This is peak application season and I get to read a number every week. Many people spend a huge amount of time thinking about what to write in applications. They research into employers, and have great ideas. Sometimes things can go a bit wrong in the execution though. Here are the Autumn 2015 top tips to get your writing right!
There aren’t many grad jobs where you won’t need to write. It’s not unreasonable for an employer to look to you to demonstrate, throughout the recruitment process that you’ll be up to the task. Your application needs to be framed in clear business English. If you don’t really understand what this is, a good starting point might be to read Chris Stoakes’ book, Get to the Point. In the meantime here are my top tips!
1. Be formal without being obsequious
In some countries it is normal to write in a very “flowery” style eg:
“I would be a privilege to be appointed to work for your prestigious company”.
In the UK this is not necessary, or recommended. You should not set out overtly to praise an employer, or ever imply that you would be honoured to work for a particular company. An appropriate alternative to the example above would be:
“I wish to apply for a post within your company”.
The suggestion above is not impolite, it uses standard business English.
2. Don’t include unnecessary words
Most job application forms in the UK have a strict word count. This is not just for your general guidance. The word limit will be strict and as stated. Some application forms will simply cut off any words over the specified number.
It is down to you to make the best use of the word count that you can. Avoid any unnecessary words and “fillers”, such as “moreover, however, nonetheless, additionally” etc. These words add nothing at all to the meaning and potentially stop you from saying something more important.
3. Use the word count as a general guide
You do not have to use every single word available to you, but you should be relatively close to the word count. If, for example, you have 500 words to describe an event which made you proud then, “I was proud of passing my driving test first time” is unlikely to be regarded as an adequate answer. This is giving you a clear steer that you need to describe the event in some detail. It would be a good idea to use the CARE model in answering this, (Context, Action, Result, Evaluation), make sure that around 40% of your answer is on the Action section.
4. Answer the question
Keep checking back to make sure that you are actually answering the question you have, rather than something you hoped to have been asked. For example “Why do you want to be a lawyer?” is not the same as “Why do you want to work for this firm?”
The first is asking you to demonstrate an understanding of what it is to be a lawyer. The second is enquiring into the research you have done regarding the firm.
5. Keep your sentences and your words short
A job application is not the time to write sentences which run over several lines. Neither is it advisable to get out the thesaurus and experiment with long words, when you are not familiar with them, or entirely sure of their meaning!Remember that your application is going to be one of a great many read by your target employer. Make it easy for graduate recruitment to understand what you are saying quickly. If someone has to read a section twice in order to understand It, then your syntax or vocabulary is too complex. If you use a word where you are not entirely sure of its meaning then you risk looking silly. You do not want your application to be the one which makes the whole graduate recruitment team laugh.
6. Get your spelling and grammar right
This might not be easy for you if English is not your first language but be aware that some employers allow no leeway for errors in your writing. Get someone to help with the proofreading of the application, but do remember that what you produce at the end must be representative of what you can do and not of the standard of your friend’s English.
Apostrophes can be a minefield for you so here are some really simple rules:
You need an apostrophe if you have left out a word. If “do not” has become “don’t” the apostrophe marks the departed “o”. Ask yourself if there’s a letter missing. If so, use an apostrophe (but generally when writing in formal applications it is good not to use this colloquial style). Business English does not normally abbreviate.
Do you have a simple plural, “offices”, “buildings”? There is no apostrophe before or after the “S”.
You do need an apostrophe when you have a possessive. If you are talking about the blanket belonging to the cat then it is “the cat’s blanket”. If you have several cats then you mark this by moving the position of the apostrophe “the cats’ blankets”.
There are some really good books to help with this, try Lynne Truss “Eats, shoots and leaves.”
7. Do not repeat yourself
Employers only want you to make each point once. If there are a number of different questions do not keep referring back to the same examples. You need to find something different to say for each question. If you feel that the questions are unduly similar and warrant the same answer, don’t be tempted to give just the one. You need to assume that the graduate recruiters knew what they were doing when they set the questions and find different ways of answering each.
Take your time over the writing of the applications just as you do over the researching. Good luck!