How Can You Illustrate Skills On Your Resume? One Example: Writing Professional Emails in a Foreign Language

Screen Shot 2019-10-27 at 12.18.52 PM.pngWhen it comes to resume prep, “show, don’t tell” is an important mantra.  In other words, don’t list things in a “Skills” section. Instead, describe how you use those skills elsewhere on your resume. For example, if you were treasurer of a student organization and you “managed an Excel database to track $30,000 in funds annually,” that is a great way to show / describe how you used Excel without listing it in a separate “Skills” section at the bottom of your resume. 

Because I work with a lot of university world language programs, we often focus on this skill-related question: What can you do with the languages you’ve studied?  Just like “Excel,” this cannot be listed at the bottom of your resume in a “Skills” section. It also needs to be on your resume in language that employers will understand. Employers probably don’t understand “Intermediate Mid Spanish” like a language educator would. Or even if they think they understand “fluent German,” chances are good that you think it means something different than the employer who is reading it on your resume.

Instead of trying to describe your language level with a single adjective, think about the concrete skills you have in the languages you’ve studied.  For example, email. Email is a common form of professional correspondence. A good email is brief–just covering the relevant who, what, when, where, and why.  The subject line has to provide context to the recipient so that person knows what the message will be about (and hopefully feels compelled by the subject line to read the rest of the email and respond appropriately). You do not need a high language level to compose a brief, professional email. I work on this with Spanish 1 students in the first week of class, following the general guidelines I wrote about in this post.

And by week 4 when students are scheduling their out -of-class oral exams, I point out to them that they now have all the Spanish they need to write an entire professional email in perfect Spanish. Here’s one example: 

Screen Shot 2019-10-27 at 12.00.14 PM

I replied to this student to say that any professor or professional would be happy to receive such a well-written, professional email from a student, job applicant, or new hire–in any language (they should apply this skill to all English-language professional email writing). I remind students that it is only week 4 of their language study and they can write a complete and thorough email message. They should be proud! And they already have a concrete skill to list on their resume: “Can write a professional email in Spanish with all the basic who, what, when, where and why.” Employers understand what that means–and the limits of that.

To language instructors: there’s also a practical reason to have students do this in the context of a course–in the case of out-of-class oral exams, each student who sends me an email like the above example has all the information in their email sent folder. I won’t get emails on Sunday night saying, “I forgot when / where my oral exam is” (the kind of email I have to reply to with, “I will check tomorrow when I’m back in the office where the sign up sheet is.”)  

These little add-ons that language teachers at any level can layer on to existing courses and content have a lot going on:

1) They help streamline the administration of our courses (no more Sunday night emails asking me for information I don’t have at home).

2) They provide students with concrete examples of how much they are learning and how much they CAN DO with the language (not to mention how they can apply this to other areas of their lives and impress their English-speaking professors and employers with their email writing skills).

3) Students can develop a single resume line for each course they take, building a solid resume while still in college, answering the age-old questions, “what am I going to do with this in the real world?” and “how is this going to help me get a job or once I’m in a job?”

4) It does nothing to disrupt traditional curricula. You don’t have to change a course or a program or get departmental permission to do this for and with your students. Too often, we think of “languages for professional purposes” as designing entire subject-specific courses or programs. It can be these small things that have lasting impact–months and years later, I get emails from students that start with “Estimada Darcy” and end “Atentamente,” and that usually contain exciting news about connecting Spanish to their work in University of Chicago labs or other professional domains.

LearHeadShot2018Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in  job search documents, interview preparation, and academic documents. She is the author of “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses” from Georgetown University Press.  For help customizing your job application documents and navigating your career transition, contact Darcy:


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1 Response to How Can You Illustrate Skills On Your Resume? One Example: Writing Professional Emails in a Foreign Language

  1. Nice…It’s a highly informative post on “How Can You Illustrate Skills On Your Resume?”. keep sharing such information.

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