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I'm applying for jobs as a software engineer, and my resume has a list of skills like "Java", "React", and "Python" that I'm trying to attach skill levels to. I have extensive experience in many of these skills, and I'm weighing different ways of indicating skill level on the resume. Here are a few traditional options, and my issues with them:

  • Years of Experience - How often was the skill used? Do I include years I didn't use it? Doesn't correlate well with actual skill, as someone with two years working Java-only is likely more skilled than someone with 20 years of occasional use. Also, the Holy Bible Cracking the Coding Interview specifically says to avoid using years of experience
  • 1-5 - Totally arbitrary. How does your 5 compare with someone else's 5? No standardization possible
  • Proficient / Advanced / Expert - Intuitive, but I'm a really solid engineer, and it can't look good to write "expert" next to half of your skills. It's clear, but not particularly demonstrative

Here are a few more creative ideas I'm weighing:

  • Percentile - Fairly blunt to say "in this skill I'm better than 95% of engineers", possibly too blunt. Also not very intuitive, and having to explain your units on a resume may not be ideal when the average resume gets 10 seconds of view time
  • Hours - This could be really useful actually, a guesstimate on how many hours you've spent working with the technology. Completely standardized, utterly intuitive, but definitely unusual

Is there a clear best choice here? Is there a better choice than any I've listed?

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I'm weighing different ways of indicating skill level on the resume.

An attempt to quantify skill/experience/employability is something that has sunk literally hundreds of millions of dollars (if not billions by now) with almost nothing to show for it. That's why we are still sending out resumes instead of being perfectly matched, or even half-decently filtered by automated systems (they all are mostly useless). What you are trying to do is simply not feasible, or at least no one has done it yet.

But that's a good thing, so lets go to your actual question:

Is there a better choice than any I've listed?

Yes, there absolutely is - instead of trying to tell me what are you good at, tell me what you can do that will help me.

When I am hiring I don't care if you have 17 years of experience in XYZ, or 3 months in BAR with 14 years sprinkle in SOAP, I get claims like that in every single resume and from my experience in recruitment (on both sides) no matter how you present it, it means very little. What does matter is how your skills and experience solve the problems I am facing.

What does that mean that you have to research the company you are applying to, and figure out what pain points they may be facing. This will allow you to replace "5 years experience with ELK, 3 years of AWS, expert in big data" (or however you want to scale your skills) into "Experience in using ELK to process live feeds of data measuring in 20GB per minute, with global scaling based on AWS automated provisioning" if you spot that they are looking for a top notch ELK specialist who knows how to scale it up.

Because ultimately this is what it's all about - showing that you can, and you know how, to solve a problem. If you can show it, you are automatically way above anyone who lists their skill grades but doesn't make it clear how will this help the company he applied to.

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How do you put skill level on a resume?

It's not really necessary. You should only list skills on your resume that you are

  • interested in using regularly
  • immediately capable of using professionally

Assuming that you have a number of different skills, don't put any one skill on your resume that you would hate to use. You may have a lot of experience using Java, for instance, but if you only want to work in Python, then don't list Java. Delete that ColdFusion project forever.

In most cases, employers are looking for people who can hit the ground running. They assume that you can be productive right away in the skills listed on your resume, and confirm this by asking specific questions during an interview. It would be an unpleasant surprise for a hiring manager to find out you only have beginner or cursory experience. You risk wasting your own time as well as the employer's.

If you have skills that you are interested in pursuing, but haven't used in a while, you could list those in an "other skills" section. A resume should be no longer than necessary and contain only the most relevant information, in order to present you in the strongest possible light.

The sole purpose of the resume is to get you an interview, which is probably the best way to address skill level. It's tough to get that across on paper, and far easier in a conversation.

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