Internet Inquiry: April 2021 Edition (Improving Your Writing for Job Applications and Beyond)
This question came to me from a family member who has spent about 30 years climbing the career ladder in Canada but was recently encouraged to apply for a senior role at their company.
Their challenge was two-fold: this was the first time they updated their resume or had to write a formal cover letter in 29 years and their day-to-day work (and performance at the new role) doesn't require much communication in English. Most of the clients and colleagues they work with speak Mandarin or Cantonese. However, for formal correspondence like reports to head office and job applications, English communications are required.
For the job application, I helped them make major edits and consulted career coaching sites for support. If you don't have a friend or family member who can support this, I encourage you to hire a resume writer or career coach to help! If you are a recent (or even not-so-recent) grad, your college or university's career centre may be the best place to start.
My relative ended up getting the job! I mean they were the perfect fit and encouraged to apply by the hiring manager, plus they smashed the interviews. However, they realized that their new role requires more communications in English with the head office, which prompted them to ask me for longer-term writing advice.
Here's what I suggested:
1) Get Grammarly:
This is not a sponsored post but I honestly have improved my own writing so much because of the free version! It integrates into your browser, your email client, and Microsoft Word- which makes it super helpful no matter what or where you're writing. In fact, Grammarly has made three suggestions as I've written this post that improved clarity and corrected grammar errors.
2) Check out Grammar Girl:
Shoutout to Mignon Fogarty, creator of Grammar Girl! Again, this is not a sponsored post! Grammar Girl was one of the first podcasts I started listening to. She shares advice in a fun and non-judgmental way. Sometimes she talks about the history behind etymology and grammar (e.g. Why is it Called a Sea 'Shanty'?). Other times, she shares easy ways to remember which word to use when (e.g. Capital vs. Capitol).
You might not use all the tips right away, but the podcast episodes are fun and fairly short! Also, if you are ever doubting something you've written, the Grammar Girl blog may give you insight into correct usage.
3) Refer to and follow your organization's brand guidelines:
Most organizations have branding, language, and communication standards usually summarized as brand guidelines. These are the rules that they expect employees and volunteers to follow when communicating on their behalf to external audiences.
Brand guidelines can include how you talk about the organization (e.g. approved mission statements, summaries about the communities your serve) as well as how the organization presents itself (e.g. fonts, colours). I like to save brand guidelines to my desktop for easy access and have even printed these and stuck them on my cubicle walls in the past!
Considerations for fellow volunteer engagement professionals:
- You may want to consider including the rule around how your organization talks about volunteers in the brand guidelines (e.g. We engage volunteers, we don't "use" volunteers).
- When relevant, you can use brand guidelines as part of volunteer orientation. I've done it and it really helps to set expectations from the start. By sharing brand guidelines with volunteers who will help with communications, volunteers are better set up for success, and any feedback that's related to communication assets can be shared fairly and constructively.
4) Use Email Templates:
I love a good template and use templates all the time as a volunteer engagement professional. Honestly, if you are going to write an email more than three times, I encourage you to put together a template. Why re-invent the wheel when it's already built?
A few examples of email templates I've used multiple times:
- Template for scheduling a conversation that you have often (e.g. volunteer interview)
- Template for inviting someone to complete mandatory training
- Template for asking multiple groups of colleagues to get involved in a project (e.g. National Volunteer Week)
- Template for acknowledging someone's interest in becoming a volunteer
- Template for inviting a volunteer to join your team
- Template for redirecting a volunteer candidate to another role or organization
- Template for Out of Office auto-responses
What are your tips for writing? Do you have any favourite email templates? Have you tried the paid version of Grammarly? Share your experiences with me in the comments or send me a message!