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I'm currently working on my CV and have come across a problem that many others have dealt with: How to rate my skills across several fields. I would like to use a star-based rating system instead of using a few keywords over and over again. I have read some arguments against that, but I still think there are some benefits to it and have been trying to figure out how to make a star-based rating system more informative to potential employers. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

  • The skills section in my CV mainly consists of software (for example, several Adobe Creative Cloud programs) and some programming/coding languages. However, my proficiency in those programs/languages varies vastly, so I need to include some form of rating of my relative skill.
  • I could use a set of keywords (e.g beginner - advanced - expert or basic knowledge - working knowledge as suggested here). However, that wouldn't be fundamentally different from using a star-based rating system, but it is more verbose. (Sidenote: I write my CV in German, where the accepted terminology goes something like this: Grundkenntnisse - Gute Kenntnisse - Sehr gute Kenntnisse - Herausragende Kenntnisse)
  • This is for technical skills only. I fully understand that there's no benefit of rating things like creativity, determination, critical thinking et c. using such a system.
  • I intend to use the full scale. I see why rating myself 4/5 or 5/5 stars in every category to make me look smart is a bad idea. But by listing, for example, HTML as 4/5 and PHP as 1/5 I make sure my potential employer has an idea of my skills and I won't be given tasks that exceed my knowledge in the respective field.
  • I understand that fine differences are hard to justify (why did you use 3.5/5 instead of 4/5 stars?), however it's better than nothing or a worse system like the one described above.

I have read that another good way of avoiding this problem is to list my work experience in the respective field in terms of years or finished projects. However, there are two reasons why this is not a good choice for me:

  • I am just finishing my bachelor's degree, so I don't have much work experience worth mentioning. Most of the things i could list here are personal or study-related projects.
  • My CV is accompanied by my online portfolio, which includes examples of my creative work. My study-related projects and all the papers I wrote are listed/linked/downloadable on my website. My CV is also hosted on this website, so they are easily accessible from there (I know you may also have some reservations against online CVs instead of PDFs/prints, but that is NOT what this question is about). Therefore, listing those projects in my CV again would be redundant and unnecessarily verbose.

This is my reasoning behind using a star-based system. There are other reasons, e.g. design-related ones. This is why I have been thinking about how to make a star-based rating system work. For example, I could include a legend with explanations for the ratings 1 through 5. Or I could include those explanations in the HTML title tag, so it appears on mouseover.

Which of those options should I opt for? Or is there a better way? How can I make a star-based rating system for my technical skills more informative? What are other ways to utilize such a system to it's full extent?

Please note that I am looking for answers on how to make this work, not for a lecture on why this is a bad idea. I've read those arguments and they didn't convince me. Some examples of 'good' CVs using such a system are also appreciated.

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    I'd throw it straight in the bin – Kilisi Sep 10 '16 at 10:15
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    good point... then fuel for the bbq – Kilisi Sep 10 '16 at 10:24
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    Please note that I am looking for answers on how to make this work, not for a lecture on why this is a bad idea. -> I don't know what I am doing, but I know I am right... – SJuan76 Sep 10 '16 at 11:59
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    Read up on what a resume looks like and what it should contain. Star-based ratings won't be part of that. At the core your resume needs to be packed with relevant information in a readable, sober and conventional format. You sound like another classic case of someone thinking that the rules don't apply to them. And while I'm bursting bubbles: decouple that online portfolio from your resume as well. A resume should stand on its own. – Lilienthal Sep 10 '16 at 19:54
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    I'd consider what star based rating systems are actually used for; typically they are used for wisdom-of-the-crowds based aggregate rating systems. Ex: Star Wars VII got 4.5/5 stares from eleventy million reviews. The only person reviewing you in a resume is you. – Sidney Jun 7 '17 at 21:18
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Don't use a rating system at all - they are extremely subjective and tend to be meaningless in different environments. You stand more chance of your CV being rejected than looked at in closer detail.

Concentrate on your education and experience - don't say

"I am an expert in X"

"I rate my skills in Y as five-star"

I have worked with many developers who rate themselves highly, but in reality are extremely poor coders. I have been that person myself. It doesn't mean you are lying, it just means you are not objective - and a recruiter will be hiring you on their objective reasonings rather than your subjective ratings.

Instead, you should concentrate on objective views of your situation - your experience, your education, the projects you have worked on and what you came away from them with.

Say stuff like:

My last project was built using PHP6 on the server side and Angular 2 on the client side, utilising Javascript to ECMA2015 standard. I covered new concepts such as x, y and z during this project.

If you spell out what you did in a project, even in short form as above, that gets across the information technically competent hiring managers are looking for - the progression of your skill base (no, you did not come out of school, college or university as the best coder ever - chances actually are rather that your skills taught to you by your educational system are already somewhat stale the moment you hit the job market), do you leap from technology to technology or do you build on good foundations, are you distracted by the latest shiny or do you prefer to hone your skills in a particular area...

For a developer, the best thing to get you hired is a good GitHub account with public repositories of your work - an online portfolio is a good start, but a GitHub repository of the same work can show that you can work in particular ways (you can use source control, for a start), gives recruiters access to the actual code behind the portfolio which isn't available through "view source", and shows if you are active in open source at all - if you are, it gives an insight as to how you approach issues with other people, as your submissions are tracked etc.

