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Seven resume grammar mistakes that make you look dumb

Lola Brown|

Lots of us struggle with grammar, and there are several very common mistakes that most people get wrong from time to time. While you may not think making the occasional grammar slip up is that big a deal, it can serve as a warning sign to employers that your work could be sloppy, or you don’t have the capacity to represent their company in the best light.

One of the most common reasons hiring managers give for passing over a resume is that it contains typos and spelling and grammar mistakes.

Unfortunately, even if you’ve got an amazing resume that shows off your skills, talents, and great attitude, those mistakes could be ensuring that your resume heads straight to the nearest trash can. Here are seven of the most common errors people make, so you can double check that there are none lurking in your resume or cover letter before you apply for your next dream job:

1) Using there/ they’re/ their incorrectly

Although those three words all sound exactly the same, they have different meanings, and using them in the wrong context is something that grammar sticklers always notice. How do you use them the right way? “There” is used to indicate the placement of something, i.e. “While there I increased revenue by 500%.”

“They’re,” meanwhile, is a shortened version of they are, so you’d say, “I provide clients with the excellent service they’re looking for.”

“Their” is used to explain that something belongs to someone, as in “I was their biggest asset.”

2) Adding apostrophes when you don’t need them

When you place an apostrophe in a word it is to show that something belongs to something or someone. For example, “Whilst in the director’s position I moved the company from third to first in market share.”

Lots of people get this grammar rule wrong and slip an apostrophe in to a plural word, as in they’d put “There are lots of employer’s that I’ve reached out to.” Just don’t do it, as it really shows a lack of knowledge as to how the English language works.

3) Using its/ it’s incorrectly

Although this seems stupid considering how the above rule works, you don’t use an apostrophe to show the possessive of “it.” Example, “I spearheaded an initiative, the first if its kind…” is the right way to use that in a sentence, but if you are shortening “it is” into “it’s,” you use the apostrophe, as in “It’s my dream job.” Easy to miss this one, so be sure to double-check anything you’re sending out to employers.

4) Not knowing the difference between your and you’re

When you use “your,” you are referring to something belonging to a person, for example: “I will move your organization up to the next level.”

Whereas “you’re” is an abbreviated version of “you are,” so you’d use it like this: “I am the employee you’re looking for.” Simple, eh?

5) Using then when you mean than, and vice versa

These words look pretty similar but have completely different meanings, so you’ll come across as a complete doofus when you choose the wrong one. “Then” refers to something that is happening next, or at a moment in time, such as, “I worked at Widgets and things for ten years, then became office manager there.”

“Than” is used when comparing things, such as “I produced more revenue than all the other sales reps combined.”

6) Mixing up too, to, and two

Again, these three words sound the same, but mean different things entirely. “Two” is a number. “Too” is used in place of “very,” “also,” or “as well as,” so you’d say, “Completed the project six months early and came in under budget too,” (though, really, you would really probably use “also” to sound more professional) or “The only negative thing I’ve ever been told is that I am too amazing.”

Plain old “to” is a preposition, and most commonly used, as in, “With me on your team you will be in a position to crush the competition.”

7) Using accept when you mean except

Though similar sounding, these words have different spellings and different meanings, so completely change what you are saying when you slip the wrong one into a sentence. You “accept” awards, positive feedback, and gifts, but “except” is another way of saying “other than,” so it really doesn’t fit in to the place of “accept” without looking very awkward indeed.

“Accepting the Pulitzer Prize for long-form journalism was my proudest achievement, except perhaps for being awarded the Nobel Prize in economics. It’s hard to choose.”

Now go clean up you’re resume… Sorry… I mean your resume.

See also: How your grammar skills affect your salary

Category: Resumes, Resumes and Cover Letters
  • thenomad

    What bugs me more is when I see job postings with these mistakes in them. I can’t tell you how many poorly worded posts I’ve seen, and I wonder if I can create a job for myself by offering proofreading services to HR managers across the country.

