The Confederation of British Industry says employers want employees who are able to produce clear, structured written work. They also expect a level of professionalism appropriate for their specific company. What does that mean for today’s graduates entering the workplace for the first time?
Article by David Shindler
A recent news item caught my eye in which a headmaster posed the question ‘is writing by hand dead’? What constitutes ‘written’ is a moot point given the wide choice of formats that modern technology now gives us. So the medium is changing. What we have to say will always be in a constant state of flux and it’s situational. So the message will change. Who we direct the message at has become both easier to target and diffuse thanks to the Internet. So the audience has changed. The message, the medium and the audience affects why, what and how we communicate using the written word.
This could be a daunting prospect if you are a new graduate seeking to become more employable, or a natural progression for others as they make the leap from formal education. Employability covers what an employer expects as the minimum, professional standards for you to fit into the workplace or remain a good fit with your current employer. If you are employed, how you write reflects on you and on the company. If you are seeking a job, the quality of your CV is crucial.
Yet, there are some paradoxes ready to trip you up if you don’t think them through. For example, the value of attention to detail, good grammar and spelling, while at the same time responding to the challenge to be creative, different and stand out. One smacks of conformity, while the other shouts ‘be unique’ and ‘bring us something fresh’.
How do you do that given the huge range of writing formats (CVs, social media presence, report writing etc.)? The answer is to be your authentic self with skill and professionalism.
Here are 6 considerations, whatever your circumstance
To write or not to write: When is something in writing appropriate rather than a face-to-face conversation (and vice versa)? Facts, information, records are all suitable for a written format. Where the ‘tone’ is critical, such as conveying strong emotions or giving personal feedback, it is better done in person to allow for instant clarification and to avoid misinterpretation. What level of formality does this message need to have?
Writing style: What style of writing is appropriate for this audience and this purpose? Good grammar will matter to some employers whereas others may take a more relaxed view. If the role or job involves attention to detail, you will need to reflect that in all your written communication with a prospective or existing employer, including your CV or application form, covering letter and even your posts on LinkedIn discussion groups. Replying to customers, marketing, PR, advertising, website copy – you can’t avoid the need for good writing!
Find your ‘voice’: Online profiles are increasingly important as a reflection of your personal brand. Remember, you are also leaving a digital imprint. Treat yours with proper care and attention so you can show you are a literate and effective communicator with your own unique style and ‘voice’.
Research the context: Reports, email, texts, instant messaging, tweets, blogs, wikis, online application forms, CVs, résumé, sales material, advertising/sales/marketing/press release copy etc all have their own idiosyncrasies and contexts. Where possible, become aware of the prevailing way things are done for that employer or specific sections and individuals. Slang and text-speak don’t tend to go down well with most employers. What do you know already? What do you need to find out? How and when will you do that?
Your shop front CV: Literacy expert, Diane Hall, suggests “a flawless, effective, accurate and proofread CV is a must in the first instance. Unless you’re known to the hirer and they can look past poor literacy skills for other personal assets, your CV will be your ‘shop-front’ and is all the employer has to go on. Poor literacy detracts from the main message, just as much as a stutter or nerves in speech and negative body language.”
Language: Jargon is an opportunity and a challenge. Use employer or sector specific language that is standard or accepted and avoid trying to impress with vague or fashionable buzzwords. Use plain English wherever possible. Take a look at a tabloid newspaper and its style and use of words. It is usually clear, punchy and unambiguous. Does your written work do what it says it does? As Einstein wisely commented, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.
About the Author: David Shindler is the author of “Learning to Leap, a Guide to Being More Employable”. An experienced coach and people development consultant, David specialises in developing and accelerating employability. He also runs the Employability Hub (a social learning community and resource centre), the Learning to Leap group on LinkedIn and Employability Hub Facebook fan page. Tweet him @David_Shindler and @EmployHub or contact him via his website.