As a hiring manager, give me a GitHub repo of your work to look through and I will spend time looking at it. Give me an infographic which takes me cognitive effort to digest and you run the risk of the information not getting through.

  • Thanks! I already mentioned the project-based approach in my question; I do have some other concerns, mainly that it is either repetitive or redundant and reduces readability (I needed HTML, CSS, PHP and MySQL for one project; do I list it in those four categories or only once? If I do the former, it's insanely verbose and longer than it should be. If I do the latter, what if someone just wants to see if I know PHP, where would they find this info?) The Github Repo is only applicable to Programmers, but it's the same with my Portfolio: It speaks for itself, so I needn't list it in the CV tbc. – MoritzLost Sep 10 '16 at 12:08
  • So if I provide the link to my Portfolio/Github/et c., this is where my potential employer will find examples of my work and experience. The CV is only an overview of what skills and technologies I know, which is where the short overview in form of the star-based rating comes in handy. That's how I see it at least. Of course that's assuming my potential employer takes the time to look through my portfolio, but if he doesn't want to do that, chances are he doesn't want ot read through a dozen pages of CV either – MoritzLost Sep 10 '16 at 12:10
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    If you have a grounding in certain areas that you use for all projects, I would list that in the oldest project and concentrate on what new things you covered in that project - did you use a new database, did you switch to ECMA2016 etc. I'm not interested in the project, I'm interested in what experience you gained from the project - that should be front and center in your mind when writing a CV. – Moo Sep 10 '16 at 12:17
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    As I said in my answer, a rating system or a developer saying they are "expert" in something is meaningless to me - I've seen "web developers" graduate from University with a degree with hons who didn't know what a css media query is, but they felt they were "expert" web developers. In the real world, they were beginner level and had a lot to learn. Your CV is there to entice me to look at you - your GitHub repo and portfolio furthers that goal. The interview is what both of those should be aiming to achieve. – Moo Sep 10 '16 at 12:21
  • Oh, and if you are a graphics designer, a GitHub repo is still useful to you - I have no idea why designers don't use source control, what do you do when you want to revert to an older version of a design or you want to try something out? – Moo Sep 10 '16 at 12:22
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Since you're listing programs from the Adobe Creative Cloud, I'd assume you're a designer.

For novice designers sometimes fancy equals good. For more experienced designers, good usability equals good. Using the same set of keywords everyone else uses is good usability - people don't need to think about what you mean. Using stars is fancy.

Since you want to use the stars anyway, your goal is to reduce the "fancy" part, without giving up on the stars rating.

  • Don't use stars, use dots. See Tripadvisor for an example.
  • Make sure to have placeholders like Tripadvisor or IMDB, so people see something is rated 3 out of 5, rather than 3 out of an unknown number.
  • Don't use anything on mouseover. CV on print must be the same as the CV on screen.
  • Consider still writing the actual skill levels and just using the dots as a visual aid.
  • Thanks! I currently have black or hollow stars (to indicate x out of 5), I will look for a more subtle symbol. Well I mentioned design-related reasons, so let me expand on that. I actually think that the version with written out keywords is less user friendly because it is a huge block of text that contains little information. The version with the star ratings looks more like a short, concise list where the important info can be easily scanned – MoritzLost Sep 10 '16 at 12:03
  • @Moritz You forget the context. You may be right without the context, but if people get 19 CVs that look one way and 1 CV that looks another way, that 1 CV is less user friendly. – Peter Sep 10 '16 at 12:11
  • For a computer that expects a certain input formatting that would be true, but I doubt it's appicable to a human being. If those 19 CVs follow a convention that is unnecessarily verbose and uninformative, I won't just fall in line. Maybe that's just my first world anarchism coming through. Even if my CV gets trashed in 9/10 places as suggested by Kilisi, maybe the 10th will not just throw it away because it looks different than the others and consider if it's actually worse or just different, and that's the place where I want to work – MoritzLost Sep 10 '16 at 12:16
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As a person reading CVs (technical checks): Don't do star ratings of yourself. The waste of space, the arrogance of evaluating yourself (i suppose your university did not rate you with stars) nearly make me throw-up when getting a CV like this. Wannabe designers with no idea about layout, page balance and typography messing around with heavy symbols redirecting focus onto their touchscreen driven representation of the world. You actually put a selfie as an application photo and it would not add to the bad impression.

So these were the problem with my direct impression when getting such a CV. Another major problem: if you give 5 stars to yourself, it is hopelessly undefined what that actually means and I would be careful to to that. If you evaluate yourself to be 5 stars, for me that means that you think that you beat the vast majority of people similar to you in that skill and are fundamentally proficient. So that would my interpretation, while somebody else possibly has another one. So probably it's better not to do it, since another person may think it is normal that you have 5 start in everything you need for the job and I give you interview questions which are close to unsolvable.

  • "The waste of space, the arrogance of evaluating yourself (i suppose your university did not rate you with stars) nearly make me throw-up when getting a CV like this." Throwing up seems an extreme response - I've only ever had one, and I just had a laugh about it with the HR manager before binning it. – Robert de Graaf Jun 8 '17 at 0:32
  • No, for laughing it's not funny enough. Maybe the first one was. – Sascha Jun 8 '17 at 6:11

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