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Top Grammar Mistakes to Look For in Your Résumé

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July 3, 2017

All, English Grammar, International Business

With hundreds or thousands of candidates applying for the most popular job postings, competition for American jobs is fierce. On average, employers spend only six seconds looking at each résumé before deciding whether to call a candidate for an interview or move on to the next one. To avoid having your résumé tossed in the trash, watch out for these grammatical pitfalls.

1. No action verbs

 

One of the hardest parts of writing a résumé is crafting engaging descriptions of your work history. Forget phrases like “responsible for” or “hard working professional” and use powerful action verbs instead to grab the hiring manager’s attention. What did you do in your last job? More specifically, how did you successfully contribute to your organization?

 

A generic description like, “Responsible for ten employees” is too passive, vague, and boring. Consider a more detailed, action-oriented description like, “Managed a team of ten employees and increased company revenue by 50% from the previous year.” Now that describes an ideal candidate for a job!

 

The action verbs you use will differ depending on your industry and experience. A few examples of powerful action verbs to include in a résumé are: managed, led, demonstrated, presented, executed, hired, improved, developed, directed, collaborated, conducted, published, wrote, coordinated, achieved, compiled, and communicated.

 

 

 

1. Personal voice

 

Even though your résumé is about you, avoid using the personal pronoun “I” so that the tone of the résumé is objective. Instead of writing first-person descriptions like, “I created a new app for learning how to code,” use bullet points to convey your experience, like below:

 

ABC Company

New York, New York

Jan. 2010 – Feb. 2016

  • Created a new app for learning how to code

 

 

The cover letter will be the opportunity to convey your personality and talk more specifically about your qualifications for the new position. Think of the résumé as a summary of your experience, while the cover letter is the in-depth analysis of why you should be hired.

 

 

3. Run-on sentences / Long descriptions

 

It’s tempting to write about every job you have had or list all previous accomplishments in your work history, but this generally isn’t a good idea. Remember, the employer may only spend six seconds looking at your résumé, so he/she will want to see the most relevant parts of your work experience and nothing else. Besides, if you write everything in your résumé, you will not have anything to talk about in your cover letter or during the interview!

 

Long descriptions are often the result of run-on sentences. A run-on sentence joins two or more independent clauses (complete sentences) without using conjunctions or punctuation correctly. Let’s look at an extreme example:

 

ABC Company

New York, New York

Jan. 2010 – Feb. 2016

  • At ABC Company, I wrote press releases about animal shelters and edited web copy and updated social media and managed a team of seventeen junior IT specialists and fetched coffee for senior staff and mopped the floors after everybody left for the day.

 

That’s a lot of tasks in only one sentence! Break up run-on sentences and long descriptions into discrete chunks, using bullet points to convey the most important tasks from each job. Start each bullet point with one of your action verbs.

 

ABC Company

New York, New York

Jan. 2010 – Feb. 2016

  • Wrote press releases about animal shelters
  • Increased social media traffic by 15%
  • Managed a team of 17 junior IT specialists

 

Keeping it short and snappy will increase the chances of the hiring manager reading your résumé—and then calling you for an interview.

 

 

4. Using the incorrect tense

 

Because a résumé is a snapshot of your job history, it is important to use the correct verb tense to indicate whether each job is ongoing or was performed in the past.

 

When describing duties and accomplishments for a previous job, use the past tense. Verbs for the past tense usually end in -ed: supervised, managed, demonstrated, presented.  For example:

 

ABC Company

New York, New York

Jan. 2010 – Feb. 2016

  • Published articles in the company newsletter
  • Edited video content for the company website
  • Presented research to the board of directors

 

When describing duties and accomplishments for a current job, use the present tense. However, if you won a special award at your current job or had a one-time task that has ended, you may use the past tense too. For example:

 

 

DEF Company

New York, New York

Feb. 2016 – Present

  • Coordinate training sessions for new hires
  • Develop new software products for use in company IT department
  • Received “Employee of the Month” five months in a row

 

Another option is to simplify your résumé by writing all descriptions for previous and current jobs in the past tense. After all, the goal of your résumé is to leave your current position and land a new one!

