How To Say Basic Knowledge on a Resume

You have the skills listed in the job description … sort of. Here’s how to highlight basic knowledge of essential skills on your resume without lying.

2 years ago   •   5 min read

By Rohan Mahtani

Your resume is a way to showcase your strongest skills and experience — in other words, things you’re truly proficient in. If you think this sounds like there’s no reason to list basic knowledge on your resume, you’d be right … most of the time.

The exception to this is when you have basic knowledge of a skill that’s essential to the role. This is especially true when you’re dealing with Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), which are likely to filter out resumes that don’t mention key skills. But how do you include basic proficiency on a resume without making it sound like you have more expertise than you actually do? Here’s a step by step guide!

How to say you have basic knowledge on a resume

Trying to find a way to say that you’re good, but not great, at a skill? Follow these tips:

  1. Identify must-have skills by checking the job description or using our skills and keywords finder.
  2. Indicate your level of proficiency beside the skill (see below for examples of how to do this).
  3. Only list skills that you genuinely possess — don’t include skills you only have a passing familiarity with or are otherwise not comfortable using in a professional setting.
  4. Double check that you haven’t left out any key skills by uploading your resume to our Targeted Resume tool.

If you’re not sure if you have represented your skills and basic knowledge of your skills the right way, upload your resume to the tool below — you’ll get a confidential resume review and suggestions for improvements.

Examples of listing basic knowledge in a skills section

It’s always better to be upfront about your level of skill on a resume — even if that’s only basic knowledge. Here are the best ways to do just that:

Specifying years of experience

The easiest way to indicate how much experience you have with a particular skill is to specify how many years of experience you have. For example:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) (4 years)
Skill #2 (2 years)
Skill #3 (1 year)

This avoids having to label your knowledge as “basic” without misrepresenting yourself as an expert when you’re not.

Pros: Listing number of years’ experience is an objective measurement — no need for self-assessment.

Cons: Number of years’ experience doesn’t always correlate to an exact level of proficiency.

Let's look at how that might look on an actual resume:

Option #1: List number of years’ experience beside each skill
Option #1: List number of years’ experience beside each skill

Using subheadings to indicate proficiency levels

If you’d rather avoid listing your exact years of experience with a skill, you can use subheadings like “advanced,” “proficient,” and “familiar with” to indicate your level of expertise instead. For example:

Proficient with: Skill #1, Skill #2, Skill #3
Familiar with: Skill #4, Skill #5, Skill #6

This is a great way of keeping your skills section organized without sacrificing transparency.

Pros: Makes it obvious at a glance what your skill level is, ensuring your resume is easy to skim.

Cons: Relies on self-assessment, which is notoriously biased.

Option #2: Organize your skills section by using subheading for proficiency
Option #2: Organize your skills section by using subheading for proficiency

Listing unofficial skill levels

If you’d rather keep your skills section organized by type of skill rather than proficiency level, you can still include your level of expertise by listing it alongside each specific skill. For example:

Technical skills: Advanced in Microsoft Access, SQL and Tableau. Proficient with Python, Java and Hadoop

This works best when you only need to indicate proficiency for a small handful of skills — if you list a proficiency level next to every skill, it may start to look cluttered.

Pros: Indicates your level of skill while allowing you to organize your skills section in a way that suits you.

Cons: Requires a hiring manager to read your resume more closely to gauge your skill level.

Option #3: List a proficiency level next to each skill
Option #3: List a proficiency level next to each skill

Including language fluency

Language skills have their own rules, but in brief: If you’re including languages on your resume, always specify your level of fluency. For example:

English (Native)
Spanish (Fluent)
French (Conversational)

You don’t always need to list languages on a resume — if you’re just starting to learn a language and wouldn’t be comfortable using it in a business context, leave it off.

Pros: Foreign language proficiency can be a huge plus when working with multinational corporations, international clients, or in linguistically diverse areas.

Cons: If you include a foreign language on your resume, be prepared to use it at work.

Option #4: List foreign language fluency on your resume
Option #4: List foreign language fluency on your resume

If you’re wondering if you’ve left out any key skills relevant to the job you’re applying for, use the skills search tool below to search for the job and it’ll give you a list of skills and keywords to include on your resume.

Do’s and don’ts for including basic knowledge on a resume

Do: Use clear language

Don’t beat around the bush when it comes to explaining your level of proficiency. The best thing you can do when you only have basic knowledge of an essential skill is to be upfront about it. Phrases like “working knowledge” and “familiar with” are your friend here.

Related: How To Say You’re Not Proficient, But Have A Skill On Your Resume

Do: Use resume bullet points to your advantage

Even better than listing proficiency levels in your skills section is to show how you’ve used that skill in your bullet point accomplishments. That way, recruiters can see for themselves if you have the level of skill needed in the role. For example:

Instead of: Proficient in Tableau, Amplitude, and Segment

Try this instead: Built Tableau dashboard using data from Amplitude and Segment to visualize core business KPIs (e.g. Monthly Recurring Revenue), saving 10 hours per week of manual reporting work

Don’t: Use graphics, charts, and images

Images of any kind are always a bad idea on a resume. Resist the temptation to include fancy graphics, graphs, or charts to illustrate your competency — stick to a simple, text-based resume instead, which is easier for both humans and ATS to read.

Don’t: Include low-level skills

Avoid listing skills on your resume that you only have a very basic understanding of. If you have to list “basic,” “novice,” or “beginner” next to it, you probably don’t have a solid enough understanding of the skill to be able to use it at work. And definitely never list skills you don’t actually possess just to get past ATS. You will be found out eventually, whether it’s in an interview, background check, or — worst of all — when you can’t do the job you were hired to do.

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