How to Evaluate a Job Applicant's Writing

by Justin Husted

Writing is an important skill in many jobs. A person's writing style, eloquence and attention to detail can impact the reader's perceptions of a writer and company. In the age of email and social networking, where messages are generally short, frequent, instantaneous and sent to many people simultaneously, professional business writing is essential. Whether communicating to clients or the media, professional writing helps present an image of quality service and customer respect. Employee cover letters and writing samples can be valuable in understanding how applicants would represent your company if they become employees.

Spelling Mistakes and Grammatical Errors

Picture a cover letter as an advertisement. Applicants are selling you a product, putting their best face forward in hopes that you'll buy. If an advertisement had spelling errors, it would probably distract you from the product's message. Worse, it might make you think it was an inferior product or that the company doesn't care about its image. Likewise, consider those poorly written Nigerian scam emails that usually land in your email spam inbox: they're hard to believe because you can barely read them. Proper spelling and grammar lend credibility, which can lead to more sales and customer satisfaction. Skim through the applicant's writing and look for any obvious errors. If the job-seeker sent the letter or sample electronically, copy and paste it into a word processor that auto-checks and flags errors. Depending on the position, one or two mistakes may be acceptable, but if the writing's rife with errors, proceed with caution.

An Understanding of the Position

While not all applicants submit cover letters, they can be incredibly useful for filtering out prospects. Unfortunately, many applications that you receive won't be a good fit for the position you're offering. Some may be desperate for work and apply for everything, others may not understand what position they're applying for and some may be under- or overqualified. Cover letters can be a second acid test when the resume's robust but nonspecific. If applicants provide an idea of what they think the job would entail, compare that and the job description for similarities. Additionally, identify any examples of previous work and accomplishments and whether they'd fit with the position.

Demonstrates Knowledge, Skills and Experience

Whether you're reviewing a cover letter or sample writing, determine whether applicants understand the subject matter they're writing about. If they've provided a cover letter, look for skills they've emphasized. Ensure that these skills will be useful in the position. If you're reviewing many applicants, it may be useful to circle, highlight or itemize these skills in the margin for quick reference later.

Goes Above and Beyond

Just as in grade school, a C-student meets the criteria, but the A-student goes well above and beyond. Such is the case in the adult world. After considering whether you can afford to hire an A-student, look for those writing qualities that stand out. Did the applicant take the time to find out your name? Did the candidate do preliminary research about the company? Was the writer able to convey plenty of detail and engage your interest in a few short paragraphs? Identify traits that convey quality to you and determine whether the writing meets or exceeds those expectations. Applicants who go above and beyond now are likely to do the same when they work for your company.

About the Author

Justin Husted has worked as a professional in the human resources and health-care industries for more than seven years. He earned an M.B.A. in information technology and a bachelor's degree in human resources management from Western Governors University. Husted holds certification as a professional in human resources from the Human Resources Certification Institute, as well as CompTIA A+ certification.

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