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Demystifying the Areas of Strength Section


The areas of strength section is proven to be very effective. Before a human sees the resume, it is commonly screened electronically by the employer’s ATS (Applicant Tracking Software). The employer sets criteria. If your resume holds the keywords, your resume is more likely to be “found” by the ATS and progress to a human reader. For the human reader, the section serves as a quick check list for the reader to be sure you possess the requisite skills. Let’s tackle the common questions about this resume tactic.


Is an areas of strength section the same for everyone?

No.  Established job seekers will benefit from a traditional areas of strength section, usually three rows and three columns with nine skills.  This section will follow the opening profile (AKA summary).  


A recent graduate with little to no work experience will have a different resume format. The recent grad will insert an education section after the profile. Beneath the degree a recent graduate will include relevant courses. This combined with the profile and technical skills section near the end of the resume will service as the bank of keywords.  If the courses do not hit the necessary keywords, they would be mentioned in the profile, such as “Knowledgeable of financial auditing and reporting.”


How does one determine the appropriate keywords?

Review job postings for your target job. You may find postings in hundreds of job sites, such as or  If the postings are lacking in detail, conduct supplemental online research to define requirements for your target job. Another online resource to gather requirements for a particular occupation is the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook.  LinkedIn is an important source to uncover job postings and also view profiles of candidates who currently hold the job you are seeking.


Which skills do you have that match the requirements of your target job?  If you need to fill gaps, consider tangential skills.  Remember to focus on actual job skills and not soft skills or professional characteristics. For example, rather than writing a soft skill such as “Strong Communicator,” write a job skill, such as “Executive Presentations.” 


How do I transform a long requirement into a keyword?

To facilitate a quick read, present your skills in a concise manner.  Strive for one or two words.  Keep the terms consistent. For example, rather than writing “Preparing for Audits” in one column and “Analysis & Reporting” in another, write the terms like this to be consistent: “Audit Preparation” and “Analysis & Reporting.”


How many skills should you showcase?

If you are using an areas of strength format, a chart with nine skills is appropriate. Twelve should be the maximum.  Displaying more than twelve can result in some of the skills being skipped when a reader quickly scans the resume.  


If you are listing relevant courses, try to keep it within two or three lines. It is alright to use ampersands and to group similar courses (Accounting I & II).


Can I use another title for this category?

You are not limited to naming this category, areas of strength. You could label it in one of these ways: "Areas of Expertise," "Areas of Strength," or the classic, "Core Competencies." You could also be very specific and tie it directly to your target, such as "Digital Marketing Management Skills." Instead of relevant courses, you could write, “Key Courses.”


Any last advice on the subject?

Yes!  Customize your resume for each opportunity to increase your odds of success. One of the terrific things about this strategy is that one can very easily and quickly update the areas of strength or relevant courses section for each resume submission. It is well worth the effort.



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