraps up our exploration of what employers look for in a CV. It’s clear that you need to make a strong impression, often within a very short period of time. By having a clear CV layout, highlighting essential information, and focusing on key skills and keywords, you can make your application stand out. 

In general, employers are swayed by a mixture of knowledge and experience. By giving examples of both your hard and soft skills, you can show them that mix. When it comes to the top CV skills employers look for, it’s often industry and job dependent. However, interpersonal skills, such as communication, teamwork, and leadership, are often highly valued. 

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