including skill ratings on your resume

A reader writes:

Any thoughts on grading yourself on your strengths in a resume? I saw a resume today that included a list of “skills” next to a graphical rating system with a 1-5 grade on how the guy perceived himself in each area, which were all subjective things like critical thinking, creativity, drive and determination, etc. Of course, they were all 4-5 star reviews. (I’m pretty sure he left off the areas he’d only get a 2 in.) Either way, it seems really weird and a waste of space. Maybe I’m just failing to see the big picture and how genius this guy is.

No, that’s weird.

It can actually be really helpful to do this with something like your proficiency in software programs. But to do it with utterly subjective traits like creativity and drive? No. It comes across as really naive and silly.

In fact, your resume really shouldn’t contain subjective self-assessments at all (even if not presented as ratings), since most hiring managers will just ignore them because so many people’s self-assessments are unreliable. Instead, if you want to show that you’re creative or driven or smart or whatever, you do that by including accomplishments that demonstrate those traits. After all, it doesn’t matter how creative or smart you are if you can’t show an ability to do something with it. How you use it is what matters.

{ 38 comments… read them below }

  1. Vanessa*

    What about language skills? It seems like you’d need descriptions like “advanced”, “intermediate” etc in order to be accurate.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Absolutely — languages, software programs, etc. are all things where it’s typical to include an assessment of your proficiency. But drive and creativity? Not so much.

      1. Julie*

        Even here, though, I think there’s a fair measure of subjectivity that creeps in. One person’s “proficient” is another’s “novice.” What counts as “fluently bilingual” anywhere other than Quebec is probably only “functional” or “conversational” here. (Sadly.)

        1. Talyssa*

          even with subjectivity it does give people a chance to rank all the things they know on an internal hierarchy. So at least you know what things they consider themselves strong and weak on, even if you disagree on the definition of strong. (My friend and I have a joke that anyone who rates themselves a 9 or 10 in excel is always wrong because it means they don’t realize how freakishly huge excel really is in what it allows you to do). Like my husband won’t put ANYTHING on his resume he doesn’t consider himself very very knowledgeable in (sigh) so all of the languages/technologies that he knows via book learning and some quick proof of concept exercises don’t get put on his resume at ALL which is a shame because I think it sets him apart from people who really do only know the things on their resume.

          1. Jamie*

            “(My friend and I have a joke that anyone who rates themselves a 9 or 10 in excel is always wrong because it means they don’t realize how freakishly huge excel really is in what it allows you to do).”

            This! Unless you can use it to build a house the 9-10 rating is too high. I use it every day and I’m proficient compared to most people…but that’s the key phrase. Most people – because I bet I don’t use 20% of Excel’s functionality.

            My little cheat sheet for rating people is:
            Basic: Can open a blank workbook, enter data into cells, rename a tab, save.

            Intermediate: Formatting, tracking changes, basic formulas, subtotal functions, find/replace, charts.

            Advanced: Pivot tables, macros, data import/export, queries.

            1. Josh S*

              So…Array Formulas, Regression Analysis, and nested if/then & Vlookup & CountIf & SumIf formulas, creating forms/buttons to automate macros…is that like Super Advanced?

              Can I put “Super Advanced Excel Skillz” on my resume?

              1. Josh S*

                Oddly, I find it annoying to use pivot tables. Not that I can’t–just, there is usually an easier way to manipulate the data I’m working with.

            2. Anonymous*

              The problem is jobs that call for very advanced skills. I applied to won. Owned up at my real skill level. Advanced on your list (minus pivot tables, annoying, don’t pratice no good at) but I also said that was fairly intermediate but that I was a quick leaner. I got the job only to find out that they really wanted someone who could do basic formating and a little bit of filtering. Not even a real intermediate user on your list. So I really did look insanely good in their eyes. (And I was bored out of my skull.)

              1. Another Brit.*

                I have that all the time – “advanced” excel means can format some information and produce a total at the bottom.

                At the other end of the scale my current place asked for “intermediate” excel and want you to be able to use complicated SUMIF statements and be able to play with sheets that reference over 2000 records pulled from our accounting system.

        2. Anonymous*

          I agree with Julie. I was asked in an interview to rank my proficiency with various Microsoft products on a scale of 1 to 10. No definitions of the scale were given, so I didn’t have a clear idea of what a “1” or a “10” meant in the context of the position. It was difficult to self-assess.

          If the OP is feeling really generous, offer AAM’s response and the comments section as feedback to the person who sent in the resume.

          1. Julie*

            At least in interviews, you can clarify. (e.g. “I’d give myself a 5 on Excel — I can do most of the formatting, charts, and basic functions, but I really don’t know anything about macros or advanced functions.”)

