If you’re a literate English major and you want to position yourself as a viable candidate for a job in business, you must know what you have to offer. How would being a good writer be helpful? I mean, of the surface it seems like a good idea everyone should just “get.” But as I’m sure you’ve been counseled before as a writer of essays, you need to “be specific.”
Trouble is, if you haven’t worked in business and you haven’t spent a lot of time reading business writing, it’s hard to tell a prospective employer just how you’re going to improve it. And unless your academic institution teaches business writing as part of its curriculum (hmm, now there’s an idea!), you may have had little exposure to what is often weak, poorly organized, usually drab and lifeless business writing. Specifically, I’m talking about proposals, marketing blurbs, how-to manuals, project deliverables—like test plans, status reports or design documents—, correspondence, performance evaluations, job descriptions and much more.
So let me help you with that. Here are a few points you could make in a business interview to help a prospective employer see what value you’d add.
1. A business writing custom is to sprinkle clichés liberally throughout the text. They’re always “peeling the onion” or selling “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” They write about avoiding “train wrecks” and taking another look at “the big picture.” Most of these writers don’t realize that tired, predictable language is a good way to dilute a message. Can you write better than this?
2. A common pitfall of business writing is that it’s hasty and unedited. A writer bangs out a few paragraphs and calls it done, hits “send,” and the poor reader has to work his or her way through, wading past errors, re-reading sentences where word choice is poor or peculiar. Can you edit better than this?
3. Business writers often face the task of organizing long documents, like proposals or strategy documents, and they rarely know where to begin, how to call out key points and arrange supporting details in order of significance. This is basic expository construction, of course, but lack of practice on the part of business writers leaves them trying to string abstractions and details together in a somewhat dizzying array. Can you put together an expository composition better than that?
Last but most certainly not least, your prospective employer may never have considered that there’s a hard dollar return on investment of better business writing. After all, what do businesses live for these days? Profit! (Sadly, that often seem to be all they live for, but that’s a story for another day.) Profit depends on expense reduction, saving time, saving money whenever possible.
So remind your prospective employer that poorly written documents take longer to read, cause more confusion, require damage control, follow-up conversations, even meeting and classes to clarify what the writer intended. Corporate communication that people look forward to reading, can speed through and comprehend easily saves the company money.
That’s what an English major can do for the bottom line.