Grammar Tips for Cover Letters and Resumes

Yesterday we talked about the importance of having a resume and cover letter that are free of typos and grammatical errors.  You know what to look for with typos – did you write teh instead of the, or you forgot to pluralize a word or misspelled someone’s name.  Typos happen, and are forgivable- sometimes.  What aren’t forgivable are grammatical errors. 
 
Grammar and the way that we use language say a lot about us, and whether we like it or not, we are judged by it.  Everything that we do – whether it’s personal or professional – involves communication with others. It would be foolish to tell yourself that grammar and proper mechanics don’t matter, or that your other skills are more important.  The reality is that you may not get a chance to show those other skills if you aren’t taken seriously right from the start. Attractive candidates – the ones who get job offers – are the ones who are able to effectively and clearly communicate their skills and value to an organization, and they prove that they have the ability to become a functioning member of a team.
 
 
What should you look for?  Here are a few tips.  These are errors that I see far too frequently on applications.
 
 
Homophones
 
Going back to 5th grade English class, you’ll remember that homophones are works that sound the same but have different meanings and different spellings.  For example: to, two and too, or they’re, their and there.
 
 
Why does this matter? The reason that these are so important is that it’s more than just a simple typo.  If you use these words interchangeably, you’re simply using the wrong word. It’s as if you are talking about a cat when you mean to say dog. 
 
 
Need a refresher?
 
 
Two, Too, To
  •   Two: A number. ("I want two slices of pie.")
  •   Too: Also. ("I’d like some too.")
  •   To: A preposition or infinitive. ("I'm going to Paris.")
 
They’re, Their and There
  •   Their: The possessive form of "they." ("I received their cover letter.")
  •   They're: The contraction of "they are." ("I wonder what they’re thinking.")
  •   There: A location. ("I want to go there.")
 
Your, You're
  •   Your: The possessive form of "you."  ("Can I have your phone number?”) 
  •   You're: The contraction of "you are." ("I think you’re right.")
 
It's, Its
  •    It’s: The contraction of “it is” or “it has.” (“It’s good to be here.”)
  •   Its: Indicates possession. (“Every dog has its day.”)
 
Apostrophes
 
An apostrophe has two main uses: to form possessive nouns (the baby’s toy), and in forming a contraction (I am = I’m, or She will = she’ll). There are several other reasons to use apostrophes, but these are the most common.
 
One thing that an apostrophe is not used for, ever, is to indicate the plural of a noun.  The plural of cat is cats, not cat’s.
 
Tense Matters
 
When writing your bulleted lists of accomplishments, use consistent verb tenses.  For example, if you start your list with “developing online content,” don’t have other points begin with “managed summer interns.”  Instead, it should be “managing summer interns.”
 
Similarly, accomplishments and job duties in previous jobs should be written in the past tense, and job duties that you perform now should be written in the present tense.
 
Tricky Words
 
There are several words that are notorious for confusing people.  I won’t get into a definition of each of them, but wanted to share a list of the most commonly confused words that I have seen on job applications.
 
  • Accept vs Except
  • Advise vs Advice
  • Affect vs Effect
  • Compliment vs Complement
  • Council vs Counsel
  • Well vs Good
  • Fewer vs Less
 
Looking for more resources?  Here are my top three reference books to ensure that your grammar is in tip top shape.

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