          2. Jamie*

            Years ago when I was temping the tests we took in MS Office used the scores to give you Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert designations.

            It was helpful to the agencies because everyone took the same test, so it was apples to apples. Would be nice if there was some kind of consensus on skill level in the real world.

        3. helen*

          I had a colleague from another department in once who claimed to speak German fluently. This surprised me because he did not have German family, had not studied German at university and appeared to have spent no significant time there, but, you know, odder things have happened.
          So I gave him a form to fill in for a client, in German, to avoid double taxation. He was lost. Utterly lost. Even to the point of not understanding what it was for.

          1. Long Time Admin*

            Ha ha!! I knew people who took 2-3 years of a foreign language in high school and claimed to be fluent. At one small company where I worked, the home office was in Germany. When the woman in the USA interviewed for the Financial position, the whole conversation was in German. Now, that’s how you prove fluency!

            1. Julie*

              Yup! It’s common practice in Quebec to have at least part of any job interview in French, even if you’re a native English speaker, just to prove that you’re conversational.

            2. Laura L*

              This annoys me so much! A couple years ago, I spent a log weekend with some old high school friends at an out of town wedding. One of them claimed to be fluent in Spanish. I knew she had stopped taking Spanish when I did (at the end of junior year), so I asked if she took it college.

              She said “no” and I rolled my eyes (on the inside).

              Fluent: It doesn’t mean what you think it means.

        4. AD*

          There are official places that do language ratings, such as the Cervantes Institute for Spanish. If you wish to put it on your resume, you should take an exam like the one they offer.

  2. Anonymous*

    I’m a project manager/business analyst type who has had a variety of levels of exposure to applications, software, etc. On my resume, I include a self-assessment of those packages after listing the software, grouped by application type (Business applications, inventory management systems, etc.). I use descriptive categories: trained, beginner, intermediate, advanced.

  3. Talyssa*

    PS: I want to know what the hell this guy was thinking. And also why he didn’t make up one thing to give himself a 1 or 2 on, like giving himself a 1 on “knows when to stop working and relax”

  4. Mike C.*

    This is a job search, not a game of Dungeons & Dragons. You don’t get to brag about your 17 in Intelligence or your 19 in Charisma.

    1. Julie*

      Oh, wow! That would be awesome, though! Now I feel the need to come up with a joke resume that’s written like a D&D character sheet. (Hello, my name is Julie, and I’m a geek.)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Exactly! There was another category that I really want to mention in the post but am afraid to do so because I want to respect the OP’s desire to respect the candidate’s privacy … but suffice it to say that it was something akin to being a “visionary.”

      1. Evan the College Student*

        Wow. Maybe the OP should suggest that he add something like “Humility: 1. Resume writing: 0.”

  5. Anonymouse*

    Meh. He sounds youngish. Junior people tend to rate themselves higher (they don’t know the things they don’t know, things bin Laden might not know, if we were knowing, ya know?) *wink wink*

    Job announcements use these terribly subjective (creativity, drive) criteria all of the time. Could be he read a job announcement and was simply trying to find a way to quantify his response. It’s not like anyone is likely to say “I’m a lazy, angry, sack of shit. Where’s my damn job!?”

    Why, I was just wondering today what the inverse of results-oriented would be… failure-oriented? Nebulous anecdote-oriented?

    I digress. If OP is wondering if s/he should do the same, I think it’s unnecessary and would avoid it.

    10/10 in Meatball Problems

  6. Sara*

    Ha! I almost wonder if this is the resume of one of my coworkers, which I just recently saw for the first time. He gives himself the rating of “rockstar” (I kid you not) in almost every category. And his career is in a highly technical, math-based field. Not something where this might be a little more understandable, like PR or marketing. I almost sent it in to AaM for comments several times…maybe I should!

    1. ChristineH*

      Perhaps he replied to an add that called for rockstar status :P I just saw a job ad today that called for someone who is a “database rock star”. No joke.

  7. Camellia*

    I have actually encountered this in a couple of on-line job apps. I never saw the point of it either, but it was required before you could proceed to the next field.

  8. John*

    Returning to the original question about languages, here’s my take:
    It’s not even worth noting on your résumé that you have limited proficiency in a foreign language unless you are at minimal conversational and can meet job requirements using the foreign language. It’s simply not the same as having limited proficiency in Excel where you can ask other people for help and learn (albeit quickly) from tutorials and textbooks. Language proficiency is something that takes many years to develop and an enormous amount of dedication. (For instance, after 12 years of studying Spanish on a daily basis, averaging about 4-6 hours a day, I still can’t nor won’t put “Bilingual English/Spanish” because my proficiency isn’t quite that high (yet…). But I’d certainly like to hear what other people have to say regarding the issue.

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