“I’d prefer my resume not stand out”….said no one, ever.  Some lie awake at 2:00 a.m., brainstorming how to seduce hiring officials with the most captivating resume ever written.  If you’re like the rest of us and reside somewhere in between these extremes, consider adding professional competencies to your resume or curriculum vitae. Strategically and efficiently placed, they could be that element that gets your resume noticed.

What are Professional Competencies?

Also known as core competencies or key competencies, professional competencies are briefly worded labels that reflect a professional’s ability to achieve mission outcomes. How is a competency different from a skill? Well, it’s not so much the specific “what” a professional can do with that skill, but more how he approaches problem sets, projects, or other work tasks – regardless of the technical aspects – to reach the best solutions.

Clear as mud?  Let the US Government personnel office help.  According to OPM, a competency is “pattern of knowledge, skills, behaviors or other characteristics that an individual needs to perform work roles successfully.” Competencies are no small thing OPM – they use them for everything from determining an applicant’s qualifications for a position to workforce planning, training and development.

Examples of core competencies

Do you like to examine a problem or challenge from all angles to determine potential impacts before implementing a solution? Do you have a knack for seeing problems through the eyes of others, especially those you serve? Are you always up for doing something differently, and the boss’s frequent choice to lead a new initiative that other employees might avoid?  Congratulations!  You likely already can claim three professional competencies – analytical thinking, customer oriented, and leading change.

Finding Inspiration

Have a look at a company’s website.  Does it feature a mission statement, or values statements that support their mission?  Does it have a strategy or explain how the employees go about achieving the goals of the organization?  These could be competencies that the company values in its employees.  Another approach is to aim high – check out what it takes to be a member of the USG’s Senior Executive Service.  You’ll find it’s not technical expertise, but a set of Executive Qualifications that translate to a potential for leadership roles in USG organizations.

Discover your Professional Competencies

Skim through your resume and what do you see?  Likely an impressive set of accomplishments that demonstrate to a potential employer what you’re capable of achieving.  Now get a notepad and pen (or your ipad, Millenials), and choose an entry.  How did you accomplish that impressive thing?  What were the most frustrating aspects of the project and how did you resolve it?  What negotiations did you have to make with stakeholders to get their buy in? What factors caused you to initially fail and forced you back to square one?  Where did you find the resources to do it the way you thought it should be done?  How did you decide the project was a success? Now distill your answers down to just a few words:  Persistent Problem Solving. Brokering Stakeholder Agreements.  Analyzing and Improving Processes; Garnering Resources; Assessments and Ongoing Improvement

Weave it Into your Resume

When a hiring official scans your resume, she is looking for keywords that stand out.  While the technical aspects must be present, you can add professional competencies in a place that will stand out.  A single line just before your duty title in a different font might look like this:  Professional Competencies:  Prioritizing Customer Perspectives, Negotiating Stakeholder Agreements, Optimizing Team Outcomes, Multi-Cultural Team Fluency, Securing Resources, Change Management, Executive Support.  These are general, but you could also add a few related to your technical skills, such as Cyber Activity Prioritization, Logistics Planning and Support, Executive Support Functions, Security Sector Reform, etc.  To ensure it stands out, keep the list it to a single line of 3-5 competencies for each job experience entry.

Get Feedback

When you’ve finished, pass it to at least two people who know you – a colleague who has general knowledge of you as a professional, and another that works (or worked) with you on technical or specific projects.  Ask them if the words resonate and illuminate your job experience.  Take the feedback graciously, revised accordingly, and set it loose with your job next application.  Good luck!

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Melissa Jordan is an Executive Writer at a US Government agency. With more than 20 years in professional communication and over 16 years of experience working in cross-cultural environments, her most valuable lessons have been learned by trial and error.