In college, I had a roommate who chose her major, speech pathology, to avoid writing papers. As a journalism student, not only was I confused by her attempt to avoid learning a vital communication skill by selecting major with “speech” in the title, but I also knew she would be severely limiting her job opportunities with this approach. Yes, I know, this seems biased coming from a journalist, but even the most analytical, left-brained individuals would have a hard time communicating using only numbers and symbols.
Today, business and social media are intertwined, and sites like Facebook, which previously only existed for personal use, have now become the leading marketing and advertising tools for companies. For those of us who have grown up saturated in these hybrid media platforms, the lines have blurred between business and casual, fragmenting our communication.
Although the mediums have changed, writing is still a foundational skill that is more important in today’s workplace than it was prior to new technology. Whether you’re composing a resume, cover letter or just sending a follow-up email, written communication is likely the first impression you will make on an employer in our digital age.
After I graduated from college, I took an internship with a magazine in my home city that quickly segued to a permanent position. Much to my parents’ surprise, a journalism degree had actually yielded a full-time job, even more unheard of in the wake of the creeping, post-recession economy. But the relief that I had become a successful return on their college investment was short lived when I accepted an unpaid internship in New York City with no friends, relatives or living accommodations attached. When the internship ended without a full-time offer, I was forced to search for a new position and explain in many cover letters why I chose to leave a secure, full-time position in my field to accept new titles like unpaid desk clerk and hostess or “editorial intern” and “hospitality specialist,” as they appeared on my resume. Writing allowed me to explain to future employers why I took what appeared to be a step down to diversify my experience and open myself to more opportunities in a larger market. Ultimately, it got my foot in the door for interviews and allowed for upward career mobility.
However, this skill is applicable across the board. Regardless of what field you enter, you will be expected to interact with the public, clients or at the very least co-workers. Beyond the communication industry, writing is an indicator to any employer of an applicant’s ability to problem solve and reason. In the era of information overload and constant self-expression on social media, employers look for personal work samples outside of the classroom and previous positions as indicators of key skills they desire in applicants such as initiative and ambition. One way to display your work is to create a blog. If you thought the only people who contribute to the blogosphere today are suburban moms looking to expand their recipe box, think again. According to a survey by Career Builder, 43% of employers research their candidates on social media before hiring them. A clear demonstration of writing ability, a blog is also looked at as insight into personality, interests and entrepreneurship that can help set you apart from other candidates in the hiring process.
If you’re not a writer but still want to boost your application, try consulting a beginner’s guide to blogging like this one from The SITS girls. As much as a polished blog can enhance your resume, a disorganized or poorly written one will have the exact opposite effect. So if you can’t quite remember where to put a semi-colon, sites like Grammar Girl provide quick tips to keep your writing in check.
Blogging is just one way to boost online presence, but honing your writing skills in all your professional communication is essential to scoring an interview. Before employers get a chance to meet you in person, your application materials need to speak for you. This is where writing will help you “fake it till you make it.” Your resume and portfolio should make the connections between your current skills set and those necessary for the job. A strategically written cover letter can help explain gaps in employment or other inconsistencies on your resume that may be a red flag to employers. Just as important as your application materials is your follow-up with prospective employers, which should be viewed as another chance to display your professionalism and personality outside the limited bounds of your resume. Whether you’re typing, texting, emailing or physically picking up a pen, writing is one of the most marketable skills to master. If you can communicate successfully, you can sell yourself to any employer.