Ranking Yourself: Be Confident yet Self-Aware

Posted February 22, 2013 by
Nathan Stuller

Nathan Stuller of Midwest Developer Insights

A common interview tactic is to ask you, the candidate, to rank yourself on acquired technical skills, attributes, and aptitude. The interviewer may run through a list of them, asking you to simply “rank yourself from 1 to 10 on:”
• Leadership ability
• Getting along with coworkers
• How hard-working you are

Or, they may be interested in more specific technical skills such as:
• Differential Equations
• Electricity & Magnetism
• Computer-Aided Design (CAD)

You are right to suspect that the answer is not as easy as it might seem, especially for someone with limited professional experience.

Answering “1”
Simply put, answering “1” signifies one of 2 things:
• Lack of Confidence
• Lack of Specified Skill

It would be wise not to portray yourself as lacking either.

Answering “10”
To come right out and answer “10” signifies:
• Arrogance
• Potential Proficiency in Specified Skill

Don’t be a “know-it-all.” To be a “10” would mean that you have nothing left to learn. Employers would prefer to be impressed by your plans to continue education beyond your current level.

Answering “X”
Let’s assume that this questioning is performed verbally, with each subject asked sequentially. Really, to give the interviewer any number, without defining the parameters around what the numbers mean would be foolish. The interviewer has given you very little information and requested an assessment. He or she likely knows that this type of scenario occurs regularly in the field, and is encouraged by a candidate who tries to constrain the problem. Therefore, I recommend you follow up with a question. A phrase like the following can be of great help:

“That is an excellent question. So that I may more accurately assess myself, how would you define a 10 in this area?”

What does each number mean? Well, there is no one-size-fits-all answer here. However, you can consider what they sound like to the interviewer. As stated before, a “10” indicates that you feel you are at the absolute top of the curve in regards to this skill. So, unless you are at the forefront of research on this topic, finishing up your PhD, you should probably avoid a 10.

What about an 8 or 9? If you feel you are strong in this area, these are probably the numbers to stick to. It is in this range that you can display your confidence but also your self-awareness that you have much yet to learn.

And what about 1 through 3? It may be ok to answer low on a skill. Remember, it is always best to be honest. Ideally, this skill will be something easily learned on the job based on the aptitude you’ve developed earning your degree. Where this type of answer causes problems is if you are responding to a skill that is listed on your resume. Always make sure you can confidently defend the technologies listed on your resume.


Since the interview is being performed verbally, you have a grand opportunity to include additional explanation of your self-rankings. Practice a 1 or 2 sentence long explanation for a number in different ranges (e.g. 4-6 or 7-9). During the interview, offer your perspective after giving the number. As an example, to defend an 8, you might say:

“I feel confident that I can be self-directed with this technology as indicated by my A grade in the course. However, I recognize that there is more to learn outside of academic pursuits and I’ve been reading a great deal about the topic outside of class.”

The additional explanation displays 3 good qualities: confidence, positive past performance, and a demonstrated willingness to learn.

Quite simply, be confident yet self-aware.

For complementary information about this topic, see tips directly from interviewers’ mouths.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
Carl R. Rogers

About the author:

Nathan Stuller is a software developer who has lived in multiple cities in the Midwest. He writes about recruiting and job searching for technical candidates on his blog.

Article courtesy of the Recruiting Blogswap, a content exchange service sponsored by CollegeRecruiter.com, a leading site for college students looking for internships and recent graduates searching for entry level jobs and other career opportunities.

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