Whenever you submit a job application, your writing skills are on display. Between your resume and cover letter, there’s a significant emphasis on your ability to communicate your qualifications to an employer. Almost 70% of hiring managers will also review your online presence before making an offer, which means your employee profile and social media can be scrutinized too. This process creates many opportunities for you to make a good impression, but a successful outcome ultimately means you need to have a compelling voice and proficient business writing skills. If you’re not a writer by trade, this raises the question: Why do employers care if you can write?
To answer this, take a look at the average workplace. It’s rare to find a department or company that operates in one location—instead, more positions are becoming remote, and businesses are strategic about developing strongholds throughout the country and abroad. This means workers need to coordinate plans via phone, video conferencing, email, and instant messaging. Often, the easiest and most efficient way to reach someone is through written correspondence—which means it’s essential for employees to master tone and clarity.
Effective Communication Spells Success
No matter what type of job you’re applying for, hiring managers want effective communicators. As MIT Sloan Lecturer Kara Blackburn told the Harvard Business Review, “You can have all the great ideas in the world and if you can’t communicate, nobody will hear them.” Breakdowns in communication ultimately stall progress and affect a company’s bottom line. One study estimates companies worldwide lose an estimated $37 billion (USD) a year due to miscommunications.
To find examples of your communication skills, hiring managers look to your application materials. That means it’s just as important to focus on your writing style as it is to provide quality content. A well-written resume goes beyond proper grammar and spelling. To stand out, your resume needs to be crafted, professional, easy to read, and interesting—all hallmarks of sophisticated writing skills.
3 Tips for Improving Your Business Writing
Below are tips for writing clearly and precisely on your resume and throughout your application materials.
1. Plan before you write.
Without a plan for your resume, you can end up with a poorly structured, meandering, and repetitive document.
Instead, take a moment to consider your audience and their motivation for reading. Ultimately, you want to achieve the following objectives:
- Demonstrate the skills you bring to the table.
- Persuade the reader to want to work with you.
- Encourage the reader to learn more about your candidacy.
With these goals in mind, outline your resume so that every section builds a case for what makes you the perfect fit for the employer. Every sentence needs to connect with the employer’s needs for filling this position. In general, you also want to lean toward familiar and descriptive headings, like “Work Experience,” which are easier for readers to navigate at a glance. Most career advisors also recommend using a chronological resume structure.
2. Get to the point.
Even great writers can get lost in the weeds. It’s easy to lose your audience’s attention—particularly with resume writing. On average, most recruiters only spend up to 10 seconds reviewing a resume before they decide if they should schedule an interview with an applicant—so you have limited time to capture their interest.
Start your resume with a compelling career summary that covers the most critical information about your candidacy. A career summary is the updated and more effective version of a career objective. Whereas a career objective focuses on the applicant’s reasons for seeking employment, a career summary should address the employer’s needs. In this paragraph, draw explicit correlations between the qualities the employer wants to see in a candidate and your skills, academic background, and experience. This paragraph is like an elevator pitch for an employer—the initial 150 or so words cover the most important information in the whole document.
3. Be concise.
Hiring managers and recruiters don’t have a lot of time. On average, every online job listing receives about 250 applications—which means most of these documents aren’t read in their entirety until the final stages of the hiring process. Even if you’ve had a decade or more of experience, keep your resume to two pages or less, and make sure the most relevant information is explained on the first page.
Be critical about cutting extraneous information. For example, the following sentence can be shortened:
“When I started with Company ABC, I was given a whole new perspective on what it means to be a leader with a team of diverse individuals, each of whom has differing and unique opinions and ideas.”
- In most contexts, you can eliminate personal pronouns and overview a position in bullet point format instead of in paragraphs. This makes the resume easier to scan for information.
- Look for examples of tautology, like “differing and unique,” and remove the repetition. In this context, both words communicate almost the same sentiment.
- Use an active subject to make your writing less passive. This makes the language easier to understand and usually cuts helping verbs. For example, the phrase “I was given a whole new perspective…” is passive and assigns agency to Company ABC instead of the speaker.
“Developed my leadership abilities at Company ABC to bring together diverse teams and ideas.”
Writing Dos and Don’ts of Application Materials
There are a few crucial business writing principles to remember if you want to impress a hiring manager.
- Outline a plan for your application before you start writing.
- Be direct about your candidacy and experience.
- Use concise sentences and tie your performance to specific metrics whenever possible.
- Keep your audience in mind and address the employer’s needs before your own.
- Don’t submit an application without editing it first.
- Don’t overuse buzzwords or cliches. Focus on clarity instead.
- Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or trusted colleague to review your resume.
- Don’t settle on the first draft.
According to a recent study, business writing is more important than ever. In fact, 69.5% of business professionals believe that writing is “very important,” earning a five on a five-point scale, and 89% believe writing matters a lot in business—even in industries and roles where writing isn’t a primary function.
Companies want to hire staff who can communicate clearly over email, especially as people spend less time talking over the phone and in person. Even if you think your job doesn’t require writing skills, this issue is evolving—which is why employers pay more attention to candidates with well-written resumes and applications.
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