Employers expect that in your application for a position with them, you demonstrate that your writing is grammatically correct and clear, and that you provide specific evidence that you meet their requirements.
As a Career Consultant in the Careers and Employment team, I see frequent examples of poor grammar in CVs, cover letters, application forms, emails and LinkedIn profiles. My colleagues and I work hard to support students to improve the quality of their communications with prospective employers. Most employers have a low tolerance for applicants with poor writing skills. Rejection is instant unless the grammar problems are moderate, writing is not core to the role, and the applicant’s other capabilities are exceptional.
Poor grammar has a huge opportunity cost. ‘Opportunity cost’ is the risk to productivity in other key areas, when you decide to invest a proportion of your focus, time and energy in doing something new. The aim is to make that new activity add measurable value. In this instance the new activity is applying for jobs. Submitting applications that are poorly written carries a high opportunity cost as the anticipated added value, an interview for example, is unlikely.
So, what are some of the opportunity costs of submitting a poorly written application?
- Writing applications use your valuable time. Each one probably takes four to six hours. The opportunity cost is the time that you would normally have used to work on an assignment, attend an employer webinar, or play sport. If you applied for 10 roles, this would be 40-60 hours. If none of those applications result in an interview offer, that is a zero return on your efforts and a massive opportunity cost.
- Applications are an opportunity to gain visibility in the marketplace. But once you’re visible, there is a potential reputational cost. Ten, unsuccessful applications, would mean that ten recruiters now know that you struggle with writing. They may also conclude that you lack personal insight as you have authored and distributed work that is not to their standards. Poor grammar can overshadow even exceptional qualifications, knowledge and experience.
- Applications that consistently result in rejection can result in the loss of self-esteem, confidence and motivation. The irony, and opportunity cost here, is that if you lose these, you will have lost important characteristics that employers value.
- Not being invited to interviews. Interviews, even ones that don’t lead to a job offer, provide chances to understand the interview process, be your best and most personable self and to articulate your skills and experience in a clear and engaging way. You can also self-review to improve future performance and while employers rarely provide feedback on job applications, they will often provide this for interviews.
- An interview offer surely means that the employer isn’t looking for good grammar. By the end of a selection process, employers will have learned a lot about each candidate. They will have mapped and scored their capabilities against specific criteria. Criteria are usually weighted. Candidates’ scores, for each weighted criterion, are then compared. If the weighting given to writing skills is relatively high, poor writing can jeopardise a job offer and often does.
If you think that your grammar is holding you back, get advice. This will help you identify the scale and the likely impact of the problem so that you can decide how to address it. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Come along to our online workshop: Correct and clear English for your CV. Booking is through CareerHub.
- Have your CV checked by a Career Consultant for style and content.