In SkillsetGroup’s home territory, the U.S. Southwest, bilingual Spanish speakers are common. The greater LA area is also host to many who speak Vietnamese, Chinese and other Asian languages, as well as smaller neighborhoods with diverse languages from Hmong Daw to Palestinian Arabic.
Even so, SkillsetGroup recruiters often work with candidates who don't know how to list a second language on their resume.
How Common Are Second Languages?
The following is from a report by the legal advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Los Angeles:
- Nearly one in three LA residents (3.5 million), were born outside the United States
- A majority of Los Angeles County residents speak a language other than English at home:
- 38% or 3.3 million speak Spanish
- 11% or 925,000 speak an Asian or Pacific Islander language.
Maybe it’s the routine exposure to multiple languages every day that makes some job candidates forget to list their second language skills from their resumes. Maybe using multiple languages is so common for them, they don’t even consider it a special skill employers might like in a candidate.
But, in case you haven’t figured it out from the title of this piece, you should always list your second language skills on your resume.
Even if a particular position you’re applying for doesn’t list a second language in its requirements, you’re leaving a potentially huge advantage out of your stated skillset. Especially in a geographic area that is home to a large multilingual population, your Farsi, Japanese or Hebrew skills might be the edge the hiring manager needs to hire you over another candidate.
“Virtually any professional in today's job market will benefit from having experience in multiple languages,” according to the National Career Development Association, a nonprofit resource for career counselors and job seekers. “Many positions now list ‘bilingual’ or ‘trilingual’ in the title, and others require a working knowledge of another language due to interaction with offices in other countries and business travel. Even when language skills are not required, with all other factors equal, having a foreign language on one's resume can provide an edge over candidates who are only proficient in English.”
How you present your skills will depend on the position you’re applying for – these tips below apply for resumes submitted for administrative, accounting or other jobs that are not primarily language focused.
(If you’re a translator or interpreter, presumably you already include your skills on your resume.)
List Your Language Skills Accurately
It may be tempting if you have just a bit of French or Spanish to slap it on your resume and hope no one at your employer questions you too hard. This is worse than not mentioning it at all if you must unexpectedly use the language on the job.
Even if you don’t mean to deceive, you may still have an inaccurate description of your skills on your resume. Don’t throw around terms like “fluent” or “conversational” without knowing exactly what they mean. One person’s “conversational” Spanish may be another’s “barely intelligible” Spanish.
How Do You Correctly Describe Your Language Skill Level?
When you list your second language on your resume accurately, it can give you a huge edge with hiring managers.
The following basic language skills designations are pulled from the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s business school:
- Basic Knowledge: This refers to an understanding of the language you might get from taking a 100-level college course. You know a few basic words and understand the construction. You can speak simple sentences and have some writing ability, but you still have trouble understanding native speakers.
- Conversant or conversational: This is an intermediate level. If you are conversant, you can have basic conversations in the language beyond “Where is the bathroom” to include simple info about family or personal interests.
- Proficient: This means you are an advanced speaker. You have all the basic language skills of someone who is fluent, but you might misunderstand fast speakers, and your vocabulary might not be as strong.
- Fluent: You are not a native speaker, but you can easily chat with native speakers with few grammatical errors. Reading and writing ability should be equally strong.
- Native speakers: As suggested by the name, native speakers grew up speaking the language and do it seamlessly without thought.
- Bilingual: You should only list this on a resume if you are truly bilingual, that is, speak both languages with equal proficiency and little accent in either.
Do an Administered or Self-Assessment of your Language Skills
Depending on your level of skill and the job requirements, you should have some objective gauge of your skill level.
The American Council on the Teaching for Foreign Languages offers proctored exams resulting in a recognized certification. Fortune 500 companies and government agencies use this test, so whatever certification you get will be widely recognized. It doesn’t come cheap, however.
If resources are an issue, do a self-assessment through the Interagency Language Roundtable (IRL). U.S. federal government agencies set up the service to “keep abreast of the progress and implementation of techniques and technology for language learning, language use, language testing and other language related activities.”
The site hosts three test forms, one for spoken proficiency, reading proficiency and listening/comprehension proficiency:
- ILR Language Speaking Proficiency Assessment
- ILR Language Listening Proficiency Assessment
- ILR Language Reading and Writing Assessment
This will let you list your language skill level with a precision many other candidates probably won’t bother to. The tests generate standardized designations 0-5 with a “+” added if you’re in between skill level tiers.
How to Format Your Language Skills on Your Resume
The level of your skills, the number of languages you speak and the particular job you want all factor in to how best to list your second language on your resume.
For example, if the job title is “bilingual customer service representative,” you’re going to want to present your second language skills prominently, perhaps in a dedicated resume section:
- Bilingual English-Spanish speaker
- 30 years using both Spanish and English personally and professionally
- Bilingual receptionist for 3 years
- Scored the highest designation (5) on ILR skill assessments in Spanish speaking, reading/writing and listening comprehension
- Comfortable with written translations and general written communications in English and Spanish…
If the job application mentions a second language as a “plus,” but not required, you likely want to list it slightly less prominently:
- Adobe Photoshop
- Conversational Spanish
- Advanced Excel Skills…
Make Sure Your Resume Follows Industry Standards
Of course, crafting your resume is an art, not a science. There are millions of how-to articles and Microsoft Word templates out there. For best results, read job descriptions carefully and research the resume conventions for your particular industry.
For example, in some sectors, resumes more than a page go directly in the trash. In others, a one-page resume is evidence of anemic professional experience.
For more information on how to craft your resume, GFCGlobal is a free educational resource with tutorials on this, business software programs and other career education resources.
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Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Los Angeles
University of North Carolina Wilmington
Cameron School of Business
Career Convergence Web Magazine
The National Career Development Association