You may or may not have noticed but the user icon in the sidebar is a link to my profile (or, resume if you will). Clicking on it will show you first the range of skills that I have. I have separated these skills into two areas – Business and Technical – due to the type of work that I target. However, it doesn't necessarily show the full range of my skills, otherwise it would be a very long read and very boring for the reader. This is not me patting myself on the back, but there are a lot of skills that everyone has that they use in a workplace that don't need to be written down. For example, my typing skills are very good (80+ wpm, touch-type) but I'm not going to write that down unless it was somehow dependent on my getting a specific type of job. But this is not the point of my article.

The point of the article is to highlight the quality of the skills being displayed. How does one accurately tell a potential client or employer not only the breadth of skills you have, but also the depth of those skills? I have used three different displays of these skills in practice, to varying degress of success.

1st Version: My First Skillset

The first resume I wrote for my professional career (not counting when I was young and applied to McJobs) showed a simple display of skills in tabular format. It was terribly unexciting and really only represented my breadth of skillset. I didn't want to provide any more information about my skills because I was fresh out of university and I knew that I didn't have the depth in those skills, so I elided the quality element out of the list. It turns out that the tabular nature of the skillset showed a lack of breadth.

CommunicationMicrosoft Office  

Again, coming right out of school looking for a job, I was desperate to show any kind of skillset. I even put Scheme on my resume because that is what I learned, even though I would never want a job where I would put it to use.

Over time I retooled my resume and I focused on how I could display the quality of the skills I had acquired in my first few years of work.

2nd Version: Now With 100% More Quality

In order to show the quality of a skill, I realized that I would need to show how many years I had been using it, in addition to when I last used it. Although it is perfectly valid to say that I know the C programming language, and that I have 4 years of it, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I hadn't used it since the year 2000. At least, in this way, an employer knows that I have not used it in awhile and may need a bit of time to brush out the cobwebs.

Skill Experience (# years) Last Used
Computer Hardware181995

I have used this style for 10 years (up to this day) and will continue to use it because of the positive feedback I get. Employers, clients, and recruiters alike are all pleased to be able to instantly tell what my skills are, as well as know that I am being as honest as possible in my resume. It also allows for easy keyword searching by a computer, which is a great plus since nobody seems to have time to read a resume in detail anymore.

The major downside of this version is that it presents too much text for someone to read and, as I mentioned previously, nobody has time for that. When designing this site I decided to try a different approach that used a bit less information but also allowed their brain's pattern recognition to help.

3rd Version: A Splash of Colour

The latest version of my skillset incorporates less text and more visual aid, so that a reader simply scans and understands what my skillset is. I decided to use progress bars as my level of experience, similar to the completion percent for an achievement, since this seems to be the recent way that a lot of user interfaces display progress. There's never a complete end to learning something, but my goal of 100% progress is basically stating that I'm very proficient in the language and I won't need any "ramp up" time when starting a new job (except to learn the work environment and policies).

It provides the reader with a number of key points:

  1. A separation between business and technical skills.
  2. A total number of skills in each category (though it is mentioned that this list is not exhaustive)
  3. The name of the skill in alphabetical order, because when people search for something in a list they've never seen before (or don't know the ordering of), they default to alphabetical.
  4. The progress of that skill towards a mythical "100% complete" goal.

The lack of information such as number of years experience and when the skill was last used is omitted from this list, to reduce the amount of text needed to read. I realize that this is an important metric that people wanted, so I am thinking that I will incorporate it in a future version (maybe in a separate tab, or hover state).

4th Version and Beyond

I used a graphic in the previous section to show the 3rd version because I intend to iterate on the design several times, but I can only conclusively call it a 4th version (or whatever version in the future) if the significant elements have changed. What I am seeing is that more information needs to be incorporated into a smaller, more simple user interface, which means multiple parts of the reader's brain need to be used (i.e. colour and text). I do not intend to use audible elements in a future design but, hey, you never know if that will be the new thing everyone likes.

What Skills Not to Include

Stepping away from the way I display my skillset, I deliberately choose not to display certain skills that I don't deem worthy enough. Of course, worthy can mean many things, so I will describe each definition.

I will never show a skill where I am so novice at it that it would hurt my reputation. It's a bit of a lie by omission, I'll admit, but there's also no reason to show some huge list of things that I've barely learned.

I will never show a skill that I don't want to use in real life. For example, I don't show that I know scheme or Clojure because I don't want to target any of those jobs right now. I previously had ASP and Visual Basic on my skillset but then I realized that I don't want to even present the remote possiblity that I want to code in those languages.

I will rarely show a skill for a software package or library, especially the ubiquitous "Microsoft Office" that I have seen on myriad professional resumes. As MS Office has been out for over 20 years, I expect everyone to have a passing knowledge of this technology. Of course, there are exceptions to this which depend jobs where a software package is part of the job requirement. For me, I include various database vendors (Oracle, Postgres, etc) because some jobs target specific database and, contrary to popular thought, you can't simply swap one database vendor for another. If a specific software package or library/framework is required, I will mention my experience with it in a cover letter, amend my resume to include it, or mention it in the eventual interview.

A Skill is not Worth a Thousand Words

Just writing down one's skillset does not mean that they know all of those skills. People lie on resumes all the time. I've seen programmers who say they are senior Java programmers and still cannot write a simple FizzBuzz variant on a board (not just because of nerves, but they don't even know how to create a proper loop structure). As an employer or interviewer you need toask about each skill in the applicant's skillset that relates to the job being offered and see if the proficiency matches what is written on the resume.

As an applicant, you need to expect that when you write a skill or a profess a proficiency on your resume, you need to expect to have it tested in an interview. In addition to my programmer anecdote above, I have also seen product managers that do not know how to write things down properly or tease out details from a customer (those are two fundamental requirements of product management).

Jobs provide money and money makes the world go 'round, so you have to expect people will lie about their skillset. My suggestion to anyone who does display their skills to others is to never lie about it. Eventually your lack of experience will get the better of you and show up in your work to others. This can work out very badly for you.