Highlighting skills on your resume is critical to illustrate your abilities to do the job well. But your proficiency level is just as important. 

How do you determine your skill levels and list them clearly on your resume? In this article, you’ll discover:

  • Why skill levels matter.
  • The standard scale of skill levels.
  • How to determine your skill proficiency level.
  • How to add your skill level to your resume.

With this information, you can illustrate why you’re a strong candidate, and the hiring manager will clearly understand your abilities.

What are resume skill levels, and do they matter?

When you have multiple skills to showcase on your resume for a specific role, it can be helpful to add your skill levels or proficiency. You can lead with skills you excel in, and follow with skills that you’re still developing.

It’s an excellent way to organize your resume skills section while helping the hiring manager focus on your strengths as a candidate.

The goal of resume skill levels

Adding your skill levels on your resume don’t just tell the manager what you’re capable of. They communicate the extent that you’re excellent at them. 

Listing your skills on your resume without context about your skill level can work against you, because it won’t be clear to the hiring manager. It helps the hiring manager plan how you’ll fit into the overall team dynamic at the organization.

Is your skillset on the beginner level? The hiring manager may assign a strong mentor to guide you. If you’re an expert in a particular skill, the hiring manager may want you to teach other team members your skills.

Remember, you don’t have to be a specialist in every skill you list on your resume.

Overview of hard and soft skills

Chances are, you’ve added skills to your resume without even noticing. Resume skills fall into 2 categories: hard skills and soft skills.

Hard skills are job-specific skills you need to do a particular job. Some examples of hard skills include:

  • QuickBooks
  • HTML/CSS/Javascript
  • Data analysis
  • Automotive services
  • Civil engineering
  • Photoshop

Meanwhile, soft skills are personal attributes, character traits, and behavioral traits that affect how you work and interact with others in any job role. Some examples of soft skills include:

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Time management
an infographic showing the difference between hard skills and soft skills

Soft skills are increasingly important among hiring managers. A McKinsey survey shows that hiring managers emphasize the desire for soft skill in a post-pandemic workforce.

Meanwhile, according to Forbes, more than 61% of professionals think that soft skills are equally important as hard skills.

Why resume skills are necessary for the ATS

The ATS, or applicant tracking system, is the initial database that stores your resume after your application. The hiring manager will input keywords—often skills—to find the strongest candidates for the job. 

Communicating your skills in your resume makes you more searchable in the ATS and gets your resume on the hiring manager’s desk. Including your skill proficiency level can also strengthen your resume and help you stand out from other applicants. 

We scanned a sample resume into Jobscan’s resume scanner and found it was missing several hard and soft skills mentioned in the job description. The tool can generate a match report and an overall score to help you highlight the necessary skills for the job.

As you can see, this resume is missing key hard skills like API development and fintech, and critical soft skills like accountability and discipline. Adding them to your resume can increase your chances of getting an interview.

First, determine your resume skills

You can make estimations based on what you think you’re strongest at. Or you can use a learning framework to determine your skill levels. 

The Dreyfus Model of Acquisition examines how learners acquire skills with formal education and practice. Formal education can include school or certifications; practice can come from previous jobs. 

This educational framework helps standardize competencies, and many organizations use this model in internal assessments. The Dreyfus Model can work with both hard and soft skills to help learners determine where they stand or need to improve in a particular skill. 

What is the skill level scale?

Based on the Dreyfus Model of Acquisition, skill proficiency and development are based on 5 stages. 

a graphic explaining the skill learning framework, the Dreyfus Model of Acquisition, and the 5 stages of skill development including novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert

Novice

When someone is just starting to learn about a particular subject, they are considered a novice. This means they are still getting familiar with the basic ideas and specific rules that apply to that subject. 

Advanced Beginner

At a certain point in the learning journey, an advanced beginner starts to connect the dots and better understand how rules and facts fit together. They also begin recognizing things they didn’t know before and learning new vocabulary and principles. 

At this stage, they may not yet have a good sense of what’s most important to focus on, so they may treat all aspects of our work as equally important.

Competent

At the competence level, a person is starting to understand universal concepts and principles and the various factors that influence a situation. They can choose the right approach based on the circumstances and take responsibility for their actions. 

Essentially, they have gained a deeper understanding of how things work and can apply this knowledge to different situations.

Proficient

Someone who is a proficient performer has learned how to recognize problems and figure out the best ways to solve them. They have enough experience to make good decisions without thinking too hard about it. 

This means they can rely on their gut feelings and past experiences to make good choices.

Expert

An expert is someone who is really good at something. They know exactly what to do to get the job done right. They can do things that are so good they almost never make mistakes. This is because they have a lot of experience and skill in what they do. 

In contrast, someone proficient at something is still learning and may make mistakes. Experts, on the other hand, can almost always do things perfectly. They are like the masters of their craft!

How to list your skill levels on your resume

Now that you know your skill levels, how can you illustrate them on your resume?

Some standard methods include:

  • Subheadings
  • Parentheses
  • Skill bars
  • Bar graphs

Use subheadings for skill levels

Subheadings can be in a clear, ATS-friendly format to separate your skills at their appropriate levels. You can list your skills under a heading, like in the example below.

a screenshot of a resume skills section with subheadings of expert, proficient, and advanced beginner to measure skill levels

This format is the default using Jobscan’s resume builder tool. It follows a basic categorization—beginner, intermediate, and expert—but you can edit the section to make it more specific. 

Just be sure to run it through the resume scanner to confirm that it’s readable by the ATS.

Add parentheses in your skills section

You can keep your existing list format and add your proficiency levels in parentheses. Below is an example of listing your skills with parentheses. 

a screenshot of a resume skill section with the skill level in parentheses

Always list your strongest and most relevant skills first to create an easy-to-follow hierarchy.

Skill bars with bubble fill

Skills bar designs can be appealing, but they’re often not recommended because they’re not ATS-friendly. Below is an example of using a filled-in bubble skills bar to rate your skills on a scale of 1 to 5. 

Screenshot of a skills section of a resume with a graphic showing skill levels

Bar graphs for skill proficiency

A bar graph without numbers can illustrate your proficiency range without choosing an exact number. This design element isn’t the best choice because the ATS can’t read the levels. Adding design unreadable design elements is a common ATS resume mistake.

This is an example of a skills section using a bar graph to show your skill level.

a screenshot of a resume skill section using a bar graph to illustrate proficiency levels

Using Jobscan’s resume templates, you can create an ATS-friendly resume to highlight all your key skills. No matter what industry you’re in, the templates are adaptable for the role you’re applying for. Once your resume is complete, you can run it through the resume scanner to help it pass the ATS.


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FAQs

What are the 5 levels of proficiency?

The standard 5 levels of proficiency are:

  • Novice
  • Advanced Beginner
  • Competent
  • Proficient
  • Expert

How do you describe skill levels?

Describe your skill set by ranking them in categories. Universally understandable categorizations describe your skill level in a standardized way to the hiring manager. 

How to demonstrate skill levels on your resume?

Back up your skill levels in your work experience through measurable accomplishments, your education section, or extra certifications you’ve taken to upskill.

How to highlight skill levels on your resume?

Highlight your skill levels on your resume by using subheadings and parentheses for your categories. Run your resume through Jobscan’s resume scanner to ensure your skill section is correctly formatted for the ATS.

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Kelsey Purcell

Kelsey is a Content Writer with a background in content creation, bouncing between industries to educate readers everywhere.

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