I am in the process of updating my CV. Since I often get labeled as "the bioinformatician" I get to play with many different languages and technologies, and similarly what people expect from a bioinformatician varies from person to person. So I figured it would be a good idea to indicate how much I feel I know in respective fields/languages.

Inspired by this question, I came to wonder whether or not its acceptable to have self-assessed ratings of your technical skills, such as: proficiency programming languages, familiarity with relevant software etc.

My own feeling is that such ratings are useful to indicate what you feel most confident or comfortable with. It would also be useful to show any potential future employer the level of competence you have in different fields. If you think about it a bit, it is common to have some type of rating for the languages one speaks, so I think an analogue to programming language proficiency should not be that alienating.

On the other hand there is the risk of rendering your CV like, as a friend of mine put it, a role-playing game character sheet.

Is it common to have such ratings on skills? Are there any potential problems with it?

Edit: What I was thinking is a small listing something like:

enter image description here

  • Is this CV intended for academic employers or industry? If the former, I think it's pretty rare for an academic CV to list skills; they generally focus instead on accomplishments. If the latter, you may get better answers at Workplace.SE. – Nate Eldredge Feb 28 '14 at 14:44
  • @NateEldredge preferably for research oriented position at either alternative. I started with a template and modified as I moved along and I kinda like the idea of listing "professional skills" since my field is essentially too broad/cross-disciplinary – posdef Mar 6 '14 at 9:36

What scale do you intend to rate yourself on? Maybe that sounds like a silly riposte, but that's a serious issue. If you say you're proficient in Java, how does the person reading the CV know what on earth you mean (assuming they're willing to take your word for it). I would be much more inclined to focus on what experience you have with a language (I have X many years of Java programming experience, I've done such and such projects), since that's actually something which people understand the meaning of. You also don't necessarily need to cover this in a lot of detail in your CV, since if you're applying for a job where these skills are relevant, you can mention it in your cover letter.

EDIT: In response to the proposal of using stars or a 0-5 rating: DON'T DO IT! If you want to write "I'm proficient in Java and have some experience in C" that's harmless but won't make too much of a positive impression either without some more concrete information. The stars will make you look eccentric at best, and lunatic at worst. I know that some times the usual convention about how to do things seem constraining and silly, but if you've never seen something on a CV before (and I've never seen giving yourself numerical ratings on an unknown scale), there's probably a good reason.

  • The scale is the problem, I agree. The way I looked at it was to rate them on a scale of 0-5, based on how familiar I am with the environment/language in question. So it isn't os much what I know, but more like how fast I can learn and start producing in a particular environment. – posdef Mar 6 '14 at 9:37
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    @posdef That's fair, and not an unreasonable thing to try to explain, but do it in words, and with evidence of how you got those skills. This is precisely the sort of thing cover letters are for. – Ben Webster Mar 6 '14 at 10:49
  • "but if you've never seen something on a CV before ... there's probably a good reason." I would disagree with this; it could just as well be so that nobody tried, or did it in a pleasant enough way. But yes I think I get the point with your answer, and I can see the reasoning behind it. Thanks :) – posdef Mar 6 '14 at 12:03
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    @posdef But a CV isn't like a steam engine, where coming up with a unique design is good. It's socially constructed what a good CV is (and indeed it depends a lot on what community you're applying for jobs in what sort of CV you'll write). I'm sure there are occasional exceptions, but part of what you're trying to prove with a CV or any part of application package is that you understand the community you're in. Trying to do something unique is much more likely to distinguish you in a negative way than a positive one. – Ben Webster Mar 7 '14 at 20:56
  • @BenWebster HR people hate nonstandard CVs because it means they have to spend a few minutes trying to decipher the CV to get the information they want, and that few minutes of brainpower can be used to decide to throw the CV in the trash. Academics are similarly picky and somewhat old-fashioned, and tend to resist trying to parse things that take too much time to understand. – Irwin Mar 7 '14 at 22:57

Let's get some terminology clear. A self-assessment is something like this:

I am proficient in Java and Python, and have a good working knowledge of C++.

You don't want to self-assess, if only because, in the absence of an external standard, self-assessments are difficult for others to evaluate. What does "good working knowledge of C++" mean, for example? If my work depends on a program that involves many thousand C++ lines across dozens of files, can I count on you to maintain, debug, and expand it?

What you want to do is accomplishment-listing, which looks like this.

I took CS304 "Advanced C++" (grade: A) and CS407 "C++ Applications in the Life Sciences" (grade: A+) in Alma Mater State University (2010-2011). At BioInfo Inc. (2011-2013), I helped develop the C++ backed of the following programs...".

