Blog in 01 2013.
When people hear I’m a recruiter, the first question they ask me is: how do I make my application stand out from everyone else’s?
The definitive answer to this is: with the language you use.
It’s pretty much a given you have the skills and experience needed to do the job, or you wouldn’t be replying to the ad, would you? So you need to get across your personality – and quickly.
And yet I still see far too many CVs written in a way that removes all trace of personality.
So, if you’re guilty of tapping ‘covering letter for job application’ into Google, stop now! Forget about ‘to whom it may concern’; and never again write ‘I’m a flexible team-player’.
I’m not alone in thinking this. Rebecca Dean, a recruiter for creative digital recruitment agency Vitamin T, made the very same appeal in a Facebook post just the other night. After a long day clearly spent reading too many CVs devoid of personality, she ranted:
Jobhunters: please don’t start your cover letter with ‘Please find attached to this email a copy of my CV, for your consideration. I feel I would be an excellent candidate for your above vacancy as it closely matches my skills and experience’.
All this copy-and-paste clichéd disaster of an opening does is suggest that your ‘skills and experience’ include unoriginality and the ability to Google ‘how to write a cover letter’. These two sentences induce nausea and nosebleeds in recruiters and hiring managers alike.
Remember – this is the person who’ll be reading your CV! So, if you want to stand out from the crowd, it’s quite simple. Be you and use the language you’d use, not what you think you’re expected to. Robots need not apply.
Certain(e)s pourront être surpris(es) mais c’est bel et bien vrai, The Writer (L’Ecrivain) parle français.
Pour ma part, j’ai rejoint l’équipe internationale de The Writer l’année dernière. Très vite, on a compris deux choses. On peut travailler en français avec les Anglais… Et plus surprenant encore, on peut parler le même langage en entreprise, sans nécessairement se convertir à l’anglais et en gardant ses propres mots. En bref, voici la petite récolte de notre équipe.
Les mêmes principes d’écriture pour tous
En comparant l’anglais et le français, on a réalisé que quels que soient la langue et le secteur d’activité:
le langage d’entreprise rencontre les mêmes écueils,
le langage d’entreprise est améliorable,
le langage d’entreprise peut être simple, consistant et efficace.
L’anglais ne fait pas tout
En comparant des langages d’entreprises globales, il est apparu que:
le franglais et le jargon ne rendent pas international,
la traduction littérale donne une mauvaise image,
les langues doivent être respectées.
A chacun ses mots et ses pépites
En regardant des textes d’entreprises parfaitement bilingues, nous sommes maintenant convaincus que:
le français est une langue poétique et non fleurie,
le français aime les phrases longues mais aussi le style concis,
le français ne traduit pas tout, il faut lui laisser son caractère.
Un langage commun se décline – il ne se traduit pas – dans chaque langue. The Writer parle maintenant français.
A bon entendeur…
You can’t help but earwig on people’s conversations on the train. Especially when they’re happening only a yard or two away. Usually they’re not worth passing on, but I’ll make an exception.
A man was telling the woman opposite how his son had been kicked out of school. The school had copped out of dealing with the boy’s behavioural problems, and the local authority was following suit by fudging the issue of what to do next. All this told in measured, but still emotional, language.
Then she chipped in. It was clear from the off that she was an Education Professional. ‘They’re required to make reasonable adjustments,’ she said. ‘With their expertise you would hope they have encountered many circumstances…’ she added. ‘The way teaching assistants are being deployed has been subject to a great deal of research,’ she mused.
So, an Education Professional only capable of speaking in dry, institutional language. And not putting it through her own humanity filter for the sake of her hapless friend.
Dangerous stuff, formal language. Work near it for long enough and eventually it will take your soul.
‘Work and imitation go together in the process of learning.’
Stretching your mind – the value of imitation
Imitation can be good, especially when you’re starting out as a writer or trying to master some new form of writing. (After all, imitation is the natural way we learn as kids.) Consciously imitating a writing style helps you to discover how it works, helps you to learn its underlying structure.
And then you start changing it. Some changes make the text or the approach better, some make it worse. In either case, you learn something new about the topic, the text, the approach and about yourself as a writer.
That’s the good kind of imitation.
Imitate, don’t copy
Copying on the other hand is rigid and unthinking. There are no variations and there is no learning.
That’s the bad kind of imitation.
(There was one good thing about copying in the past: it kept you writing. But with the computer’s copy and paste, even this advantage is gone.)
So, stop copying and start imitating.
Scrabble letter values haven’t changed since the 1930s. They’re based on a page from the New York Times which inventor Alfred Mosher Butts (yes, really) painstakingly analysed for letter frequency. But even though English has changed a lot since then, developer Joshua Lewis’ new program that allocates up-to-date values for Scrabble letters hasn’t gone down well with fans of the game. (While I was writing this, the Independent was running an online poll with 81 per cent voting against any change.)
At The Writer we’re fond of pointing out that language doesn’t stand still. It’s constantly evolving. Think back to the dawn of the internet barely 30 years ago. That’s only a blink of an eye in historical terms – but what started out as ‘electronic mail’ quickly became ‘e-mail’, and nowadays hyphenating ‘email’ seems hopelessly old fashioned. In fact, a quick Google tells me that ‘email’ is a perfectly acceptable Scrabble word.
So, since you can use modern words, shouldn’t Scrabble move with the times? Defenders of the game’s purity argue that it’s a game of chance, so it doesn’t matter if the values are a little outdated. But surely Alfred Butts wanted some skill involved – otherwise why have different values at all? If Scrabble enthusiasts want a true game of chance, then get rid of the values altogether, and just see who can come up with the longest word. Or why not update the values every so often to reflect our ever-changing language? It won’t hurt, and people might just learn a few new words.