Resume Skill Levels: What Being Proficient Really Means (And How To Prove It)

Want to list your skill level on a resume? Here’s how to say you’re proficient in a skill in a way that’s clear, concise and recruiter-friendly.

10 days ago   •   5 min read

By Resume Worded Editorial Team
Table of contents

Looking for a Java expert proficient in HTML, CSS, and MYSQL; must be fluent in Japanese.

Are you staring at a job description and thinking, “I can do that … but how do I prove it?”

It seems like it should be easy, right? The trouble is, hiring managers tend to be wary of applicants’ assessment of their own skills — and for a good reason. But if self-assessments are notoriously unreliable, what are you left with?

There is a right — and a wrong — way to list proficiency on a resume. By using clear language, backing up your self-assessment with experience or qualifications, and demonstrating your proficiency in a work environment, you can easily communicate your skill level on a resume.

Here’s a quick guide on how to get started.

How to indicate proficiency on a resume

  1. First, make sure your own assessment of your skills is accurate.
  2. If possible, back up your self-assessment with a formal test or qualification.
  3. Indicate your skill level in simple terms.
  4. Use synonyms for ‘proficient’ to keep things interesting.
  5. Illustrate your proficiency with concrete accomplishments.
  6. Instantly score your resume on key criteria like skill proficiency.

We’ll dive into the specific in a bit, but first, let’s discuss what it really means to say you’re proficient in something on your resume.

What does proficient mean on a resume?

Skill level isn’t always cut and dried — in real life, you can’t be level 100 in public speaking or max out your charisma. That said, there are clear differences in what it means to be proficient in a skill versus having working knowledge or even just a basic understanding.

If you claim to be proficient in a skill on your resume, recruiters will expect you to be able to demonstrate that skill in an everyday business context. For a foreign language, that may mean speaking with clients in that language or translating at a meeting or event, while for a programming language, you may be expected to work on an app written in that language or produce new code.

You should only claim proficiency on your resume if:

  • You have experience using that skill in a professional context
  • You’re confident in your assessment of your skills
  • You have qualifications or accomplishments to back that up

If you aren’t 100% sure, it’s always best to err on the side of caution — it’s better to be promoted when you demonstrate an unexpected skill than fired because you can’t meet the basic requirements of the job.

Let’s look at some more ways to make sure your resume accurately reflects your actual skill level.

Accurately assess your own skill level

Self-assessment is notoriously unreliable, so consider getting a second opinion on your skill levels before you list them on your resume. This could include:

  • Professional feedback you’ve received (ideally from a manager or experienced colleague)
  • A reliable skills assessment
  • If you’re changing careers, consider asking for an informational interview with someone in the field who has first-hand knowledge of the level of skill required for different positions

Include formal qualifications

Even better if you can point to some kind of official certification to show your proficiency. You can list professional qualifications, university degrees, and even short or online courses on your resume as an easy way of verifying your skill level.

List certifications in an additional section of your resume to establish skill proficiency
List certifications in an additional section of your resume to establish skill proficiency

Explicitly indicate your skill level

There are a few different ways you can approach listing skill levels on a resume:

On the other hand, you should avoid:

  • Using graphs, images, or infographics
  • Giving yourself a numerical skill rating

DO:

Skills: HTML/CSS (12 years), Java (10 years), PHP (9 years)

Proficient with: Tableau, Looker, Segment, Amplitude

Technical Skills: QuickBooks (Advanced), Invoicing (Experienced), Data Entry, Budgeting, Auditing, Coaching

Certifications: CFA Level 2 (August 2016)

Languages: Fluent in French (native), English; Conversational Proficiency in Chinese

How to list your level of language proficiency
How to list your level of language proficiency

DON’T:

Skills: Microsoft Office (95/100)

Don’t list your skill level using images or graphics because Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) can’t read them
Don’t list your skill level using images or graphics because Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) can’t read them

Use resume synonyms to indicate your proficiency

It’s fine to list your level of proficiency beside a few skills, but if you overload your resume with the word “proficient,” don’t be surprised if it becomes a chore to read.

Why not choose a stronger alternative instead? Try synonyms like:

Expert

Advanced

Fluent

Experienced

Qualified

Professional

Specialist

Authority

If possible, try to weave these naturally into your bullet points. Consider this basic skills list:

BEFORE

Skills: Python (Proficient), JavaScript (Proficient), MySQL (Proficient)

Sure, it lists your skill level — but it’s also repetitive and reliant on self-assessment. By including a few synonyms, we can rework it into a punchier, more effective bullet point.

AFTER

Oracle-certified MYSQL database specialist; fluent in Python and JavaScript (10+ years’ experience).

This bullet point highlights the same skills without becoming repetitive. Let’s look at some more ways you can use resume bullets to illustrate proficiency on your resume.

On the topic of skills, use the skills search tool below to find a list of hard skills and keywords relevant to your industry and job title.

Let your accomplishments demonstrate your skills

Using real examples of your past accomplishments is the best way to show a hiring manager what you can actually do — and as a bonus, it allows them to more easily imagine what your performance might be like in the role you’re applying for.

Here are a couple of examples:

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.

This bullet point shows — not tells — that you're good at Tableau, Amplitude, and Segment. While listing these three skills in a skills section may get a recruiter’s attention, showing them in action with a bullet point like this is more likely to guarantee you an interview.

Led 2 business analysts to automate repetitive process flows using Excel Macros / VBA and reduce analysis time by 10+ hours per week.

Many job seekers are notoriously bad at self-assessing their skill level in basic software like Word and even Excel. While hiring managers aren’t likely to put much stock in a skills section that lists “Proficient in Excel,” a bullet point like this — which demonstrates what you accomplished with that proficiency — is much more effective.

Spread the word

Keep reading