Many students worry about their writing skills when it comes to completing job applications. Applications generally require you to write something – an answer to a question or a cover letter for example, and this can be daunting task, particularly if you don’t study an essay-based subject. But even if you write essays all the time for your degree writing in a job application is different – it requires you to adapt your style and write in a different way. And of course all of this is particularly tricky if English is not your first language.
But there are some simple tips which can help you to be more confident about the way you write in your application.
- Don’t go over the top
✖ ‘I would be immensely grateful for the opportunity to work for your illustrious and truly exemplary company’
✔ ‘Your company appeals to me because of its team-based culture, which was highlighted to me when I spoke to a Graduate Trainee at the QMUL Careers Fair’
Avoid language which sounds like you’re just trying to flatter the company. Instead, be precise and specific about what the company does well: highlight their accomplishments and, crucially, show that you care enough about them to have done some research about them.
- Base your assertions on evidence
✖ ‘I am a highly-motivated team player who puts her best efforts into every task’
✔ ‘I demonstrated high levels of motivation by exceeding sales targets three months in a row in my part-time role at Laura Ashley’
If you just make general statements about yourself, it can be difficult for the reader to work out how accurate these statements are – anyone can say they’re highly motivated. It is more persuasive to back up your points with examples where possible – examples support your assessment of your skills and prove that you have the skills you say you have.
- Write confidently, but not arrogantly
✖ ‘I believe that I have good analytical skills and I hope I can contribute them to the company’
✖ ‘I stand head-and-shoulders above the competition due to my unrivalled business sense and comprehensive understanding of the issues facing your company’
✔ ‘I developed strong organisational skills by overseeing the running of seven seminars during the academic year, including inviting speakers, booking rooms and publicising the events.’
Avoid phrases like ‘I believe’, ‘I hope’ or ‘I imagine’. They suggest that you doubt your own ability. At the same time, avoid overstatement – at this stage in your career, no one expects you to know everything or be completely accomplished, and recruiters are likely to be put off by implausible and grand claims about your abilities.
Instead, clearly state the skills you have and then provide specific examples of when you have demonstrated those skills.
- Use ACTIVE phrases, not passive phrases
✖ ‘this role allowed me to collaborate effectively with a team of 5’.
✔‘I collaborated effectively with a team of 5’
The second version of the sentence puts the emphasis on what YOU did and accomplished; the first puts the focus on the requirements of the role. This might seem like a minor point, but it’s surprising how much difference it makes over the course of a whole cover letter or answer to a question. Active sentence constructions emphasise what you have accomplished.
- Proofread, proofread, proofread
You must read your application carefully a number of times. Recruiters get many applications for graduate jobs – sometimes a spelling or grammar mistake is all it takes for an application to be rejected when the process is so competitive. So don’t rely simply on your computer’s spellchecker, make sure you print out your application and read it on paper. Often mistakes become more obvious when you’re not reading on a screen.
- Get someone else to check it
Asking a friend to read over your CV or application can be really beneficial – sometimes a fresh pair of eyes and a different perspective can help you to make really useful changes. If English is not your first language, a native-speaker friend can be particularly helpful in checking your grammar and phrasing. And remember you can also book an appointment in the Careers Centre to receive feedback on your CV.