Project Management

Four mistakes you probably don't know you're making in your resume

You think you've got all the typos out of your resume but you might not know about some of the other common errors that can be made.

I'm going to get curmudgeonly here, right after I tell those kids to get off my lawn.

There are an awful lot of people out there who view grammatical rules as just more useless restrictions from under the thumb of "the man." And it may be that eight out of 10 hiring managers won't care that your participle is dangling, but those other two might be the ones in charge of the jobs you really want. No one is ever going to complain that your syntax is too correct.

Having said that, I will show you the four mistakes that I see most often in written communications (such as resumes, cover letters, and even PowerPoint presentations). These are mistakes that could cost you an interview if the person looking at your resume happens to know his or her way around a sentence. Here they are:

1. Your bullet points don't have parallel construction.

For some of us, it's really jarring to be sailing along in a gerund-friendly bulleted list only to be smacked in the face with a noun. If you use gerunds (the -ing forms of verbs) , then be sure to use them throughout your bulleted list.

  • Maintained change management database
  • Updated infrastructure configuration database
  • Project manager for transition of support services from a vendor to internal staff
  • Maintained change management database
  • Updated infrastructure configuration database
  • Managed transition of support services from a vendor to internal staff

2. You don't know a homonym from a hole in the ground.

This one gets me because it's not like I'm asking people to be grammar scholars in order to know this. It seems to me that people should be able to learn the differences between certain words just by paying attention to the world around them. Case in point: they're vs. there vs. their.

If you see an apostrophe in a word, it's a contraction—a word that joins words or groups of words). They're is short for they are. Their, on the other hand, is a possessive. Whatever follows the word their belongs to "them." And the word there—note the spelling—is used when referring to a place, whether concrete ("over there by the building") or more abstract ("it must be difficult to live there").

So, to use a resume example, you'd say "ABC Corp.: "I led their help desk while there."

3. Your plurals have apostrophes

I can safely say that I see this mistake everywhere in the godforsaken world—in signs, in online memes, and, yes, even in the occasional resume. And while I can see some of the confusion around this-most nouns use an apostrophe when indicating possession—the word it does not. So while it might be "Spot's fur is long", you would never write "It's fur is long." It would be "Its fur is long." It's (with the apostrophe is a contraction that is short for it is, plain and simple.


Assisted new division with it's relocation.

Correct: Assisted new division with its relocation.

4. You use passive voice

Verbs can be in either active or passive voice. In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action of the verb; in passive voice, the subject receives the action of the verb. This is passive voice:

"The migration project was led by my group."

If you want to turn it into active voice, and therefore, make it more of a dynamic statement, you'd say,

"My group led the migration project."

You should be sure to employ active voice, particularly in a resume or cover letter where the purpose is to convey action that you've taken. You don't want it to sound like you were a passive employee that things happened to.

In short, these grammar and punctuation no-no's might not seem like a big deal, but why take the chance with something as important as your resume?


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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