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Writing Advice for Job Seekers

The other day I was teaching a business writing class in Portland, Oregon, when a manager said this:

"I got an email from someone who had just completed his certification and was looking for a job. In his email, he didn't even capitalize his own name! And there were other errors in spelling and grammar. I didn't consider hiring him for one moment." 

The job was for someone with diving skills, not writing skills. So why did the hiring manager so quickly reject the applicant, who had completed his diving certification?

The manager explained:

"I could not have someone like that representing the company."

People who are applying for jobs need to realize that application screeners and hiring managers will judge them by their writing, whether the job involves much writing or not. Not capitalizing one's name is sloppy, clueless behavior. It shows that applicants don't know how to present themselves professionally. Therefore, they won't represent the company professionally.

As a reader of this blog, you already know that writing matters. You wouldn't think of not capitalizing your name or of making obvious errors in a job-application message.

But some people around you don't know. Consider that diver, who was no doubt proud of his new certification and pleased about his job prospects. Do you know people like him? Talk to them. Tell them they MUST communicate professionally if they want a decent job.

Will you spread the word?

Syntax Training  

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

14 comments on “Writing Advice for Job Seekers”

  • I’m surprised someone wouldn’t capitalize their own name on a job application, but I’m not surprised the hiring manager did not consider hiring this guy. It’s like not knowing how to dress or behave politely in an interview. Someone who doesn’t understand these things also may not understand how to show up for work on time every day!

  • A related issue is that of firms marketing their products. Today, I received yet another email invitation from a large high-tech firm; the subject line began, “Your invited!!”
    This message gets the same treatment as the job application you described.
    I have to admit, though, that I’m a bit curious. What is it of mine that got invited to this event? And how come I wasn’t invited?

  • As an employer who has screened more than my fair share of resumes during my career, I always dismiss applicants who submit resumes that are written, spelled or are grammatically sloppy. This is not a generational viewpoint–my concern is that people who present themselves this poorly will do subpar work in all areas once they have the job.

  • I also will summarily dismiss applicants who make errors on their resumes. Of course, I’m hiring for writing jobs. The applicants’ resumes need to shine like diamonds to get my attention. Amazingly, most of the resumes I see for writing jobs need more attention to writing and structure. Applicants also tend to put everything in their resumes that they’ve ever done in their whole lives, instead of just highlighting relevant skills and experiences.

  • Thank you, Val, Randy, Paula, and Diane. We all seem to agree that candidates can kill their job chances by not writing correctly and clearly.

    Val, you expressed surprise that someone would not capitalize his name on an application. I would be surprised too on an application. But in email many people do not capitalize their names. I have plenty of messages in my inbox to prove it.

    Randy, I love your clever comment. What IS it of yours that is getting the invitations?

    Paula, thank you for mentioning subpar work. It certainly was a subpar sample of writing from that applicant.

    Diane, thanks for the reminder about putting everything in resumes. People do not seem to realize that the resume is to get them the interview. It doesn’t need to do the entire task of getting them a job.


  • agree with your views of writing proper resumes and highlighting key areas and proper grammar, but some times resumes do not always judge what the candidate has with him. so what will you suggest in this situation for the candidate and the employer.

  • Hi, Vivek. Could you please share a specific example of what you are looking for? I am not sure I understand your question, but the idea below may help.

    A functional resume works to highlight a candidate’s strengths in non-chronological order. It can help a person focus on experience or knowledge that may not have been acquired in a job.

    However, most employers prefer chronological resumes so they can easily see career progression.


  • That is a cultural thing. I have read articles on the subject. When I was a child, my teachers always made us proof our work or accept low marks on our English papers. The kicker was that my teachers would say that a well-written paper showed your intellect and your character. Work ethic in school was a big deal when I was growing up. So yeah, if I read something with a lot of errors, I tend not to want to read the book or article or letter anymore. Case in point, I had to read a book in college for a history class. The book was riddled with errors. Most of the students complained and the professor dropped the book the next year. A book that I thought was well-written and edited was Memoirs of a Geisha. Memoirs of a Geisha had one error in it as I could see from reading it and I read it in a short period of time because of that fact. The error stood out because I am partly a grammar Nazi, but the editing was almost perfect and the syntax was enjoyable. I would higher Golden again.

  • saying or writing something like “Not capitalizing one’s name is sloppy, clueless behavior.” is just arrogant beyond limits! an employer has of course the right not to employ someone whose views of orthography he doesn’t share but he does certainly not have the right to insult that person. avoiding the capitals is not a question of lazyness or not knowing where to use them but often a decision based on good reasons. i wouldn’t have hired the diver because of his other spelling and grammar errors but i would certainly not hire that arrogant bullheaded manager either!

  • Tom, I was the person who wrote “Not capitalizing one’s name is sloppy, clueless behavior,” so you can call me arrogant. I stand behind that comment.

    Hiring managers are looking for people who will present their company well in writing. They expect applicants to know that proper nouns are capitalized–and to capitalize them.

    I don’t know any good reason not to capitalize one’s name in business. Poets and other artists may choose to render their names differently, but they are an exception. They are unlikely to be applying for jobs in business (rather than in the arts or entertainment field) under their pennames or personal brands. If they do apply for such jobs, they should capitalize their names.


  • Job seekers should make sure that their CV’s are well written and attractive.Spelling errors and grammar is somethings which is not tolerated.

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