Simple Tips for Effective Written Communication: Resumes, Applications, and More

By Ellen Mehling, Career Development Consultant, METRO


Summer is here! A time for enjoying the sunshine, possibly some traveling, and, hopefully, taking it easy. In the spirit of this more relaxed season, here are some easy-to-do tips for communicating in writing.

Always customize your résumé and cover letter to the job posting. Keep the information the reader is seeking in mind and make sure that s/he finds it easily. Delete or de-emphasize information unrelated to the duties and responsibilities of the job. Your profile/summary is especially important, as it comes right after the contact information and gives you a chance to capture hiring managers’ attention so they read further.

Choose a font for your résumé and other communications with care. Typefaces can influence how what is read is perceived. There are many to choose from that are easy to read, but a good choice for a blog post might not be a good choice for your résumé and vice versa. Do a little research and get some feedback from others to make sure you are creating the right impression.

If there is a job number, make it clear. Include it (along with the job title) in the Subject line when applying via email and in a “Re:” note in bold above salutation in the cover letter. These are easy-to-do, small courtesies to the recipient/reader that show you understand how the job is referred to internally. Human resources staff may review application documents for a number of different positions each day; they will appreciate that you are specifying the position you are applying for.

Put your name in file name of application documents. Many job hunters save their résumés with a file name of something like "Résumé [month,year]". This means that hiring managers and HR staff have to re-name these documents, and cover letters too. Including your name in the document’s filename saves hiring decision-makers a step. It shows that you are thinking of their needs and makes things just a bit easier for them, which can only help in your job search.

If you will be copying and pasting your résumé into an online application, create a version without formatting. Once you’ve tailored your résumé to the job description, remove the document's formatting for quick migration to any online form. This will make your application easier to read when received.

Send yourself an email with the job description and all documents you've submitted immediately after applying. Weeks (or longer!) can go by between the time you apply for a position and when you get called for a first interview, and the employer can remove the posting from their website at any time. As soon as you've submitted your application documents, send them to yourself as attachments, and copy/paste the job description into the body of the message along with any other information you'll need to have when that call comes. Knowing that you've got that information in one easy-to-find place can also help free you to turn your full attention to the next position you apply for.

Anticipate requests for background information when you have an interview. Very often when you arrive for an interview, especially at large workplaces, you’ll be asked to fill out application documents. Having phone numbers and mailing addresses for former employers with you will be less stressful than trying to recall a phone number from six years ago, and it will look better to the employer if you are prepared and don’t have to say something like, “I’ll get that to you later today.” Print out your list of references and send yourself the list as a Word attachment so you can provide a paper and/or an electronic version on a moment’s notice.

Keep your emails short and sweet, with a brief, informative subject line. Some business leaders advise that five sentences is the ideal length for a work email. If you are requesting a specific action from the reader, make that clear.

And keep in mind that, sometimes, written communication is not the way to go. If the subject matter requires significant discussion or many details, a phone, Skype, or face-to-face conversation is a better choice than email. The same goes when there is any possibility of misunderstanding, when you are delivering bad news, and when you’re addressing topics that are sensitive.

Clarity, convenience and creating the right impression are the benefits of these tips. Stay tuned in the months ahead for more easy tips on topics related to career development and job searching.