I am helping a friend who has limited English skills to prepare a resume for mostly general labor jobs (e.g. cleaning/maintenance of apartments).

Do I 'dumb down' the resume so it seems like it was prepared by the limited English speaker or do I indicate that he/she received help preparing it? It seems like a happy medium between these two is warranted but I definitely need some direction to what I should do.

I am a bit worried about creating too strong of a resume so the employer has higher expectations for the candidate than they should.

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    Do professional resume writing services put a disclaimer? I don't think you need one.
    – user606723
    Jun 18 '12 at 18:13

I think the best option is just to make sure that it is your friend who actually writes the CV, not you. That way you don't need any form of disclaimer.

He or she will need to be able to explain anything and everything on that CV to a potential employer, so needs to understand it. In an interview there would be few things worse than blank look response to a "What did you mean by ..." question.

If there are problems with the grammar or spelling, explain what the problems are and how to fix them, but make sure your friend actually fixes them. Encourage him or her to ask questions and talk to them about what Employers in your area like and dislike, what they expect and what they abhor.

It will be frustrating, time consuming and could strain your relationship, but it could also end up strengthening your friendship immensely and will almost certainly help them to improve their English language skills.

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    – Spoike
    Jun 19 '12 at 14:33

The job of a resume is to get you into the door and get the employer to focus on the things you want the employer to focus on.

The resume should be easy for the employer to read but your friend needs to be able to speak to and answer questions about that resume. If your friend is not a good at writing English but can speak at least passably then providing a well written resume may help bridge the gap between the employer and your friend and help him get the position.

If reading and writing English is an important part of the position then the employer should make sure that your friend can do so at least to the point of being able to perform the job function. But your friend will need to be able to read at the level the job requires in order to perform well in the position.

  • If having the ability to write in a language is important then the resume must reflect their inability to do that if thats the case. Of course there isn't a point to a poorly written resume. The author's friend must outline their skills, lots of people use resume writting services, since a well written resume can make the difference between an interview and the trash bin.
    – Donald
    Jun 19 '12 at 13:18
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    @Ramhound - Actually if having the ability to write is important it would be the job of the employer to filter out those candidates that do not meet that requirement. The resume's purpose is to get you the interview. I would not want to get a position that I was not able to complete since it would lead to a miserable job experience but if someone wants a job that requires the ability to write and they can not write... putting on the resume you can not write is not going to help you get that interview. Jun 19 '12 at 13:56
  • I guess what I am saying is the resume should make what written languages they are skilled at. What they should not do is have a poorly written resume just because they don't have skills in said language. In other words if I wanted to post my resume in Spanish I would get help. I would indicate I cannot speak Spanish, although I would not even apply, if that was required. Although if I was applying to a company that happens to be located in an area that speaks Spanish I might supply a Spanish resume ( horrible example I know ).
    – Donald
    Jun 20 '12 at 16:06
  • @Ramhound - Plenty of people with decent language skills have poorly written resumes. And if you list your weaknesses on your resume then an employer is more likely to look at those weaknesses when making a decision. If your language skills are a strength it is different than if your language skills are a not a strength. Jun 20 '12 at 16:16

It is very common, even recommended, to get help writing a resume. It's even common in some places to have community centres that will help you write a resume and loan you a clean suit for an interview.

Because of that, and because your friend is technically (at least partially) multi-lingual, there should be a languages section on the resume. Something of the format:

[Language]: [Proficiency]

... where the proficiency would indicate whether they're proficient, vocational, limited and possibly listing any language certification. e.g.

English: Proficient, native
French: Proficient, IELTS Level whatever
Spanish: Limited
  • The only problem I would have with this approach is that if an employer sees Spanish: Native, English: Limited... in the US they often think Mexican and throw it out. The goal of a resume should be to get you in the door and give you something to build on once you are in. If you are proficient then in the desired language(English in the US) that is great but I would never list any language unless it was desired as a job skill by the employer. Jun 18 '12 at 20:00
  • @Chad: IME, additional languages are always "nice to have's" that are almost never listed in the job description - unless there's a mandated need for it (in Canada, French fits in this category for gov't work). Specific to your case, I'd note his/her english as being vocational and note any language learning resources they're using. The purpose is very much to get a person an interview, but also to not mislead. There is a likelihood that they might come back from lots of interviews having been turned down because the employer had an expectation of someone who was fluent. Jun 18 '12 at 20:22
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    I completely agree if English is primary language in the US, English/French in Canada. French in France, German in Germany etc... Listing native in anything other than the dominant language as your native risks your resume of being discarded for bias. I am not saying it is right just real. Jun 18 '12 at 20:39
  • @Chad - Would you rather have this person not outline their limited English skills? It sounds like the person has limited spoken and written English skills. Provided they have the ability to speak and write in another language that isn't a negative.
    – Donald
    Jun 19 '12 at 13:21
  • @Ramhound - I think it acts as more of a negative than a positive. In the US, you could be a very fluent English speaker and list Spanish as your native language and have your resume discounted simply because you are a native Spanish speaker. It is not conscious bigotry so much as an unconscious bias toward natural born citizens that is prevalent in much of the US, and else where. There is a reason that the laws forbid asking about nation of origin when considering applicants. Jun 19 '12 at 13:50

This is why you have a cover letter in addition to a CV. The cover letter is one page (and one page only) where a candidate can tell an employer about themselves. The cover letter is an opportunity to fill in any gaps which cannot be expressed in the CV/resume format. It is also an indirect means to demonstrate communication skills.

In this case, the candidate can talk about his background and how he has learned to communicate in another language, how he has learned to ask for help with his new language, and write the letter himself to demonstrate competency.

  • 1
    It should be said that if you have to help your friend with the cover letter you should. Clearly it should be their own words but the grammar must be correct. Otherwise it will be trashed.
    – Donald
    Jun 19 '12 at 13:22

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