Using long words and business jargon is the way to impress employers, right? Wrong. Simple and direct is the best way to write a CV or covering letter, or to fill in an application form.
It is a common myth that good communication requires fancy flourishes, figures of speech, or stylised prose. The truth, however, is that keeping your writing devoid of these will not make you sound any less "professional".
In fact, it's possible to be formal and professional without being fussy, and someone who has this kind of control over their writing is always going to impress employers with their communication skills.
What is "simple" English, and why should I use it?
Using simple English is about presenting information that an audience can read, understand, and act upon with just a single reading.
In the case of a recruiter, "acting upon it" — if it means offering you an interview — is exactly what you want.
What's more, you only get one chance to make your point - hence a single reading - because yours is not the only application in a recruiter's inbox.
Level 1: Let's start at the beginning (and the ending!)
Level 2: Save time and space
The average graduate recruiter has a limited amount of time, and an application form has a limited amount of space. Unfortunately, the academic system tends to lead us to write in a complicated manner.
After all, the point of an essay is to argue the rights and wrongs of a particular point. This often means that we end up...
With a bit of practice, you'll find that your résumés and cover letters may not have many words, but will contain more information than others that have twice the word count.
Level 3: Now, get your grammar right!
If you are not confident about your grammar, you can always get a friend to take a look at your writing for you. Still, here are some basics that will help you guard against the most common hiccups in application writing.
- Use an apostrophe for possessives (e.g.: the company's products)
- How about "my team member's roles" (singular) and "my team members' roles" (plural)?
- Possessive "its" does not have an apostrophe, which is completely different from "It's", which is short for "it is".
- There’s no one correct way to use the punctuations, but do be aware of the general conventions of using them.
- Do you or do you not use the Oxford comma? (e.g. I completed Project A, B, and C or I completed Project A, B and C)
- Watch out for the overuse of exclamation marks too! You won’t want to seem like you’re overenthusiastic! Or shouting all the time too!
- Job titles and degree subjects are NOT proper nouns: e.g. Kevin Lim, head of graduate recruitment; and I have a degree in chemical engineering.
- Unless it is the name of a person or an organisation, you do not usually need a capital letter in the middle of a sentence.
- "Who" is a subject – it replaces "he" or "she".
- "Whom" is an object – it replaces "him" or "her".
British vs. American English
- If there is a missing "u" (color vs colour), or a "z" in place of an "s" (organize vs organise), that is American English. Stick to British English here in Singapore.
Start applying these principles to your writing today, and you will be practising crystal-clear communication before you know it!
Pro Tip: One last thing – and it should go without saying, but just in case – keep emoticons out of your formal correspondence! :DDDDDDDDD