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

Including relevant skills on your resume is always recommended, even if you’re only a beginner. Find out the best way to showcase new and basic level skills.

a year ago   •   6 min read

By Rohan Mahtani
Table of contents

We can’t all be experts at everything we do. Whether you’re changing careers, applying for work outside your niche or just getting started, we all have skills we haven’t yet mastered.

There is no shame in being a beginner, but how can you include relevant new skills on your resume without sounding underqualified or underselling your expertise? And how can basic level skills help you land a job?

Let’s take a look at when you should and shouldn’t include basic skills on your resume and the best way to showcase these work-in-progress skills.

When (and when not) to include “not proficient but” on your resume

So you’re not an expert. That’s ok. When a skill is specifically relevant to a position it’s better to include basic level experience than to leave a skill off your resume entirely.

You should include basic-level skills when:

  • Your most proficient skills are not relevant to the application
  • You are changing careers or just starting in a new field
  • You have a new qualification or training course
  • Your resume is missing target keywords
  • The skill is specifically relevant to the job

You should include basic skills on your resume to ensure you get past ATS software and your resume makes it into the hands of the recruiter.

Don’t include basic skills if you have enough proficient skills relevant to the job or you have no experience with the skill whatsoever.

A good way to find out if your resume effectively showcases your skills, whether they are basic or proficient, is to upload it to the tool below — it’ll scan your resume and let you know if you have highlighted your skills in the most impactful way.

What basic skills should you include?

Getting past ATS software and impressing recruiters is all about including the right keywords on your resume.

To understand what skills are relevant to your application, scan the job description using a keyword finder. This will tell you what specific keywords recruiters are looking for and what skills should be included on your resume.

You can find additional keywords and skills by uploading your resume to our Targeted Resume tool, which will highlight any skills missing from your resume.

How to list basic skills on your resume

There is no standard way to quantify skills on your resume, so don’t stress over finding the “right” words. As long as your language is clear, consistent, and easy to understand, you’ll be fine.

Common terms for basic skills

If you are familiar but not proficient with a skill, some phrasing options for basic skill levels include novice, beginner, basic, entry level, and starter.

Moderate skill levels can be qualified as intermediate, working experience, or advanced beginner.

For higher level skills, use proficient, skilled, competent, or experienced, and for your highest level skills, use advanced or expert.

Here is an example of using these common terms in a skills section.

Skills by Expertise

If you prefer not to use the levels above, you can introduce your basic skills with one of the following phrases: Familiar with, Working knowledge of, Good at, Skilled in, Proficient in, New to, Confident with, Trained in, or Qualified in.

Here is an example of the above resume using expertise instead of skill levels.

Years of experience

Listing your total years of experience is a great way to quantify basic and beginner skills, as years of experience can also include years spent training or learning a skill.

In this example the candidate has listed their skills from most proficient to least, quantified by years of experience.

Language skill levels

For languages, use the common terms; beginner, conversational, or fluent. Only include a language on your resume if you’re confident using this language in a work environment.

Programming skill levels

Recognized terms for programming languages are basic, competent, skilled, and expert. If you are not proficient but familiar with a program, state you are “Basic in (language)”, for example, “Basic in CSS”.

Use qualifications and specific examples

A great way to quantify basic skills is to list specific achievements, such as qualifications, courses, and projects. This is perfect for skills you are not proficient in as you can showcase recent training and highlight your understanding of the skill.

In this example, the candidate expands on their skills by detailing specific online courses and certificates that showcase these skills.

Quantify only your highest proficiency skills

You might choose to only highlight your proficiency in advanced and experienced level skills and leave your basic skills unquantified.

As you can see in the example below, this demonstrates that you have less experience with these skills without having to write the word basic or beginner.

Don’t use numbers

Using numbers to quantify your skills, such as 8/10 proficiency or 75%, is not recommended as it leaves too much room for subjective interpretation. You might think 6/10 indicates an advanced level but a recruiter may consider 6/10 as intermediate. It is also hard for someone reading your resume to understand the difference between 7/10 and 8/10.

Stick to the common terms listed above (such as basic or proficient) and expand on your skills through certificates and examples.

How to organize your skills

Create a skills section

Include your relevant skills in a dedicated skills section, focussing on specific hard skills in favor of soft skills. Your skills section should be easily scannable and towards the end of your resume.

List your most proficient skills first

Always list your most proficient skills first followed by more basic skills, as shown in the example below.

Use subheadings

Make it easier for a recruiter to scan your resume by dividing your skill section into subheadings. Arrange your skills either by proficiency, type of skill, or industry.

Here is an example of organizing skills by proficiency level, such as expert, proficient and basic.

Here is an example of listing skills by type, such as technical skills, language skills, programming skills, etc.

Here is an example of dividing skills into relevant industries, such as marketing, writing, computing, etc.

You can also include proficiency alongside industry subheadings, for example:

Marketing: Expert in Facebook ads. Intermediate in SEO, Google Analytics
Programming: Expert in Java. Intermediate in CSS.

Tips for listing proficient and basic skills

Use a template

Using a resume template will keep your skill section organized. Make sure the template you are using is a simple, one or two-column format and optimized for ATS.

Avoid complex graphics and images

Though complex visuals may look appealing, they are harder for both recruiters and ATS software to read. Stick to simple proficiency levels and steer clear of fancy graphics like bar charts, pie charts, color coding, or images.

Target your skill list to each application

Make sure you are editing and revising your skill list for each application, and that everything listed is targeted and relevant to the job you are applying for.

An effective way to target your skill list to the job you’re applying for is to include hard skills and keywords related to the job in your skills section. Use the tool below to find relevant ones.

Be honest

Don’t exaggerate your skills or list a skill you wouldn't be confident using. Instead, be honest about your experience and let a recruiter your strengths and where you might require further training.

What if a skill is missing from your resume

If an important skill is missing from your resume that you have no basic experience with, invest a little time in online training courses such as Coursera, Udemy, or Google Certificates, to add this relevant skill to your resume.

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