This is much more helpful for prospective employers.

  • +1 It is easier for an external party to evaluate facts rather than a subjective personal assessment. – I Like to Code Feb 28 '14 at 16:30
  • The problem here is that I have taken quite a bit of courses in CS, not all of them have left as much. Likewise I worked with certain languages more than others, naturally. If I was writing a paragraph I would probably formulate it like you do here but what I did was to just list the skills I consider to be relevant and familiar, on a small column to the side of the main text. please see the edit – posdef Mar 6 '14 at 9:50
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    I would also add that a grade in a class does not necessarily reflect your ability in the language taught in the class. I don't consider 'CS304 "Advanced C++" (grade: A) and CS407 "C++ Applications in the Life Sciences" (grade: A+)' to be evidence one way or the other of C++ skills. – ff524 Mar 7 '14 at 20:41

I do think there can be some value to listing skills and your confidence in them, especially if they're not immediately obvious from your accomplishments.

But, I agree with the others that the stars are not useful and do not work in your favor.

For example, if your CV lists: "Project X: Did A, B, C, (implemented in Ruby)" and "Project Y: Did D, E, F (used HTML, CSS, Javascript)" that doesn't really tell me much about how much you've really done with each of these languages. In Project Y, did you really design your CSS or did you find some nice templates and modify to suit your needs?

It's not always appropriate to describe in such detail what each project entailed. If I'm looking for your expertise in a particular skill that isn't obvious from your experience, then a listing of skills and confidence levels is helpful. But, there's a better way to do it than with star ratings.

Google's self-rating scale (reportedly) goes like this:

  • 0 – You have no experience
  • 1 to 3 – You are familiar with this area but would not be comfortable implementing anything in it.
  • 4 to 6 – You are confident in this area and use it daily.
  • 7 – 9 You are extremely proficient to expert and have deep technical expertise in the subject and feel comfortable designing any project in it.
  • 10 – Reserved for those who are recognized industry experts, either you wrote a book in it or invented it.

On your CV, a textual description ("Ruby: I am confident in Ruby and use it daily") is more useful and also makes you sound better than saying "Ruby: 6/10"

(Of course, the rest of your CV should go on to present your experience in Ruby, so the reader becomes confident that your self-rating is reasonable.)

You didn't ask about this, but I would also strongly advise against listing "Microsoft Office" as a software skill if you are looking for a technical job in a technical field.

  • I would also leave off Microsoft Office unless the job ad specifically mentions it. You don't want some braindead HR software to bin your resume automatically because it's "not a match." Otherwise though, it's pretty obvious that anyone who can muddle their way through a Scala program can also throw together some powerpoint slides. – Matt May 26 '14 at 21:43

It seems like you need a second opinion so:

No way should you put the graphic you added to your question in your CV. It looks very strange and does not help you. When I see it:

(i) My eye immediately notices that there are a lot of missing stars. Altogether you are giving yourself 63.3% of the maximum possible programming proficiency [whatever that means!]. That sounds really mediocre. Most other candidates' CV will contain only 100% positive information about them.

(ii) While my eye notices that you haven't rated yourself so highly, my brain is very frustrated that it doesn't know what any of the ratings mean, high or low. You give yourself 3.5 out of 5 stars on LaTeX. If I want to take your LaTeX skills into account in my decision on whether or not to hire you...then what on earth am I supposed to do with 3.5 out of 5 stars?!?

  • I agree: "No way" or "absolutely not" is the only appropriate answer to including any info graphic remotely similar to the one presented. In addition to everything mentioned here, it suggests that the person presenting the CV is still set in the undergrad mindset that grades and numerical ratings of one's performance is paramount as opposed to a project outcome or process. – WetlabStudent Mar 7 '14 at 23:49
  • @MHH and using GPA or GRE scores isn't about numerical ratings? How about the impact factor or the h-index? We all use numerical information to rate things, regardless of the level of education. If you claim that you dont, consciously or unconsciously, look for some sort of numerical rating to judge the quality of something, I would seriously doubt your sincerity. In this case, however, it so happens that the lack of a proper baseline scale is what sinks this idea, not that it's "undergrad mindset" as you condescendingly put it. – posdef Mar 8 '14 at 8:58
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    You should not put your h-index or GRE score on a resume and for academia you should also not include your GPA. Of course we use these things to some degree (although less than one might think), but any scale you make up yourself, regardless as to whether the scale has a proper baseline or not, should never go on a resume. I am sorry, "undergrad mindset" was a poor choice of words; I did not mean it condescendingly. – WetlabStudent Mar 8 '14 at 20:11

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