What are some of the most common mistakes found in cover letters and resumes? Grammar and spelling errors. We have come to an age where we rely on computers to fix our mistakes and typos, but spellcheck is not often “smart” enough to pick up on some of the most common errors. Proper use of homophones, apostrophes, tense, and yes, even spelling are typically not marked by your favorite spelling and grammar checking software. Here are some tricky grammar rules to look out for:
Homophones are words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have very different meanings. Below are some of the most commonly confused homophones:
There vs. Their vs. They’re: “There” (adverb) is a form of “to be,” referring to the existence or location of something, while “their” (possessive adjective) indicates possession or belonging to a person, place, or thing. “They’re” is simply a contraction meaning “they are.” A great memory trick to remember “there” vs. “their” is to remove the “t” from “there” so that you end up with “here.” Here and there reference places or location.
Compliment vs. Complement: A compliment is a flattering expression of praise, as in someone told you they liked your hair style; this person is giving you a compliment. A complement is an enhancement. If something goes well with something else, they complement one another. An easy way to remember the difference is with the sentence, “I love to give compliments.” Stressing the “I” in the sentence, you can remember that this form of compliment is spelled with an “i,” not an “e.”
Affect vs. Effect: These homophones may just be the trickiest. The easiest way to remember this is that “affect” is typically used as a verb, while “effect” is typically used as a noun. To affect something is to influence it and effect refers to the result of something.
To vs. Too vs. Two: “To” is most often used as part of infinitive verb phrases (to be, to run) and as a preposition (go towards or in the direction of something). “Too” (adverb) can mean in addition or can refer to a degree or excess. “Two” simply refers to the number. Numbers one through ten should be written out while larger numbers can be expressed numerically.
Then vs. Than: “Then” is an adverb used after something has happened or to refer to the next action. “Than,” a conjunction or preposition, is used in comparing one thing to another.
Apostrophes and Contractions
Proper placement of apostrophes are commonly confused. Apostrophes are meant to be used to indicate either possession or to form a contraction. How they are used, changes the meaning of the word. When trying to say, “it is” or “it has,” use the apostrophe; when trying to express possession, omit the apostrophe. Also remember that you should never abbreviate years on your resume with an apostrophe. Example, use 1999 instead of ’99. If contractions give you trouble, the safest alternative is to simply spell everything completely out.
Tense is important in all writing as it lends to the clarity of the piece. Tenses, past, present, and future establish time and mixing them can lead to great confusion for the reader. Be careful of this in your cover letter. Present tense refers to things happening now, past tense refers to things that have already happened, and future tense refers to things that will happen. All job descriptions, on your resume, of former positions should be written in past tense while current jobs should be written in the present tense.
Some misspellings and typos occur that spell checking software will not pick up on. Below is an example:
- I have thee years of experience in customer service.
Did you catch the error? The sentence should read:
- I have three years of experience in customer service.
Some other common mistakes include, from and form, personal and personnel, and loose and lose. Also, the word “a lot” is always two separate words no matter the context; “alot” is not a word!
Make sure to double check these.
I.e. vs E.g.
These abbreviations are often misused as most people are under the assumption that they can be used interchangeably. They both stand for different Latin phrases. I.e. stands for “id est” which translates, roughly, to “that is” or “in other words.” E.g., on the other hand, stands for “exempli gratia,” translating to “for example.” Both abbreviations are used to introduce parenthetical statements, but have very different meanings. I.e. is used to clarify while e.g. is used simply to list examples. It is also important to note that each abbreviation should be followed by a comma when used. Here are a couple of examples:
- Performed basic administrative tasks (i.e., answering phones, mail distribution, and filing) while managing the office.
- Proficient in office suite (e.g., Word, Excel, PowerPoint).
Consistency is always important, from spacing at the end of each sentence to the use or omission of the oxford comma. Make a decision before you even begin writing to use single or double spacing between each sentence. Also decide if you plan to use the oxford comma or not. This comma is optional and is placed at the end of a series in a sentence before the “and” (e.g., Relevant courses include, Professional Writing, Literature, and Business Writing).
Parallelism or parallel construction of sentences is also important when considering consistency. Using this structure makes sentences easier to process and understand. Here is an example:
- My most positive attributes include writing, speaking, and communicating well with others.
Using “-ing” at the end of each verb makes the sentence flow better and is more easily understandable.
As a writer, it pains me to have to write this next sentence, but it is, regrettably, necessary. Do not, under any circumstances, use “text speak” in your professional writing. It is completely unprofessional and I guarantee there is not a single employer out there that would even consider interviewing, let alone hiring, someone who used texting language in their cover letter or resume. Trust me, just don’t do it!
It pays to have your work proofread by another set of eyes and that is probably one of the best ways to prevent errors. However, if you are unable to find someone to proof your work, try some of these tips and tricks:
Try printing out the document and rereading it or increasing the zoom view on your monitor to 125-150 percent. The larger text will allow you to spot errors more readily. It is like looking at your work with another set of eyes.
Change the font type to a mono-spaced font like Courier. This change breaks the brain’s typical pattern of recognition, again allowing for errors to be spotted more easily. Here is an example:
- You can see form my extensive experience, that I would be the perfect addition to your company.
- You can see form my extensive experience that I would be the perfect addition to your company.
Were you able to spot the error more easily in the second sentence? It should read, “You can see from my extensive experience, that I would be the perfect addition to your company.”
There are actually professional services available in most cities that will not only proof your resume, but will actually help to write it in the first place. They will be sure to find and help fix any and all of the pesky spelling and grammatical errors mentioned previously.
You might be thinking, that if a potential employer is anal enough to toss your resume because of a few, minor errors, you don’t want to work for them anyway. What you may not be thinking about is how these minor errors make you come across. Employers are going to immediately assume that you don’t pay attention to details; after all, if you cannot submit a coherent resume that you have had time enough to tailor make for the offered position, how are you going to fair on everyday tasks within the business?
You also have to remember that employers search through piles of resumes, often times finding the same minor errors over and over again—suddenly they don’t appear to be so minor. Simply by remembering to follow these simple rules, you can move your resume to the top of the stack.