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Presenting your language skills on your CV

Presenting your language skills on your CV

You know that language skills, especially English language skills, are important for your career, and you have invested in improving your fluency. So what is the best way to present your language skills on your CV?

Why certifying is important

The first thing you should understand is the importance of certifying your language skills with a standardized test. As the world has become more digital, the job application process has followed suit. This has made it much easier to apply for jobs, but it also means that hiring managers are now drowning in CVs. Certifying your skills helps remove any doubts about your language level that might otherwise land you in the “no” pile. Certification makes you stand out from other applicants and increases your CV’s visibility. LinkedIn revealed that adding certified skills to your profile increases views up to 600%.

Choosing a language certification

Choosing a standardized test for language certification can be challenging, depending on the language, as there may be a number of tests available. For the purposes of your CV, the main thing you want to consider is how academically rigorous the test is. A low quality test will not assess your skills correctly, and putting it on your CV will not make you look like a serious candidate. For this reason it makes sense to stick to tests developed by international organizations using language assessment experts.

Another important consideration is of course practical: cost and convenience. Most serious certified tests cost upwards of 200 USD per test session and can only be taken on specific dates. One exception is the EFSET, an open-access online English test that has been developed to the same high standards as other major tests.

Putting your certified language skills on your CV

Once you have certification of your language skills, you want to present your score in a format that’s easy to understand. I recommend including the test name, your score, and a level descriptor (e.g. Intermediate), in case employers are not familiar with each exam’s grading system. This makes it clear that you’ve certified your skills, and easier for an employer to understand your results.

Following this advice, the language skills section of your CV might look like this:

* French: DELF B2  (Independent user)

* English: EFSET 60 (Upper Intermediate)

* Japanese: JLPT N4 (ability to understand basic Japanese)

What if you don’t have certification?

You may still find yourself in a situation where you don’t have language certification. This is especially true for languages other than English, where there is no free, high-quality test available. In this case, your best option is to reference one of the grading scales developed by governmental agencies and do a self-assessment. In Europe, the standard grading scale is called CEFR and in the US there are two standards: ACTFL and ILR. You can find standard grading scales and self-assessment tools, usually presented as a list of can-do statements, in most languages.

Use the self-assessment tools to determine your level in each language you speak. Make sure to include a level descriptor as well. For instance:

* German: CEFR B2 (Upper Intermediate)

While these grading scales are not as widely known among employers and self-assessment isn’t as impressive as a standardized test, it will look more serious than using a generic level descriptor like “fluent” or “conversational”.

Including other relevant language experience

If you have significant experience working or studying in a foreign language, include that in addition to your certification on your CV. For example:

* 5 years experience working with English-speaking clients

* 1 year high school immersion in Japan

Proving that you have successfully used a language in context is always impressive for a future employer.

When not to include language skills on your CV

There are times when it may make sense to leave your language skills off your CV.

Beginner Level: Generally it does not make sense to include language skills when you are at a beginner level. You will not be able to effectively work in these languages, and including them on your CV makes you look less serious. The exception is if you have a personal interest in learning many languages and you include this in a “Hobbies” or “Personal Interests” section rather than in the “Language skills” section of your CV.

Very Senior Positions: At the highest levels of seniority in international organizations, proficient English is assumed. In this case, putting your English skills on your CV is superfluous.

Be honest

When writing your CV, it is important to show your best side and not be afraid to present your accomplishments. Because of this, people are sometimes tempted to exaggerate their skills. However, not being truthful about your language skills will always hurt you in a professional context. Even if you do land an interview using a false claim, the hiring manager will find out at the interview, or you will be found out on the first day of your new job, and you are unlikely to keep the job subsequently.

If you are worried your language skills are not good enough, invest in some language training or try some of the many free resources available online. In an interview, you can tell an employer about your ongoing education – employers are often impressed by candidates who make an active effort to improve their skills.

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