In business and academia alike, strong writing skills are often overshadowed by technical expertise. STEM funding in schools dwarfs the resources allocated to humanities, while hiring managers often find it easier to evaluate candidates based on hard skills, like whether a candidate is proficient in Excel or Adobe Photoshop, rather than a candidate’s writing abilities. The importance of writing skills is often underestimated by hiring managers, as many assume that these skills are only useful for writing and editing jobs. In reality, a strong command of language can be beneficial for a variety of reasons, including:
1. It communicates courtesy.
A clear, well-written letter or email takes time. If your communication with clients is riddled with spelling errors and confusing diction, it communicates a lack of respect for your customer. Putting in the time to proofread messages before sending them conveys that your client is worth your time and effort.
2. It communicates competency.
Strong writing skills immediately help establish credibility when communicating with a client. If you’ve ever read an email riddled with spelling errors, odds are you did a double take and became suspicious that it might be a scam. Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, is so concerned with his new hires’ grammar that he makes them all take a grammar test before he offers them a position.
3. It helps you communicate, period.
Writing skills are useful not just for conveying manners and trustworthiness, but for any sort of communication one might face at work. A strong command of language can play a hand in everything from resolving work disputes to sending coherent emails to fellow employees. It can help employees to effectively report on company achievements or updates and help researchers communicate their findings. Even scientists must have the writing skills to craft reports to share their discoveries with the world.
Companies currently spend more than $3 billion annually on training to help employees improve their writing skills. Fortunately, there are ways to identify and hire excellent writers right off the bat:
1. Analyze the cover letter.
Close-reading a candidate’s cover letter is a great way to gauge their writing abilities before they even step foot in the office. Check to see if the cover letter is a full page or a few sentences, and seek out spelling and grammar errors. Also ensure that the letter follows the instructions in your job posting, contains relevant information to the job they are applying to, and doesn’t seem copied directly from a resume website.
2. Ask candidates for writing samples.
Though writing samples may only seem necessary for positions like communications or journalism, they can actually be useful for plenty of other positions. Even technical employees have to send emails and draft reports. You can collect writing samples by asking applicants to write to a prompt (for instance, “How will you be successful in X role?”), or by simply asking them to provide written work from previous jobs or education.
3. Request a portfolio.
A portfolio of written work from past employers is a great way of gauging the quality of work a candidate will produce for your company if they are hired. Ask for research reports, presentations, articles, blog posts, or other documents that could highlight their writing abilities.
4. Ask candidates questions about their writing.
Yet another way to get an idea of a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses as a writer is to ask them directly if they think they are a good writer. Is grammar something they struggle with? Is spelling their strong suit? Is their writing generally lacking in detail, or do they swing more towards redundancy?
5. Talk to references.
Once you’ve asked a candidate about their writing skills, talking to their old employers can be a great way to corroborate their claims. Past bosses can let you know if they have any concerns with a candidate’s writing that they may have not mentioned themselves.
Despite their relevance in business, writing skills are chronically undervalued by employers. Since face-to-face communication is not always possible, an individual’s (and sometimes the entire company’s) impression is often made through an email, report, or press release. In order to put your company’s best foot forward, don’t let your employees’ writing skills fall behind.