Hiring managers generally like to see foreign language ability on your resume since it shows you could engage with a wider variety of colleagues and clients. But that doesn’t mean you should always feature your language skills prominently, or even at all. Your current career objectives should determine the extent to which you show language skills on your resume. Picture your target job now, and then ask yourself these three questions:
1. Are you open to using your foreign language skills in your next position?
If not, there’s no reason to include them on your resume. Let’s step back for a minute.
Your language skills are just a small part of the overall skill set you’ve gained throughout your personal and professional experience. But your resume isn’t meant to gather all that information in one comprehensive document. Instead, it’s supposed to focus only on those skills you want to apply in your next job. If your foreign language skills fall outside that focus, you can leave them off your resume entirely (and feel free to skip the rest of this article – for more on focusing your resume, read What to Put on a Resume).
As for English fluency, you can leave that out as well because it’s already assumed. The only exception is if you are bilingual and want to call that out in your resume introduction (see “Profile” below), you can do so with this phrase: Bilingual: Fluent in English and [Language].
If you are open to using your language skills, plan on at least mentioning them on your resume. Your next question is:
2. What is your proficiency level in each language?
Envision how comfortable (or uncomfortable) you would be reading, writing, speaking, and listening to each of your foreign languages in a professional setting. Then choose from these four options:
- Fluency in: [Language]
- Advanced Proficiency in: [Language]
- Proficiency in: [Language]
- Basic Proficiency in: [Language]
You can also use phrases like Conversational: [Language] or Working Knowledge of: [Language], but the above four are more precise and flexible in listing multiple languages.
Never overstate your language proficiency. When in doubt, choose the more conservative phrase. And only select Fluency in if you can honestly speak the language at about the same level as a native speaker (perhaps just with an accent and narrower vocabulary). Remember that while foreign languages can be a great conversation starter in the interview phase (especially when your resume also includes travel or international work experience). They can also be a conversation killer if the hiring manager suddenly starts conversing with you in a foreign language and you can’t keep up.
Once you’ve jotted down your proficiency in each language, consolidate them by level and order them from most to least advanced. You then have the finished text for a Languages resume section, which appears at or toward the bottom of the document. Here’s an example:
- Fluency in: Spanish
- Proficiency in: Italian, Portuguese
- Basic Proficiency in: French
With your proper Languages section now in place, your last question is:
3. How interested are you in using your language skills in your next job?
Your answer determines how much you should feature these languages elsewhere in your resume. For example, let’s say you’re fluent in German but somewhat indifferent about using it in your target job. In this case, you can leave your resume as is and not mention your German fluency aside from in the Languages section.
But on the other hand, let’s say you’d love the opportunity to speak German in your next job. Maybe you’ve even narrowed your search criteria to companies with clients or operations in Germany. In this case, look for ways to make your German fluency a more noticeable feature of your overall resume. Consider citing it in these four sections:
Foreign language skills can make a great outro to your resume’s Profile section. Here you could put Bilingual: Fluent in English and German as the last line of your description, like this:
A Senior Database Developer with 10+ years of experience, specializing in Rest APIs, Microsoft Azure, SQL Server, and database administration. A strong history of building and leading global cross-functional teams to perform multimillion-dollar data center consolidations. Adept at architecting scalable database solutions for enterprise-level organizations. Bilingual: Fluent in English and German.
If you learned the language as your college major or minor, you could specify that here and any study abroad programs you completed. For example:
Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Computer Science (minor in German)
University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA September 2007 – May 2011
— Completed study abroad program in Munich, Germany (Spring 2010)
Have you built or honed your fluency through more recent training or adult education programs? Consider listing those in this resume section.
Think of the times you’ve applied your fluency in your work experience so far and consider fleshing out those details under their respective job description. For examples:
– Set strategy to expand company operations in Germany and UK markets
– Managed a cross-functional project team located in the US and Germany
– Sold premium products to clients in Germany and other major European countries
Remember your objectives
As you can see, your resume offers plenty of options and flexibility for including or omitting your foreign language skills. The best strategy for you comes down to your career objectives. By clarifying your target job and finding answers to the above three questions, you can know the best way to address foreign languages on your resume.
What about English?
A resume rule of thumb: Don’t include any information the hiring manager probably already knows. If you’re submitting a resume in English, to a job posting in English, it’s safe to assume the hiring manager already knows you know English, so you don’t need to specify that on your resume. The only exception is if you are bilingual and want to call that out in your Profile section, you can do so with this phrase: Bilingual: Fluent in English and [Language].