Follow these professional writing tips to make the best first impression.
When an employer reads your application for a graduate job or internship, they’re not just looking for evidence of your skills and work experience; they also want to see your written communication skills in action.
Why and where you need written communication skills
Strong written communication is a key skill for many graduate jobs: you may not be crafting long reports or strategy documents, but instant messages and emails are a fact of working life in most careers. Clear communication is essential even for the shortest of professional messages, especially when you’re working remotely and likely to be using Teams, Slack or other messaging services to keep in touch with colleagues.
Professional writing skills will also stand you in good stead when it comes to networking online (such as on LinkedIn) and interacting with employers during virtual careers fairs, webinars or events. Anywhere where you’ll be primarily interacting with employers through words is an opportunity to show off your written communication skills, and for employers to assess you.
Employers may also evaluate your skills through any other form of written correspondence you send them. Employers look for clear, accurate communication in all forms of written correspondence: emails, letters, CVs and applications. An offhand or impolite enquiry email could put you out of the running for a job. Our quick tips will help you brush up your business writing skills.
1. Always give yourself a capital ‘I’
It may be a simple mistake, dangerously easy to do when you’re typing on your phone or a tablet, but leaving in lots of lower-case ‘i’s is enough to make many grammar-focused graduate recruiters or professionals see red.
If you refer to yourself, your actions or your activities online or in an email, letter or application, always give yourself a capital ‘I’.
It’s also important to use full sentences. Start all sentences and proper names (eg city names) with a capital letter and close with a full stop (unless you’re using a question mark; avoid exclamation marks).
2. Keep it formal and professional (avoid emoji or abbreviations)...
Keep your language formal. That means avoiding using abbreviations, slang or anything too formal. If you’re messaging with employers, you might have the option to send emoji or gifs – avoid these too.
If you have doubts about how to write for employers always think ‘professional and courteous’. You do not know who will read your email, application or messages – the person you’re contacting could be your future boss.
3. ...but keep your meaning clear and save space
Just because you’re writing professionally, doesn’t mean you have to write in an overly florid or academic way. The wordy style and language you might use in university essays (especially if you’re trying to hit a word count) won’t impress recruiters. It’s much better to get straight to the point.
For example, instead of ‘I am contacting you with regards to the position advertised by yourselves’ write ‘I am writing to apply for the job you advertised.’ Get the information across in the clearest way possible and say what you mean: be as specific as possible. This will also help you fit more into applications with strict word or letter counts.
4. Check your grammar and spelling carefully
Spelling and grammar checkers (such as the ones built into word processors or apps like Grammarly) will pick up many errors, but often make errors of their own or correct something which wasn’t actually incorrect in the first place. This is also true of autocorrect, which might correct your spelling errors by replacing it with an entirely different word. Give everything you write a quick read over to spot any howling errors and, if you’re submitting an application, it’s worth having a friend or relative look over it closely. While they may not completely change the meaning of what you’re trying to say, lots of small spelling and grammar slip-ups could tell recruiters that you don’t have the crucial skill of attention to detail.
5. Write actively
Use active language to emphasise YOUR actions and YOUR achievements in your writing. The passive voice, where the subject is acted upon, is not as impactful and risks underplaying the things you’re trying to shout about. Typical giveaways of the passive voice are ‘to be’, ‘is’, ‘was’, ‘were’, ‘am’ and ‘are’. For example:
- Passive: I was responsible for the launch of a new process.
- Active: I launched a new process.
- Now, you also have space to explain what the process did: The process doubled my team’s call-rate and achieved a 20% increase in sales.
6. Be careful when sending quick messages
It’s easy to fire off a quick message or email without reviewing the tone and quality of content.
Before you hit ‘send’ or ‘enter’, check your message as carefully as you would a printed letter. This is particularly true when responding to a recruiter that you are not happy about (eg the company has turned down your application). You don’t want to burn bridges.
7. Make social media work for you
Online networking is a key way for job hunting students and graduates to get in touch with employers, gain advice and keep an ear on the ground for opportunities. However, make sure your social media presence helps rather than hinders your job hunt. Make sure your LinkedIn profile creates the right impression, and be careful as to which other social media profiles it might link to. Check your privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to make sure that only people you want to see your posts are seeing your posts. Find out more about making your social media presence work for you.
8. And finally: the most important tip
Always check your spelling and grammar, even for the briefest correspondence. This tip is so important we’ve included it twice.
Employer buzzwords and words of action
There are certain words which are key to catching an employer’s interest. Recruiters will notice when you are speaking their language and matching the phrasing used in the job advert. Consider including some of the following in your CV or application (but be careful not to go overboard or use them where they don’t make sense).
- team player
You can also talk in terms of actions that you achieve through your skills by using good, strong verbs in your written applications: