The skills check-off is one of the banes of every job applicant. If you haven’t seen one yet it’s likely you will very soon since almost all job applications are online. We tend to see them used more in technical and mid-management positions. Before computers, the skill check-off was manually prepared, reviewed and scored by Human Resources staff and hence kept fairly brief. When computers became more universal and were able to read and score the lists, HR professionals made the lists longer and longer.

Recently in my coaching at CareerPlace, a client I was working with showed me a skills list that covered over fifty items. On the left side of the screen were the skill questions and description and on the right an answer box. You could respond with up to a hundred fifty characters to each skill request.

Once an applicant completes the skills list, a computer program reads the responses and scores each – it looks something like this:

Points –    Response

3 –           Yes response

2 –           Similar experience

0 –           No experience or no response

Scoring scales can vary and are tied to the particular software being used. Some programs let the HR department create their own scoring scales.

After the applicants are scored, individuals with the highest scores are listed in a report for HR follow-up. Usually HR staff will review resumes, skill responses and other information for the top 10 or 20 applicants. As they read and review the responses they can adjust the computer scores if they believe more or less points should be allowed. A revised top 10 list is created and those applicants will be the first to get the phone interview.

In today’s computer-driven world, there’s no way of ignoring a skill check-off, so you may be asking yourself: “What’s a good way to handle it?” Keep in mind at some point the HR staff will look at your responses and later the hiring manager will get to see them, which is why you should super charge your responses whenever you can.

Here are some examples:

Skill requirement: Must have experience with Excel

Super-charged response: Yes, have used Excel in many projects and identified efficiency opportunities exceeding $102,000/year.


Skill requirement: Experience with leasing contracts

Supercharged response: Yes, I negotiated 12 lease contracts saving over $250,000 over the course of five years.

The ‘yes’ response at the front is important to make sure the computer gives you the points, but supercharging with value statements not only shows that you have the requisite skill but it also shows that you can apply the knowledge to the benefit of the organization. Lastly, if you can re-order the list (not always possible) you should put all the supercharged responses at the top, next the “yes” responses that are not supercharged, and lastly the “no” responses.

Typically, when you see a skill check-off, your first response might be to say yes to everything you possibly can. This strategy may get you past the computer and an initial phone interview, but if the interviewer is on their toes and asks you to describe how you used that skill in a past position you may start to fumble and you’ll be in big trouble fast. With just two or three fumbles your credibility will be questioned. And if there is one thing you cannot lose in the hiring process it is your credibility.

So what’s a better way to handle a lengthy skills check-off? First of all, if you are looking at a list of more than 15 or 20 skills /tasks the reality is no employer really expects you to be capable and experienced in every one. Answering no to the ones that are of lesser importance to the organization is reasonable. Which begs the question: How do you identify the lesser important skills?” To answer that question, you need to be able to identify which skills are most critical to the position, and to do that you would need to have done some homework about the industry, company, and position. So, the first step to properly complete a skills check-off is to do some research.

In conclusion, skills check-offs can be a pain, but if you do your homework and have value statements ready you can use the check-off to differentiate yourself from the pack and give yourself an advantage over the competition.