by Teri Fritsma
Want to know a sure way to do yourself in on the job hunt? Use poor grammar and writing on your resume and cover letter. I don’t just mean little typos (which you should make every attempt to avoid, but which can and do happen). I’m talking about the errors that expose your bad writing to the world—the kind that knock an otherwise well-qualified candidate entirely out of the running.
1. Use apostrophes correctly. An apostrophe preceding an “s” usually implies the possessive form of a word. Apostrophe abuse is becoming so common there’s a whole website dedicated to poking fun at it. If you’re a chronic mis-user of apostrophes, you should spend some time on that site.
Incorrect: Use apostrophe’s to make a sentences meaning clear.
Correct: Use apostrophes to make a sentence’s meaning clear.
2. Correct use of “its” and “it’s.” While we’re on the subject of apostrophes, let’s get this straight. “Its” is the possessive form of the word. “It’s” is short for “it is.”
Incorrect: Look at the cat! Its licking it’s paw!
Correct: Look at the cat! It’s licking its paw!
3. Use active voice. Many writers overuse passive voice. What’s the difference between active and passive voice? In active-voice sentences, the subject is the one doing the acting. In passive voice, the subject is being acted upon. Writers sometimes use passive voice in an attempt to appear modest or to draw the attention away from themselves, but the result can be confusing and awkward.
Passive Voice: Management of invoices, customer records, and receipts were my responsibility.
Active Voice: I managed invoices, customer records, and receipts.
4. All sentences should inform. Don’t use “throat-clearing” sentences—make sure each sentence in your materials clearly communicates something specific to the reader.
A throat-clearing sentence: “I had several responsibilities in my position at BusinessWorld, Inc.”
A better choice: “My responsibilities at BusinessWorld, Inc. included managing client accounts, tracking donor data, and handling correspondence with outside stakeholders.”
5. Pay attention to your usage of “I” and “me.” In an effort to be correct, people sometimes use “I” when they should say “me.”
Incorrect: That was a terrible thing the Smoke Monster did to Sawyer and I.
Correct: That was a terrible thing the Smoke Monster did to Sawyer and me.
Hint: To decide whether you should use “I” or “me,” remove the other actor(s) in the sentence and it should become clear (e.g., “That was a terrible thing the Smoke Monster did to me.”)
6. Avoid random capitalization. The only time to you need to capitalize is when you’re dealing with proper nouns.
Incorrect: I am familiar with Solar, Biodiesel, and Wind Energy production processes.
Correct: I am familiar with solar, biodiesel, and wind energy production processes.
7. “Irregardless” isn’t a word.
Incorrect: I will go to lunch irregardless of whether Bob and Jim want to go.
Correct: I will go to lunch regardless of whether Bob and Jim want to go.
8. Don’t say “utilize” when you mean “use.” Poor utilize—it’s so over-used. People often use “utilize” to sound smarter or more important, but generally the word “use” is more appropriate and less distracting. Save “utilize” for when you mean you are using something to its fullest potential.
Example of a poorly-used “utilize”: Students should utilize pencils when taking math tests.
Example of a more appropriate “utilize”: Because it was short-staffed, the company needed to utilize its resources carefully.
9. Excessive punctuation isn’t necessary!!! Did it feel like I was shouting at you? That’s because I used three exclamation points when a period would’ve done the trick. If you really must emphasize something, use just one exclamation point.
10. Use real words, not text language. If you’ve grown up texting, remember that most people over 40 use whole words—not text abbreviations—to communicate with each other at work. Never use text abbreviations (e.g., “R U ready?”) in place of real words on a resume or cover letter.
Finally, remember that the best way to avoid mistakes is to have someone else look over your application materials before you send them. A friend, relative, or teacher will have fresh eyes and will be able to catch mistakes you didn’t know you’d made.