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Making words work for you when you’re applying for a job

18 September 2020

As professional communicators, we have some secret weapons when it comes to the job hunt – audience insight and an expert understanding of the power of words. One way to give your job application a competitive edge is to perfect the language you use. That doesn’t just mean faultless grammar or error-free answers. It’s about using words that amplify your skills and show you’re the perfect fit for the role. Here are seven tips on how to do it.

  1. Decide why you want the job. Write down everything that interests and excites you about it. Then take each element of the person specification and find evidence to show you can do this. Remember, you can use examples from voluntary roles and outside interests as well as work. Use these notes when you’re writing your application and show the recruiter why you’re exactly what they’re looking for.
  2. Read all about it. Don’t stop at the job description. Explore the organisation’s website, style guide, press packs and impact reports. You’ll need to fully understand who they are and what they do – and be able to reflect that back in your application.
  3. Pay attention to tone. A youth charity will speak very differently to a medical research charity. So, get to grips with your potential employer’s tone of voice. Take a look at their website, social channels and other external communications. Are they fairly formal or do they write as you’d speak to a friend? Gently mirror that tone in your application. Writing in a similar way will show you’ve understood their brand, and help you stand out as a good fit for the organisation.
  4. Focus on keywords and phrases from their tone of voice. Pay attention to the way they describe the work they do. How do they talk about the people they support? For example, do they say “people affected by cancer”, rather than “sufferers”? Do they talk about people who are “poor” or “in financial hardship”? Do they work with “partners” rather than “beneficiaries”? You don’t need to shoehorn these phrases into your application. But when it’s appropriate to use them, make sure you’ve got them right. For example, “Through volunteering at my local hospice, I’ve deepened my understanding of communicating with people affected by cancer .”
  5. Remember the rules of good comms. Write for the skim reader. Wherever possible, break up any large chunks of text with new paragraphs and subheadings. Be consistent, clear and use concise sentences. Don’t try to impress with flowery language or long complex words. Avoid clichés, like “strong work ethic” and “self-motivated”. They’ll make you sound like everyone else, when what you need to do is stand out.
  6. Use words that reflect your skills and show you make an impact. For example, try “improved” or “transformed” to demonstrate you’ve changed something. Replace abstract words, like “implementation” with active verbs in plain English, like “achieved”, “designed”, or “set up”. As well as describing what you did, show the difference it made. For example, instead of talking about your “implementation of status consultations …”, try “I set up weekly update meetings with the fundraising team. This led to more joint projects, integrated communications and stronger results.”
  7. Edit. Edit. Edit. When you’re sure you’ve finished your application, read it again, out loud. Then ask at least one other person to read it for you. A fresh pair of eyes should spot anything you’ve missed.

We know the job market is competitive right now. But please don’t be put off. You’ve got the skills you need to stand out, and it’s the perfect time to use them.

Start your search today on the CharityComms job pages.

This is part of our career series, helping you to level up and make the most of your potential.

Image: Anthony Shkraba on Pexels


Sarah Myers

copywriter and editor, freelance

Sarah Myers is a copywriter, editorial consultant and creative manager, with more than 20 years’ experience in the not-for-profit sector. She has worked in-house for Mencap and Macmillan Cancer Support, and at a charity copywriting agency. Now freelance, her clients include an extensive range of charities, professional bodies and specialist agencies. Her guide to Storytelling for Impact was published by the Directory of Social Change in 2022.