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  • Writer's pictureRachael Milne

Art & Science of Project Resourcing: Rethinking Language Requirements

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Picture this: You're a skilled professional with a passion for what you do. You've invested time, money, and effort into honing your skills. But there's a catch - you're not a native English speaker. Does this mean your talents are automatically sidelined? Welcome to the world of language discrimination.

The Language Barrier Conundrum

Negative sentiments around fairness that arise when non-native English speakers encounter the formidable barrier of language requirements. Learning a second language as an adult is no small feat; it demands time, dedication, financial resources, and the right opportunities.

Take me, for example. I'm at a B2 level in Spanish and an A1 level in Portuguese. Now, if you happen to be a hiring manager and can't discern which language I'm more proficient in from that statement alone, this article is tailor-made for you.

The C2 English Enigma

In recent times, I have noticed a surge in job vacancies specifying a "C2 Level of English" as a prerequisite. But here's the kicker - do these job advertisers genuinely intend to hire only near-native English speakers, or are they simply unaware of what a C2 level entails?

Enter the Common European Framework of Reference for Language (CEFR), the global standard for assessing language proficiency. It articulates a learner's ability to use a language in real-world scenarios through 'CAN DO' statements at each level. Among these, C2 stands as the pinnacle of proficiency.

The CAN DO statement for C2 reads like a marvel:

  • Can effortlessly comprehend almost everything heard or read.

  • Can summarize information from diverse spoken and written sources, weaving coherent arguments and accounts.

  • Can express themselves spontaneously, fluently, and with precision, even in complex situations, while discerning subtle shades of meaning.

But wait a minute – does it still make sense to demand C2 for a Project Management role in Portugal, for instance?

The reality check: I've yet to encounter a Project Manager who speaks English as a second (or third etc) language in Portugal who boasts a C2 level.

How do I know this? Because I taught C2 level English for years, and I'll admit, even I was flummoxed during exam preparation classes and mock exams.

How would you fare?

For those up for a challenge, with thanks to Cambridge English, I have added some C2 sample exam questions at the end of this article to give you a glimpse of the comprehensive English examination.

Unintentional Discrimination

Let's address the elephant in the room – are these stringent language requirements inadvertently discriminatory? Consider this: The cost to sit the C2 exam is a whopping €210, and that's not including potential resits. Furthermore, achieving C2 level fluency often necessitates substantial investments over several years in extracurricular language academies, which aren’t cheap.

How do I know? I ran one.

This is an expense that's simply beyond the means of most Portuguese or Brazilian families. So, is your job ad fostering discrimination?

A Call for Change

In conclusion, if you genuinely wish to attract talent, it's time to rethink those steep language demands. Consider replacing C2 with "proficient level of spoken and written".

To attract and retain talent, contemplate offering support to employees looking to improve their English and/or subsidizing their official exams.

Project Management isn't the sole arena where this issue arises. I've seen C2 requirements for technical developers too. But does a technical developer really need C2 English proficiency, or is coding the real language of the trade?

Be realistic:

English levels aside, here are some further tips to improve your job advertisements and increase applications;

  1. Consider whether you need the absolute best for your project team or if you can harness the strengths of your team members to upskill and cross-skill, giving birth to a truly cross-functional dream team.

  2. Don't build your job vacancy mirroring the experience of the outgoing incumbent. Jane is a one-of-a-kind, and Jane didn't possess all that experience when she started. Seek a blend of skills and create Jane 2.0.

  3. Don’t miss out on quality talent that might suffer from Imposter Syndrome, disproportionately affecting women. If your job advert criteria is so detailed and someone only meets 80%, they're likely not to apply.

  4. Embrace diversity and inclusivity and watch your project team flourish.

Rachael Milne is a Project Management Consultant and Trainer and is a guest speaker at the PMI Conference Lisbon on October 12th. She is a specialist in resourcing strategies and execution. To find out how she can help you with your business, please get in contact.

Up for the Challenge?

To put things in perspective, here are some examples of the official Cambridge C2 exam – the kind some advertisers expect their applicants to ace.

I challenge them to give it a whirl.

The C2 exam encompasses;

· 1.30-minute Reading and Use of English paper.

· 1.30-minute Writing test, where they are tasked with crafting two essays, each spanning 280 words, based on assigned topics.

· 40-minute Listening,

· 16-minute Speaking exam

Thanks to Cambridge English for the mock exam materials.

1) Complete the second sentence so that it has a similar meaning to the first sentence, using the word given. Do not change the word given. You must use between three and eight words, including the word given.

i) The driver instructed passengers to move down the bus.


Passengers ___________down the bus by the driver.

ii) Mira tried to stay out of the argument between her two colleagues.


Mira tried ______________ between her two colleagues.

iii) Please text me when you get home, even if it's very late.


No _______________ when you get home, please text me.

2) Read the text and choose the correct answer.


It is surely beyond dispute that Soap Opera is the most consistently popular type of television programme in the word. It has succeeded in commanding / capturing / carrying / conquering the imagination of millions since it first originated / emerged / established / inaugurated as a genre back in the 1930s. The word ‘soap’ alludes to the role originally played by detergent manufacturers, who promoted their products during commercial breaks. Soap operas have been disregarded / deplored / disapproved / dismissed as mindless entertainment, with viewers only resorting / applying / resigning / adopting to these programmes in order to escape from reality.


1) i) The passengers were asked/told/instructed to move/go way down the bus

ii) Mira tried not to take sides between her two colleagues.

iii) No matter how late (it is) when you get home, please text me

2) Capturing, emerged, dismissed, resorting.

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