It’s summer again and graduate schemes are starting to open for applications. It’s always good to get yours in as soon as you can. Some organisations will be starting to select candidates over the next few weeks. So, here are my tips on how to set about writing those applications to impress.
We talk a lot about making sure that your spelling and grammar in applications is accurate, yet I very rarely look at an application form which does not have basic errors in it. So what are the common mistakes to avoid?
1. Leaving words out.
This is really common. You know what you wanted to say and as you have redrafted you might have done some cutting and pasting. Somehow small words, like “of” and “to”, have disappeared into the ether. When you proof read you don’t notice. Try reading the application aloud when you think you have finished. This will slow you up and you are much more likely to find the gaps where little words have crept away. Put them back!
2. Mispelling homophones.
This is a really common problem. Here is an example of an error I probably see most weeks! Do you have a driving license or a driving licence? Mine is a licence and yours should be too! Licence is the noun, license the verb. When you are licensed to drive you get a formal driving licence. Practice and practise work in just the same way; good to recognise that if you are planning to practise as a doctor, an accountant or a lawyer! These errors are made more difficult to spot by the fact that spellcheck fails to understand the nuance and tends to correct throughout to an S. Don’t let it!
3. Getting the apostrophe in the wrong place.
This is very common and again spellcheck can have a lot to answer for. What’s wrong with “Its important that you’re application’s are we’ll drafted?” It should be apparent that this sentence is a disaster. Beware, I have found that my autocorrect has “helpfully” put all these errors into documents I have written. If you don’t know where to put apostrophes then find out! Lynne Truss’s book might be a helpful starting point. Remember that one sentence as error ridden as the one above could be sufficient to put an end to an employer’s interest in you.
4. Using unnecessarily “flowery” language.
In the UK we do not expect obsequious and flowery language in application forms. “I am applying to your esteemed company because it would be an honour to work for such a prestigious organisation” is not going to advance your application. It doesn’t actually say anything. Your target organisation presumably knows that it is prestigious anyway and will take it as read that you have noticed!
5.Writing in unnecessarily long sentences.
Now I love a nice long sentence and consider myself to be pretty good at writing them. I can go on for lines and lines! So, what do I do when I blog? I write and then I go back over what I have written and start putting full stops in. I want you to be able to read the blog quickly and follow what I am saying. A graduate recruiter also wants to skim read an application and know whether or not he/she is interested in it. If a sentence is several lines long you normally have to read it several times before it makes sense. Recruiters don’t have time for this. Your application will hit the bin.
6.Using unnecessarily long words.
I remember my dear old Grandfather telling me never to use “commence” when “begin” would do. This still holds true. In a working environment people tend to avoid long words, write in a simple and straightforward way whatever job you are applying for. The Plain English campaign has some interesting examples of situations where edicts have been issued demanding the use of clear language, even David Cameron is calling for it!
7. Using Malapropisms.
Are you familiar with the term? It relates to when you use the wrong word, replacing what you meant to say with something which is pronounced in a similar way. There are some hilarious examples on this website. You don’t want to have recruiters roaring with laughter over your efforts. If you’re not quite sure of what a word means don’t use it. It’s too big a risk!
8. Getting the degree of formality wrong.
I’ve been told by a major graduate recruiter this summer that he received one application written entirely in text speak! When the applicant was rejected he asked for feedback in the same way. It turned out that he had decided that text language would make his application stand out. He was right about that. It stood out for all the wrong reasons! Generally you should be formal in applications (this might not be the case if you are applying for some journalism jobs or for jobs in creative industries). I wouldn’t abbreviate, join words together, (like can’t or won’t), or use words like cool, or nice or lots. Try to use standard business language and for UK jobs standard English rather than US spelling. Good, flowing prose can stand out too and in the best way possible.
So how do you make sure you’ve got the application writing correct? It’s the same old advice. Get someone to look at your application for you. Don’t assume that just because you’re an English graduate this isn’t necessary. It is!