How good am I? No, seriously.
January 27, 2008 9:28 PM   Subscribe

How do I rate my skills when preparing a resume/job application?

I'm approaching the end of my degree in software engineering, and job applications keep asking to rate my competence at everything, like programming languages and environments and so on. How do I judge whether my C (etc etc) skills are 'good' or only 'comfortable', or maybe even 'excellent'? I want to hit a balance between selling myself on paper and being able to live up to it in the interview/eventual job, but I don't know what these words mean to the companies, and I don't want my 'good' to look crappy next to a bunch of other graduates at my level rating themselves as 'SUPERMAN'.
posted by jacalata to Work & Money (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Two things: 1.) You SHOULD over sell yourself on your resume. Most employers will expect a learning curve and build time into their expectations for your performance after they hire you. And 2.) You SHOULD completely stress that your skills are excellent, regardless of your real competence. The goal is to get a job, not accurately measure yourself against some hypothetical other. Chances are every other guy is going to check the "expert" box and probably not be as skilled as you are - so why would you stick yourself in the "good" or "comfortable" slot? Don't short sell your abilities... over sell the hell out of them and then play catchup if you do land a job that is challenging.
posted by wfrgms at 9:44 PM on January 27, 2008

I agree with wfrgms. Would you rather have a job where you're good at everything you do and only make marginal improvements to your skillset or would you rather be learning a lot (at least, during the first year or so)? I seek out jobs where I have a good feeling I'll be learning a lot. Many of the skills I use at my current job were honestly at the "rookie" and "theoretical" level when I started, but neither my employer nor I have regretted it.
posted by pmbuko at 10:18 PM on January 27, 2008

You're a new grad. Hiring managers should have realistic expectations about what you're capable of. Sell yourself, but don't grossly exaggerate your skillset. If you've written ten lines of Perl in your life, keep it off the resume, don't put HTML under the "Languages" section, etc.

Consider something like -- "Strongest - C/C++, Python, Java; Some experience - Ruby, Rails, Javascript; Familiarity - Obj-C, Ocaml, Lisp, Lua" A hierarchy of your particular skills, rather than some unmeasurable objective standard.

I think Steve Yegge gives some great advice about the Software Engineer hiring process in general, but here's his resume advice.

Oh, and emphasize whatever practical, hands-on engineering you've done in the past (internships, large projects, open source, TopCoder ranking, whatever).
posted by sixacross at 12:19 AM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Mark yourself "GODLIKE" and fake it from there. Chances are the only thing those little boxes are used for are to filter out candidates in a database anyway. Your resume should be creatively exaggerated if this is your first job, but don't outright lie on it unless you're prepared to spend the night before an interview learning the languages you claimed to, but don't actually, know.
posted by cmonkey at 2:51 AM on January 28, 2008

If I received your CV, and your skills were listed as "excellent" for everything, and there was no objective demonstration of this (say links to the new scheduler you'd written for NetBSD, or your SoC project with "this guy knows his stuff" comments from your mentors) the CV would go straight to the bin. My experience of people who think they ROCK! is that they're so much more trouble than they're worth that they're just not worth it. Particularly since they most often are actually pretty crap.

sixacross has it right - you know what you're good at and what you're not so good at, so just rate the relevant skills as strong/some/familiar and let the interviewer work it out. That is, after all, their job.
posted by russm at 3:03 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Then again, everywhere I've worked has been small enough that inbound applicants are selected and interviewed by the technical lead in the group that's hiring. If you're applying to companies that have dedicated HR departments with no clue about the actual jobs they're trying to fill, perhaps lying through your teeth is the way to go...
posted by russm at 3:09 AM on January 28, 2008

Those little checkboxes are awful. I can't imagine what kind of real purpose they serve, as you can't really judge a person from a set of checkboxes and radio dialogs. I bet some of the answerers don't realize that you're actually being given these checkboxes as part of your online application procedure, and not that you're writing down that you are KICKASS at C on your resume.

I would check off the best option for the languages I was pretty comfortable with, and maybe "good" for the ones that I had randomly played with on a couple Saturdays. Don't lie about languages you've never touched.

If they call you on it, call them out on their ridiculous baseless measurement system.
posted by that girl at 8:33 AM on January 28, 2008

+1 sixacross
posted by gjc at 7:51 PM on January 28, 2008

actual checkboxes? fuck that for a joke, this company isn't hiring programmers they're hiring "resources"... lie through your teeth, take their money, and spend your time at work looking for a job that doesn't suck...
posted by russm at 2:28 AM on January 29, 2008

Thanks for all the responses. To clarify, I haven't seen any actual checkboxes - usually it's been more like 'list the languages you have used and your level of expertise (eg; good, excellent, limited)' with a 255 char textbox to respond in. I've marked sixacross as best because I don't think I have the personality to survive going into an interview feeling like I'd lied on the application, but I can say which languages I'm better at!
posted by jacalata at 3:53 AM on January 29, 2008

I came across this guide to resumes for software grads which nicely addresses my question, and backs up the answers I got here originally :)
posted by jacalata at 8:37 AM on March 19, 2008

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