 

 

 

5. Using apostrophes in plural nouns

 

A common résumé mistake for both native English speakers and English language learners is the incorrect use of the apostrophe. Apostrophes are only used to represent contractions or possessives. A contraction is when two words that would usually be separate are instead put together. For example, “there’s” is a contraction for “there is.” A possessive indicates that somebody owns something else. “Jane’s cat” means “the cat belonging to Jane.” Apostrophes are never used in plural nouns—a widespread error in business and résumé writing.

 

While a singular noun denotes that there is only one object (“computer”), a plural noun means there are many objects (“computers”). Like contractions and possessives, most plural nouns end with the letter “s,” tricking writers into thinking that they must use an apostrophe. An IT specialist might write on his résumé that he “fixed an average of 100 computer’s per week.” However, in this context the word “computer’s” is a plural noun and therefore should not have an apostrophe. The sentence should read, “Fixed an average of 100 computers per week.”

 

Remember: if it’s not a contraction or possessive, it does not need an apostrophe!

 

 

6. Homophones

 

Homophones are two words that sound the same, but are spelled differently. Homophones can be difficult to catch because a spellcheck will not mark them incorrect. Memorizing the most common homophones will help you avoid confusion in your résumé writing. A few of the most common homophones for résumés are:

 

There/Their/They’re

 

“There” indicates a physical location. She used to work there.

“Their” is a possessive, meaning something belongs to someone. This is their company.

“They’re” is a contraction for “they are” and is usually followed by an “-ing” verb.  They’re going to hire a new manager today.

 

It’s/Its

 

“Its” is a possessive. She read about the company mission on its website.

“It’s” is the contraction for “it is.” It’s a great company.

 

To/Too/Two

 

“To” indicates movement to a new location. I am going to the interview.

“Too” is another word for “also.”  I am going there, too.

“Two” is the written form of the number 2. So, the two of us can go together!

 

 

 

7. Abbreviations and Addresses

 

When writing about your past job experience, you should include the location of each job. In the U.S., this becomes more difficult because there are multiple ways to write U.S. addresses. Can you spot the difference in the job headings below?

 

ABC Company

New York, NY

 

DEF Company

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 

The first example lists a city (New York) and a state with the state abbreviation (NY). The second example lists a city (Philadelphia) and the full name of a state (Pennsylvania). Either of these formats is acceptable, but your résumé should not include both. Stay consistent! If you choose to write the state abbreviation, check a resource like the IRS website to ensure you are writing the correct one.

 

 

 

 

8. Inconsistent Format for Dates

 

Like writing about job location, writing about dates of employment should have a consistent format. For example, you should not write that you worked at ABC Company from 12/13/2011 – 6/7/2013, at DEF Company from August 2013 – October 2014, and at GHI Company from Dec. 2014 – Nov. 2016.  Instead, choose one date format and use the same one for each position held. If you are an entry-level professional, you may wish to include the month and year of your employment for each position. If you have been in the workforce for more than 10 years or have stayed at the same company for several years, you may include only the years of employment.

 

 

9. Numbers

 

The strongest résumés show quantifiable results, so numbers should be included where appropriate. In general, when writing numbers, write out the words for numbers less than ten and digits for numbers greater than ten. For example:

 

ABC Company

New York, New York

Feb. 2013 – Aug. 2016

  • Developed 17 new websites for clients in the legal industry
  • Published 25 blog posts over a four-month period

 

However, if you want to draw attention to a specific detail that includes a number less than ten (“7 years of project management experience”), you can use the digit rather than writing out the words.

 

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10. Careless typos

 

So you’ve used your action verbs, chose a consistent format for dates and addresses, and followed all the rules for grammar and usage. But that doesn’t mean everything is perfect! Read through your résumé—slowly and out loud—to find any embarrassing typos that spellcheck may have missed.

 

Look at the following description, which spellcheck would not catch:

 

“Managed new hire training programs ass a staff supervisor.”

 

What’s wrong with the sentence? There is an extra “s” in one of the words (can you guess which one?)! This is an embarrassing error that could land your résumé in the trash. All that hard work gone to waste!

 

 

 

Final Tips

 

Before hitting the “send” button on your application, consider asking a friend to read over your résumé or hire a proofreading service like Writesaver to ensure your résumé is polished, correct, and ready to impress the hiring manager. Good luck and happy job hunting!

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