Resume Concerns: Areas of Expertise vs Areas of Competency – PART 2 (response updates from HR and recruiting professionals)

Initial questions I proposed on LinkedIn: I write a ton of resumes at MJW Careers and a more recent trend in the past few years is the area of the “Areas of Expertise” section, pun intended.

At MJW Careers, a large portion of our business is outplacement and just this week I was meeting with a client of mine at a medical device manufacturer and here’s how the conversation went when we were critiquing the resume I had developed for him.

Him – “If I don’t have much expertise in BLANK, should I have it under Areas of Expertise?”

Me – “No, but we need the buzzword under one of your job duties then”

Him – “Here’s a funny story on that”a buddy of mine had Areas of Expertise on his resume and a couple of the bullet points he wasn’t extremely versed him, but rather knowledgeable. So a hiring manager asked him to explain one of the lesser known bullets and my buddy fumbled. He lost the manager’s attention because he could tell my buddy was BS’ing his way through the answer. He lost the job too.”

Me: “Yep, let’s take it out.”

Him: “Well maybe we could think of another word for Expertise.”

Me: “Knowledgeable? Eh, I dunno if I like it.”

A few more spitballs back and forth until it hit me.

Me (after a few moments of visualizing into space along with few interjections): “Let’s change it to Areas of Competency”

Him: “Ooh, I like that.”

And so it was born (at least for me): Areas of Competency > Areas of Expertise AND you might be able to squeeze some more of those pesky buzzwords into your resume.

Any thoughts?

Some more answers from some HR pros:

– I use a variety of headings for this section, depending on the client, including Core Competencies, Areas of Expertise, Key Skills, and Signature Strengths.

– It’s not the heading that is the problem here; it is the lack of expertise, competence, knowledge, etc. I’m sure I do the same things other resume developers do when I draw key words from my client’s resume draft and interview, as well as job descriptions and the vision statement from the potential employer’s website. The important thing here is to tell the client to read carefully the resume I provide and be certain there is nothing untrue, misleading, or exaggerated. Any false impression can lead to embarrassment on the job as well as a nervous, unhappy employee. We work together to eliminate all problem areas/words and to rephrase when appropriate. I also stress the importance of knowing one’s own resume and being able to defend with examples every core competency/skill. Such basics make for impressive interview performances. After all, when a person is unemployed, the full-time job becomes finding another job–plenty of time to be prepared.

– I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts Mallory Chamberlin….We can fancy it up with words any way we’d like, but the bottom line is that the spin should be a reflection of the reality of the skills.

– I often turn to job postings of interest to identify skills (I too categorize them under a variety of headlines) that also serve double duty as keywords.

– I agree with your post, “It’s not the heading that is the problem here; it is the lack of expertise, competence, knowledge, etc.” As a resume writer, I spend time with clients to narrow down their expertise and that’s what we market on their resume. I recommend that job seekers start their job search backwards and research job postings and educate themselves on the themes in a particular job category/industry. We research job postings and go through each responsibility and requirement, and I have my clients tell me their experience(s) with each and give me an example. They learn quickly what type of positions they are qualified to do and this preparation helps them with interviewing. As a recruiter, I skip over sections listed as “core competencies,” areas of expertise,“ areas of competency,” and so on. I need the job seeker to convince me on a resume that they can perform the job. So many job seekers use these lists to get key words in their resumes and on a scale from 1-10; they perform some of the “areas of expertise” at a 5/10. That isn’t good enough for most positions. I’m looking for an 8/10 or better – a job seeker has to prove their abilities on their resume. A job seeker isn’t fooling a recruiter when they choose words like competency over expertise. I don’t use these sections on resumes that I write. They are a waste of space and don’t help a candidate.

– Sometimes we forget the primary role and mission of the resume. It’s to give the hiring decision maker clear and compelling proof that he can deliver on the promise he had to make to his own boss. He promised the person who writes his performance review the next candidate he recommended to fill a given position would make the organization a lot more money than it takes to find, recruit, and retain the person. There’s no room for “buzzwords” here. (And I do understand the SEO concerns when ATS is involved). What’s needed is living, breathing demonstrable performance the applicant promises the organization he will demonstrate from day one. It’s a pledge of value, not a collection of glittering adjectives which, inadvertently, describe mediocrity. (Who would hire an almost “results oriented leader?”). “Buzzwords” can have another unfortunate and unanticipated negative impact on our brand and our industry. Each time we use that word with a client, we’re sending this message: we do “magic.” We’re involving the client in trying to “trick” the company into an interview. What’s worse is the possible reaction of our clients. They could easily misinterpret us as marginalizing the track record they’ve worked so hard to achieve.

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