Employers use applications, covering letters and CVs as a first-stage assessment of your written communication skills, which are usually seen as essential for graduate jobs. You may not craft long reports or strategy documents, but emails are a fact of working life in most careers and even for the shortest note, clear communication is essential.
Employers may also evaluate your skills through any other form of written correspondence you send to them. An offhand enquiry email could put you out of the running for a job. Employers look for clear, accurate communication in all forms of written correspondence: emails, letters, CVs and applications. Our quick tips will help you brush up your business writing skills.
Always give yourself a capital ‘I’
If you refer to yourself, your actions or your activities in an email, letter or application, always give yourself a capital ‘I’. Receiving an email or letter with lots of i’s instead of I’s makes graduate recruiters and business professionals see red.
It's also important to use full sentences in letters and emails. Start all sentences and proper names (eg city names) with a capital letter and close with a full stop.
Don't spice things up with txt spk
If you’re looking for an original way to make a job application or email stand out, don’t write it in text language. If U want 2 b taken seriously, carefully proofread all your written correspondence and make sure nothing slips in… reserve smiley emoticons for message boards and Facebook.
Read up on basic grammar and check your spelling carefully
Correct grammar, punctuation and spelling are tools that give sense to what you say. In Eats, shoots and leaves, Lynne Truss’s guide to grammar and punctuation, the slip of a comma turns a peaceful, bamboo-munching panda into a gun-slinging, restaurant nightmare. If an extra ‘i’ slips into the wrong plaice, everything about your application could get fishy.
Be aware that recruiters have very little time to try to interpret what you really mean, and spelling slip-ups shout: LACK OF ATTENTION TO DETAIL.
Use everyday English, write actively… save space
Whilst studying at university, one tends to adopt an overly wordy, passive academic style to convey what one is thinking, asserting and concluding.
Long words and flowery phrasing can make you feel impressive, but it’s better to get straight to the point.
Be active and not passive. The passive voice is where the subject is acted upon instead of acting itself. The typical giveaway is the use of ‘to be’ and its various forms: is, was, were, am, are. Take a look at this example:
- I was responsible for the launch of a new process.
- Shorter: I launched a new process.
- Now you’ve got room to explain what the process did: The process doubled my team’s call-rate and achieved a 20% increase in sales.
Use everyday English and active verbs to convey information and actions without a blur of unnecessary words. You’ll have room to include more about yourself, or extra white space to make your key achievements stand out.
Be professional and courteous in everything you write
If you have doubts about how to write for employers always think ‘professional and courteous’. You do not know who will read your email, covering letter or application – the person you contact could be your future boss.
A formal approach is unlikely to offend. However, if you are too casual you risk coming across as unprofessional.
Quick-fire email caution
If you use email to contact recruiters, take extra care. The immediate nature of email means that it’s easy to fire off quick messages without reviewing their tone and quality of content.
Before you hit send, check your email as carefully as you would a printed letter. This is particularly true when responding to an email from a recruiter that you are not happy about (eg the company has turned down your application). You don’t want to burn bridges.
Make social media work for you
Make sure that your use of social media helps rather than hinders your job hunt. Take care over your LinkedIn profile and make sure that it creates the right impression. Be mindful of how you come across online, and remember that a potential employer may pick up on what you say on Twitter. Check your Facebook privacy settings. You'll find tips on how to use social media to your advantage in our advice on networking.
The final and most important tip
Always check your spelling and grammar, even in the briefest correspondence.
Employer buzzwords and words of action
There are certain words which are key to catching an employer's interest. Mention them in your CV and applications and see how impressed they are with your business-speak (but don't go overboard or you'll sound daft).
- 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: