English Corner – The Basics of Business

“However, as you get older and you advance in your career or your business pursuits, you may find it to your advantage to know the basics of business English. In addition to the vocabulary and the grammar, you need to be aware of the major steps before you can advance in your position.”

It is likely that you will want to improve your English for purely professional reasons at some point. If that’s not you, then this blog post will not apply to you. However, as you get older and you advance in your career or your business pursuits, you may find it to your advantage to know the basics of business English. In addition to the vocabulary and the grammar, you need to be aware of the major steps before you can advance in your position. I cover a number of these topics in both Business English private lessons and also in an online course specifically for this subject.

For this article, I am going to focus only on the basics of business English and how to get your foot in the door to give yourself a chance to either get hired, get promoted or at least feel more comfortable using your English skills in a professional setting. I am not going to make a huge list of items for you to accomplish but rather give five pieces of general advice for you to get started in this niche part of the language. If you can get these five tidbits down in terms of remembering and utilizing them, you should have no problem getting to the intermediate or advanced topics within the business English curriculum, which is covered in both private lessons and an online course.

Let’s start with the most obvious point and then become more and more obscure from point #1 to #5. Some of these points of advice will seem obvious to you and I hope that others will make you think of your own approach and how it could be improved. I believe you will find these five pieces of advice useful to get you started with Business English and to keep you learning these kinds of topics into the future.

  1. Network, Network, and Network Some More: Networking and connecting with others is the key place to start when it comes to getting started with developing your business English skills. Networking is the foundation for doing the most amount of business and it can take various forms. When you’re emailing, you’re networking. When you’re at an event meeting people and practicing your English, you’re networking. When you’re calling potential partners or future customers over the phone, that too is a form of networking.

The biggest skill you’ll need to develop and hone for the English-speaking business world will be to become a good networker in a non-native language. There is no better test for your speaking, writing, listening, and reading skills then to put yourself out there and network with others who are also English speakers, native or otherwise. Networking also takes a serious amount of effort so make sure you put in the time to practice whether it is for writing e-mails, developing your business cards, or remembering to show up for events.

2. Remember the Small Details: In business, you not only have to remember the big details whether its’ for a project, a trip, or a presentation but it’s even more important to be aware of the small details. Mastering the small, insignificant details can make the difference between a successful business deal or an absolute disaster. What are the small details? Well, they could be a number of things. I like to think of them as peoples’ names, technical details, the times and dates of meetings, and staying on top of your tasks each and every day.

Preventing yourself from slacking off or getting complacent falls under this category of remembering the small details. You may think that names, dates, or the technical details are not important but if you forget or you neglect them, something is likely to blow up in your face. You may also hurt someone’s feelings or cause someone else to feel overwhelmed when you make little mistakes. In business, even small issues can become big issues, so it is better to strive to be a perfectionist than to let the small things slide. It does not mean obsessing over every little thing, but it means treating every part of a task the same and not slack off when something does not interest you because it could mean you making more careless errors. The little details can also make you stand out in a good way when you remember them and earn you greater respect and comradery at your work when you don’t make those careless errors too.

3. Put in The Extra Time: Similar to the Art of Networking extensively when you are starting out in business, putting in overtime to network or to get some extra work done or to put more effort on a project can develop your business acumen a lot quicker. Being a reliable and hard worker on a team can make up for your lack of knowledge in certain areas of the target language like English. However, you should be willing to put in extra time to study and work on the English skills needed to develop your proficiency in business, regardless of what type of business vocabulary and grammar you need.

You will need more than just the normal eight or nine hours doing your job but to develop your English level for business, you’ll need to be studying and practicing an hour per night to get really good at the English needed for your career.For this practice, you will need to mix it up with speaking practice, writing for potential work projects, and listening to other native speakers and seeing if you understand what they are telling you. Extra time not just for your job but also for your business English needs will set you apart if you are willing to put the effort in on a consistent basis over weeks or months in order to move ahead in your career.

4. Mastering Pleasantries: No business can be done without the correct way of speaking to both colleagues, potential partners and your superiors. You have to know how to talk to and interact with each type of person in your office or in your company. This involves studying pleasantries and the different vocabulary words that these conversations involve. There are different formalities and informalities involved when you’re talking with others professional depending on who they are. How you talk to your boss is different to how you talk to your intern who is in college.

Being proficient in business English means being able to have both productive and appropriate conversations with people from the higher ups to the new folks who just arrived. Greetings and goodbyes as well as making small talk are all important aspects of successfully doing business. Any good businessperson also is well versed in cross-cultural communication especially through the medium of a global language like English. Most of business is done over lunch, dinner, or an adult beverage.In order to have productive conversations, it starts with knowing how to address people in your own company and in other companies. It all starts with mastering pleasantries and then you can keep practicing mastering the entire conversation later on.

5. Know Who You Are (Background and Experience): Before you can begin to write about yourself let alone develop your professional resume (CV) and cover letter, you have to be able to know who you are. Knowing who are you means knowing how to write about yourself without bragging too much or boasting of things you did not do. You have to be aware of both your strengths and your weaknesses. You also should know what your skills are and what you still need to learn about. This trait of business involves having self-awareness and giving a fairly accurate perception of who you are professionally to other people.

Before you develop a resume, a cover letter, or even a short writing sample, it’s important that you firstly recounter your professional background up to this point where you start writing out everything in English. You’ll need to be aware of how to tie all of your professional experiences together, come up with a longer ‘pitch’ of what you bring to the table and how a company or business would benefit from you being there. Lastly, it’s key to brainstorm about your experiences, your career goals, and what your professional profile would be before you start putting pen to paper. This fifth basic trait may be the hardest to pull off but if you are to become comfortable using English for business purposes, you need to know who you are as a professional and about what you offer before you start jotting it all down.

These five basics of business for English may seem untraditional but you have to know how to walk before you can run, or you have to know how to network before you can sign the big deal for your firm. Your English skills for business have to master pleasantries, networking, and brainstorming before you can master presentations, deal making, or writing a formal cover letter. Taking these five basics seriously and getting them down first will not only make you a better English learner but you’ll also generally become a better businessman or businesswoman for having taken these bits of advice into consideration and acting on them to improve professional.

Once you have the basics down, let me know if you would be interested in a private Business English lesson or in enrolling in a Business English course to take your language skills in this area to a higher level. The sooner that you get started, the quicker you can advance in your career pursuits!

English Corner – Creating a Cover Letter

What is a cover letter? Why is it important for an English learner to know about it and also how to create a good one? Well, a good cover letter can make the difference between landing that dream job or hitting refresh on the search results again to find the next job opportunity. Your experience and your professional background need to be succinct and summed up in a well-written way and the cover letter is your best way of doing that. It is an excellent way in which for you to improve your English writing skills and to prove that you can handle your future job’s writing components which there is likely to be many of them since you are a worker during an age of e-mails, 24 hour communications, and instant messaging services.

A cover letter is an opportunity for you to go into more detail about yourself and your experience(s) and background, both professionally and personally. However, your cover letter should focus on the job you are applying for as well as why you are interested in the particular company that you intend to work for. Your cover letter should be a balance of who you are as a professional, what you can offer for the job you’re applying to, and what your interest in the company is. It’s a balancing act between these two objectives and you should remember to personalize your cover letter depending on where you are applying to.

You may be asking yourself as you read this blog post: Why do I need a cover letter and what benefit(s) do I get from creating a worthwhile one? Well, there are a number of reasons for it which I will list below but be sure to note that it’s more than just a chance to land a good job but it’s a chance for yourself to become a better writer and know how to sell your abilities and skills.

Your cover letter is different from the resume in that it allows you to go more in-depth about yourself and why you’re a good fit for the job. Instead of short bullet points, you can highlight your experiences in broader detail. Employers will also expect why you would like to work for their company and how your skills line up with their requirements. It’s a chance to tell your story to them while interweaving how their company or organization aligns with your professional goals. In addition, you have the ability to showcase how good of a writer you are because the cover letter is more grammatically, and vocabulary focused than your resume.

Action words will make up a large component of your cover letter’s sentences so please be sure to put these verbs to good use. Here below are just a sampling of them listed below but remember that there are hundreds that can be used within the context of a regular cover letter. Try not to repeat yourself too much and to keep your usage of action words fresh and consistent throughout the letter.

Sample Action Words

  • Activate
  • Compose
  • Communicate
  • Develop
  • Direct
  • Manage
  • Organize
  • Review
  • Systemize
  • Test
  • Verify
  • Value

Note: Remember to add –d or –ed to the end of the action verb if using it for the past tense.

In addition, you have to be able to choose and use some phrases and sentences that will come in handy either at the beginning or end of the cover letter so that you will come off as being both professional and serious. You do not have to use all of them but there are a number of them that are cordial in nature that a potential employer will expect from you to see when they read it during their evaluation.

Here are some key useful phrases/sentences that you can use for your average cover letter:

  • Dear Sir or Madam…
  • I am applying for this ________________ opening with _______________ for the purpose of __________________________________.
  • This job appeals to me because ________________________.
  • Your company / organization / firm is my top choice because ____________________________________.
  • I believe that I offer a lot to this position based on my skills and qualifications.
  • For example, last year, I was tasked with ____________________________________ and I was able to help by ______________________________________.
  • Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or comments about my application.
  • Thank you for your consideration of my application for this _________________ position with ________________ and I look forward to hearing from someone soon.
  • Sincerely, __________________ (Your Name).

To give you reading at home a better idea of what the content and the structure of a cover letter looks like, I have included two sample cover letter excerpts that will show you how it can be written and what to write about potentially if you are still struggling for ideas as to how the cover letter should be shaping up.

Sample Cover Letter Excerpts

  • “I have over five years of management experience and led my team of software developers to develop a successful mobile application. This mobile application was instrumental in connecting doctors with patients in an online booking system that took out the middle man from participating in this previously onerous process.”
  • “I believe your company, Syntax Inc., has been successful in implementing various infrastructure projects related to bridges and tunnels throughout the Middle East. These kind of projects are related to what I hope to do with my career and I think that this work is very important to the future.”

Remember that you should know who your audience is and tailor your phrases to reflect who you are writing the cover letter for. Always use formal language such as sir, madam, sincerely, respectfully, please, thank you, etc. Go into detail about the job you are applying for and give different reasons on what you bring to the table for the position opening. Structure the cover letter into multiple paragraphs with an introduction, body paragraph(s), and a conclusion. The cover letter is a formal piece of writing so it should be structured as a formal letter whereas a resume is less substantive and more general.

In the introduction of the cover letter, remember to always put your full name, your current mailing address, your cell phone number, and your e-mail address at the header of the cover letter. The date at which you are sending out the cover letter should go next in the left hand part of the cover letter below your header. Then, you should begin the cover letter with “Dear Sir or Madam..” or “To Whom It May Concern”, or “Dear Mr. or Mrs. ________” if you know who specifically the cover letter should be addressed to. The introduction should be a paragraph or two focusing on what position you are applying to, the company associated with the position, and for which reasons you are applying for this specific position. You can also add the person or place that referred you to this job application especially if the person works for the company you’re applying to.

The body paragraph(s) of the cover letter should be a few paragraphs in total length but not be too lengthy or repetitive. Each paragraph should cover a different part of your professional or educational background and highlight what these experiences meant to you and what skills you developed. You should give a few examples of where you showed leadership, where you completed a successful project, and what you took from the experience. Do remember to not discuss every professional experience or educational program you’ve gone to but instead highlight the relevant ones related to the job application in question. Always use complete sentences for this part of the cover letter and check it over for grammatical coherence and correct vocabulary usage.

When it comes to a cover letter’s conclusion, you’ll want to re-state again why you are applying to this particular position and company. Discuss which characteristics, skills, and personal traits you have that will make you stand out as a job candidate. The conclusion of your cover letter should indicate gratitude and thankfulness for being able to apply and that you hope to hear back soon from the employer. Sign off with a salutation such as Sincerely, Best regards, Warm regards, Best wishes, Cordially, etc. and re-state your full name at the end of the cover letter. Don’t be too presumptuous that you will land the position but let your experiences, skills, and qualifications speak for themselves.

Your cover letter is what you make of it really and if you want the job bad enough, it will come through in your writing and in your sincerity. The point of becoming a better English learner is to put yourself to the test and to make the most of your abilities in this language and developing a good cover letter is a great way to do that. If you follow this advice, practice until there are few if no mistakes at all, and revise multiple times what you have written, you will be well on your way to having better success in your professional career in the English-speaking world.