Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Writing Your Way into a Job: How Effective Use of the E Nglish Language Can Make or Break the Job Search

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Writing Your Way into a Job: How Effective Use of the E Nglish Language Can Make or Break the Job Search

Article excerpt


This paper provides job-seekers with seven ways to write better cover letters and resumes through effective use of English. Techniques for writing effective cover letters and resumes are discussed, with special attention given to writing style, word choice, and the importance of editing. Examples of English-related errors in cover letters and resumes were gleaned from applications made to a large metropolitan hospital.


In today's difficult job market, job-seekers must truly stand out among the field of applicants to even be considered for employment. Busy recruiters often face a flood of applications for a single position, and only the people who present a consistently excellent application package receive attention. Therefore, the slightest careless error on a cover letter or resume can remove a candidate from consideration. A sample of applicants' cover letters and resumes from a large metropolitan hospital in the Mid-South revealed numerous instances of sloppy writing, unfortunate typos, and inappropriate style--mistakes the applicants could easily have avoided. This paper discusses how to construct a cover letter, resume, and application to boost job-seekers' chances of getting their resumes into the "interview" pile instead of the "reject" pile.


Resumes and cover letters should be written in a professional tone. They should read like business communications, meaning that slang should be avoided, as should any technical jargon not relating specifically to the position of interest.

Sometimes applicants attempt to stray from this formal style in their cover letters and resumes, believing that their personalities are unable to shine through such a rigid format. Often the "personality" is inserted through punctuation that has no place in these documents. One enthusiastic applicant for an information technology position ended his introductory paragraph with the question, "May I tell you about my many qualifications?" When the applicant asks questions to which the answer is pre-determined (he obviously planned to list his attributes, because the remainder of the page was full of words), recruiters take the application less seriously. Exclamation points are also jarring in the context of a cover letter. Richardson (1998) interprets the exclamation point as an attempt to tell him how to feel, and advises applicants to "save punctuation meant to evoke emotion for love letters."

Other applicants attempt to inject their letters with personality by writing in a colloquial, friendly style. However, the people scanning applications are seeking not friends but qualified candidates. One applicant shared this bit of information at the bottom of her resume: "Interests: I enjoy spending time with my oldest daughter, taking long walks with my boyfriend, and curling up with a good magazine at night." Not only was her style more suitable to a personal ad, but instead of considering her qualifications, the recruiters were left pondering why she only enjoyed spending time with her oldest daughter. Writing style can be just as much a distraction as it can be an asset, and applicants must take care to choose an appropriate style.

One final caution: the e-mail address used on resumes should make a professional impression (Tyler, 2003; Goins, 2004). Would you hire With so many free e-mail programs available, it is easy to set up a more professional-sounding address for use in application materials.


According to JobStar Central, a Web site devoted to aiding applicants in their job search, it may take less than thirty seconds for a recruiter to judge whether a resume should be discarded or thoroughly considered (What is a resume?, 2003). In other words, applicants have to make a good impression quickly. Resumes should not be longer than two pages, and they should have ample white space so the reader can focus on qualifications rather than be forced to navigate through a huge block of words with no point of entry (Bumpus, 2003). …

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