Most jobs will require some form of written communication. Even if it’s something as seemingly small as a business email, the ability to write and write well is extremely important. And this is true for both the personal and professional aspects of life.
At some point during the job search you’ll be required to write a cover letter. Or perhaps it’s not a job you seek, but a fellowship. Or an internship. Or maybe you’re applying to graduate school. All of these endeavors will require you to display your writing and communication abilities—skills that could help or hinder your chances of pursuing your goals.
When employers require a cover letter, it’s because they want to not only determine your suitability for the role, but judge how effectively you’re able to articulate this. A required graduate school or fellowship essay seeks the same.
A perfect (and recent) example of this is my cousin who is applying to graduate school. She wrote the required essay and emailed it to my mother for proofreading. And it was a good thing she did.
Below are four errors my cousin made when drafting her essay response—simple mistakes most of us make when writing—and four tips to correct them. These simple, yet important, writing tips can make all the difference when it comes to improving the writing requirements of your job search.
Error #1: Writing reflects speech
In an ideal world, every person would pronounce each letter in a word; our speech wouldn’t be filled with run-on sentences; and we would never use present, past and future tense in the same sentence. Yet, we reside in the “real world.”
My cousin’s first error, and one most of us make, was writing how she is used to talking. We’re human; no one pronounces every word correctly and the majority of people I know use some form of slang. Gotta’, thinkin’, sayin’: These words and many more are common for us to say, but improper to write, especially in formal and professional writing. We abbreviate in text and use acronyms, but that isn’t acceptable for professional writing. It’s also common for us to ramble on and on, jumping from subject to subject without the proper pauses (those reflected with commas and periods in writing).
Tip #1: Avoid writing a professional piece of communication how you talk. Do not use slang and stay away from run on sentences. Cover letters and essays should use clear and concise language; the sentences should be detailed but not too long.
Remember that you speak with ease when in a personal setting, yet how you address your boss (or a potential boss) wouldn’t be so relaxed. Let that mindset reflect in your various writing environments.
Error #2: Unstructured
This error ties into no. 1 because my cousin was used to writing how she talks. Like us all, she talks on and on with no definite pauses or breaks in her and jumps from subject to subject. She talked about why she was applying, then her life, then her previous schooling, yet none of flowed together. In most casual conversations it is perfectly acceptable to “jump around,” but professional/formal writing says otherwise.
Tip #2: Make sure to structure your writing. Cover letters tend to begin with what job you’re applying for, why you’re interested, reasons you’re the best candidate, supporting facts and examples, and then closing by reiterating your interest and the fact that you plan to follow up in X amount of days.
Essays for other types of professional programs can follow a similar structure, but most require the applicant to answer a question. Your response then needs to be based off the question. For example, if the essay question is, “How will this program prepare you for the future?” your essay could be structured as follows:
- Statement on how the program will prepare you
- Three supporting examples (can be covered over three paragraphs)
- Conclusion paragraph reinforcing statement in intro paragraph
Of course an essay doesn’t have to follow the above simplistic layout, but the point is to ensure that you’re writing is structured and that each paragraph flows well into the other. And don’t forget to include transitions; nothing messes up the flow of writing more than when information seems to just be inserted out of nowhere.
Error #3: Lack of details
It’s not enough to say that you’re applying for something or that you’re the best fit; employers want and need to know why.
Tips #3: Offer explanations and details for every claim you make. If you state that you can help increase employee engagement, explain how. Spell out your credentials and provide relevant examples of your past work experiences and accomplishments. If you say you can benefit an employer, back up your claim. Remember that anyone can say that he or she is qualified, but not everyone can offer the supporting evidence to prove this.
Error #4: Irrelevant information
In her essay draft, my cousin explained that she had successfully raised a child while working full-time and completing her bachelor’s degree. That’s great, but who cares? Honestly, an employer or graduate school committee won’t.
There are millions of men and women who have “rags to riches” stories, but unless the details directly affect a person’s ability to do the job, they don’t really matter in this context.
Tip #4: Only include relevant information. It’s nice that you were the captain of the football team in high school, but probably not so detrimental to your success in the marketing role you’re applying for. Stick with relevant information that shows your skills and qualifications for the job.