    • rjhudson

      I have tried doing that to no avail!

    • Jennifer

      Amen thenomad! I have seen job descriptions that don’t even include punctuation, just a long run-on sentence that is about 10 lines long! Hiring “professionals” can be just as bad. It actually saddens me that an article about the proper use of “their,” “there” and “they’re” even needs to exist.

      Get it together people!!! PLEASE.

  • Linda Bensley Helme

    In number 6, you put two of “to” rather THAN the third “to” or “too” as “two”!!!!

    I used to mix up when to separate the word “anymore”. This solved it:
    I don’t buy books anymore because I don’t need any more books!

    • Ruth Elizabeth Bromstein

      Hahaha. My bad, I edited it. Don’t blame Lola. I knew there HAD to be an error in there somewhere just for irony’s sake. Thanks for pointing it out! I fixed it.

  • arb

    I have an issue when ppl use of instead of have. Example as in ‘I should have’ it is not ‘I should of”

  • RMycroft

    Don’t you mean résumé? (Some dictionaries use resumé, but the root French word has two accents.)

  • John

    forth and fourth is also a common mistake.

  • Steven Stewart

    The word ‘now’ in place of ‘know’ is used in another Workoplis article. I have seen many job postings with errors. Do I point them out to the them at the risk of being blacklisted for life?

    • Chris MacTavish

      Do not point out an error in a job listing to the potential employer.

  • Raj

    I regularly see “advice” used when it should be “advise” and vice versa.

  • Chris MacTavish

    The most common mistake that I come across is using the word “seen” when it should be the word “saw”. I can’t help myself – they say, for example, “I seen him yesterday.”, and I promptly reply “saw”. Usually I am either ignored, or the speaker looks at me with a question on their face wondering if perhaps I didn’t hear them correctly and they simply repeat themselves. It is easy folks – don’t use the word “seen” unless you precede it with the words “have” or “has” — otherwise there is a pretty good chance the word you need to use is “saw”.

  • S. M. Thomson

    The words I find hardest to distinguish between are effect and affect. I have to quote “affect means to have an effect on” which helps me choose the correct word to use.

    • rjhudson

      Thank you. I never thought about it that way. I will now!

  • S. M. Thomson

    The words I find hardest to distinguish between are effect and affect. I have to quote “affect means to have an effect on” which helps me choose the correct word to use.

  • rjhudson

    I avoid contractions in all written material. I feel these are less than professional in written works and should be used in conversation only. Further, this age of Twitter has many people using a variety of “tools” to reduce character count. My theory is if you cannot post it with 144 characters without undermining the rules of our language, you best reconsider posting it at all.

  • Jody

    The use of “then” when it should be “than” is a very common error and it drives me crazy. I see it in professional publications, advertisements and news articles, not just in lay publications or documents such as resumes and cover letters. But the error is so often seen that I have to wonder whether it is spell checkers that are to blame, or if it’s the fact that the error is so often made that it has now become acceptable.

    There is a point at which a word gets used incorrectly so commonly and frequently that it eventually becomes correct or accepted as the norm. For example, the word “dumb” is incorrectly used all of the time, as it is in the title of this article. Originally it meant that one was lacking the power of speech. Helen Keller was deaf, dumb and blind. How did it come to mean “stupid”? I suppose when a person was questioned about something and was unable to respond quickly or was left speechless, he or she might have been asked, “Well, what have you got to say for yourself–are you dumb?” It’s pretty easy to see how that became interpreted as, “Are you stupid?”

    So, is it now okay, or is it still incorrect, to use “dumb” as a synonym for “stupid”? And if it is okay, then what of then when it should be than? Oh, defenders of proper grammar, are we fighting a losing battle? Before you answer in a defiant and resounding, “No!”, consider that the word “party” is now acceptable as a verb. And remember when it was a grave and serious sin to begin a sentence with the word “and” or “but”?