Job Application
Classifying Knowledge of German on a CV

A knowledge of a language is often a requirement for the job.
A knowledge of a language is often a requirement for the job. | © –

Some say that they are “professionally competent” as soon as they are able to order a coffee in German. Others state that their German is C2 without any further explanation. Language skills, of course, have to be mentioned whenever people apply for a job, but what is the correct way to describe them?

People from abroad applying for a job in Germany most definitely have to state in their CV how good their German is, what their mother tongue is and what other languages they are able to communicate in. It is, however, difficult to assess one’s own linguistic competence realistically. And how should it be correctly described on an applicant’s CV? All the application guidebooks around at the moment differentiate between a basic, a good, a very good and a fluent knowledge of the language, culminating then in a professionally competent knowledge of the language, although the individual levels are not always defined. A more differentiated classification is provided by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) with its levels ranging from A1 to C2. It was developed over a longer period of time by the Council of Europe and finally came into being in 2001. Most language teaching institutions these days are oriented towards this framework. So applicants these days, when compiling their CVs, have the choice of using the old, traditional terms or the levels of the CEFR.

Do employers know about the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages?

Paul Ebsen from the German Federal Employment Agency suspects that some employers in Germany still might not be familiar with the CEFR. The requirements specified in job advertisements seldom refer to the CEFR. “Most job advertisements require the applicant to have a “good knowledge of German”. Sometimes they only stipulate a basic knowledge. In such cases it would almost certainly be enough for the applicant to verify that he or she has attended a German course. And as more and more asylum seekers are applying for jobs in Germany these days, more and more companies are even accepting people with a good knowledge of English,” says Ebsen.

Nadja Fügert has been teaching German as a Foreign Language (GFL) for the last 20 years and has published a job application guide for learners of German as a Second Language (GSL). In the course of her work, she advises many applicants to use the CEFR levels when describing their language skills in their CVs. “In smaller or medium-sized companies, such as those active in the field of IT and those that do not have very much to do with languages, it can of course happen that the boss reads through applications and has no idea what A1 or B2 mean. When, however, the application is for a job in an office or when an HR manager is involved, then we can assume that these more sophisticated terms are known.”

If a knowledge of a language is specifically stated as a requirement for the job, the applicants should then not only mention the language in their CVs, but also in their letter of motivation. Diplomas and certificates also make a good impression of course, provided they are in line with the demands of the job and the skills of the applicant. “Anybody who can already speak German at C1 level, but only has a Zertifikat Deutsch (an internationally recognised exam of German language ability), should, on the other hand, not necessarily submit it with his application, because it would only detract from his actual skills,” says Nadja Fügert. Instead she advises applicants to describe what linguistic skills they have and where they acquired them. The important thing is – the more concrete the information, the better chance the employer will have of forming an idea of what level the applicant’s language skills are.

No under- or over-estimating

When assessing one’s own language skills it is particularly important to not view oneself too critically, explains Nadja Fügert. As a lecturer she has often come across applicants evaluating their language skills too negatively. “Again and again students tell me in fluent German that they can hardly speak a word of the language. Those people who are inclined to under-estimate their skills should therefore get a second opinion from a language teacher or at least from a friend.” In order to avoid any embarrassing moments later in the job interview one should also not over-estimate one’s skills on the job application form, but be as honest as possible. “If employers demand a fluent knowledge of German in the job advertisement or if an applicant claims that he has a fluent knowledge of German, then the interview will almost certainly be conducted in German,” says Ebsen.

Then, in order to avoid getting too nervous, applicants should prepare suitable answers to questions that are frequently asked in interviews. The idea is, above all, to stay calm throughout the conversation. “Many non-native-speakers think they have ruined their chances of getting the job, if they get one of the German adjective endings wrong. And that is just not the case at all; what really matters is an applicant’s communication skills and his specialised knowledge,” says Nadja Fügert. When the job interview focuses on the applicants’ language skills, they should tackle the topic proactively and say how they would deal with any possible linguistic difficulties on the job and why operational processes would not be negatively affected by this. Moreover various institutes offer special training courses for non-native-speakers who are applying for jobs. These courses are a great help and are partially funded by the German Federal Labour Office.


Nadja Fügert / Ulrike Richter: Bewerbungstraining: Kursmaterial Deutsch als Zweitsprache. Niveau A2-B1. (Job Application Training: Course Materials for German as a Second Language), Stuttgart 2009

Jasmin Hagmann / Christoph Hagmann: Erfolgreich bewerben mit Migrationshintergrund. (Successful Job Applications for People from an Immigrant Background), Freiburg, 2012