Writing tips to improve your job applications
As you start applying for your first job, it's worth remembering that 'communication skills' are one of the top attributes sought by graduate recruiters – and sloppy writing is one of their top complaints. But your application will stand out if you take care over the way it is written.
Use the tips below to help improve your job applications. Use the spell check, too, but don't rely on it. If you can, find someone to proofread your applications for you.
Rules for good business writing
- Be professional and courteous at all times. Keep your writing formal.
- Check everything you write, however short, for grammar and spelling. 'Attention to detail' is a key skill for graduate-level jobs so don't risk getting this wrong.
- Think 'business correspondence' and write accordingly: don't use text speak.
- Be particularly careful with emails. Because they are so immediate, it's easy to hit 'send' in a hurry. You need to approach these in the same way as a letter: with the same business-like tone and style and the same attention to detail.
- Read your letter or application out loud. This will help you to check that your writing makes sense and sounds natural.
The basics of good grammar
If you’re not confident about grammar, ask someone to proofread your application. Here are some basics that will guard you against the most common howlers.
- A sentence should end with a full stop, not a comma.
- Use an apostrophe for possessives (‘the company’s products’) NOT for plurals (‘the companies’). But remember the possessive ‘its’ does not have an apostrophe (‘it’s’ is short for ‘it is’).
- ‘Who’ is a subject – it replaces ‘he’ or ‘she’. ‘Whom’ is an object – it replaces ‘him’ or ‘her’.
- Unless it’s the name of a person or organisation, you don’t usually need a capital letter in the middle of a sentence.
- ‘Organize’ (and similar) is the American spelling: the English version is ‘organise’. Don’t rely on your spell checker!
Key words for job applications
Use positive, active words to create a dynamic sounding job application. For example when describing your work experience, the following words may be useful:
Plain English techniques for job applications
Using long words and business jargon in your job applications might seem business-like but it won’t impress recruiters. The best way to write a CV or covering letter or to fill in an application form is to keep it simple and direct.
Keep it short
Short words, short sentences and short paragraphs help readability. Cut your word count in half. Then cut it again. But vary the length and structure of your sentences if you can.
Cut the padding
Use the most straightforward words you can find. Get rid of long clauses (‘having worked in…’), repetition, and any other waffle. Adjectives and adverbs – words that describe nouns or verbs – aren’t normally necessary in a job application. Buzzwords and clichés are so over-used that you lose nothing by cutting them.
Use verbs well
When you’re writing about your work experience, verbs – words that say what you have done – are the most important ones. Put the verb near the beginning of the sentence. And make sure your verbs have punch: the easiest shortcut to plain English is to use ‘active’ verbs. ‘Our team launched a new product’ (active) is snappier than ‘a new product was launched by our team’ (passive).
An easy way to shorten your sentences is to be brutal with nominalisations: words like ‘completion’ and ‘documentation’. Replace ‘Involved with the implementation of projects’ with ‘Implemented projects’ and you cut your word count instantly. It sounds better, too.
Say what you mean
Think about what you actually want to say; then say it. Be as specific as possible.