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.

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

Wrong:

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?

About

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.

183 comments
techwriter
techwriter

I have often been shocked that people writing documents seem too lazy to use spelling correctors - but I've noticed, in my own posts, that sometimes I've written the word correctly, and the spelling corrector "fixes" it wrong for me. This is a particular problem with Apple products. While I generally like them, and prefer their user interaction model, the spelling corrector of IOS - now also integrated into OS X - likes to put automatic apostrophes in "its" so that when I type the correct possessive, it gets changed automatically to the contraction for "it is." Sometimes I notice, but often, if typing rapidly, this happens when I'm thinking about my actual content, not the spelling. At the very least, we should have the ability to change settings to make this less automatic - a spelling corrector that turns correct words into incorrect ones is neither good UX nor a good utility.

allennugent
allennugent

I lament that dozens of much more informative words are consistently neglected in favor of the almost meaningless "impact" (which I recently saw used, both as a noun and a verb, 6 times in a single slide presented by a CIO). Another such offender is "leverage". I wonder if IT employers are impressed by articulate resumes, or do they respond better to vague buzz words?

phyrefly.phyre
phyrefly.phyre

Where the article's title is: Four mistakes you probably donï¿??t know youï¿??re making in your resume Why different encoding to the main article page?

jeremypwatson
jeremypwatson

I hire and I consider grammatical errors as significant hidden metadata about the applicant but only if English is that person's first language. If the applicant is Australian or British, grammatical errors such as these will raise serious doubts about literacy levels, attitude and attention to detail. If English is the second language of the applicant then I admire the multilingual talent and ignore the errors unless we actually need perfect English writing. After all, I don't suppose my French is that grammatical either.

phyrefly.phyre
phyrefly.phyre

it/it's has nothing to do with plurals. They're both to do with apostrophes, but those are two separate death-penalty worthy errors, and shouldn't have been confused for one another :)

sheath
sheath

Many of the software tools we use to communicate with words can mess up our writing. The standard typewriter keyboard has no dash, only a hyphen. If you carefully substitute a space-hyphen-space where you want a dash, Microsoft Word automatically replaces that with the computer code for a proper dash. All well and good if you use Microsoft Outlook to send it, but if you copy it into a non-Microsoft mail program (or job site form field), you just have to see what comes out. Be aware that different types of computer might also handle characters differently, substituting so9mething like ?20 for your accented vowel. Also, although this article appears to be a rerun from last June, there are at least three subordinate clauses that are still not properly bounded: 1) point 2, paragraph 2, definition of contraction - starts with a dash and ends with a parenthesis. 2) point 2, paragraph 3, resume example line - has two opening quotation marks but only one closing mark. 3) point 3, end of paragraph 1, 'with the apostrophe' - starts with a parenthesis but never closes. Sorry for the compulsive proofreading. Good points, though. Thanks for the article.

sh10453
sh10453

Loved all your entries :)

chipcreep
chipcreep

isn't they're a contraction?

vincent.connors
vincent.connors

An apostrophe denotes a contraction, not a conjunction.

sh10453
sh10453

Hey Toni, Good article, but please allow me to add my two cents! First, I think you missed a comma in part 4, since you are discussing correct English grammar here! "If you want to turn it into active voice, and therefore, ...". Correct English is "..., and, therefore, ..."! A comma after "and", in this case, is required. In addition to what you pointed out, I must add that it kills me when I see "would of", "should of", and "could of". I'm sure most of your readers use these phrases all the time, especially in their text-based chat. [b] There are no such things in the English language as "would of", "should of", ..., etc. [/b] The correct abbreviations of "would have", "should have", or "could have" are: "would've", "should've", and "could've". When I see these mistakes in written text, I instantly think of the writer as an uneducated person!

bedeA
bedeA

Though I agree with all the other points, I have to point out, Active vs. Passive voice, is a more cultural thing, that one has to be aware of. Americans have been trying hard for a few decades, to make active voice the standard, but it is not. So, if you are "American World" or know the recipient is American, then that is the way to go. Why I say, it is cultural is: American culture is based on individual ego. Everyone likes to claim that they are experts and that they have done this or done that. As the write says, in active voice, you specifically say "I did this.." or "I did that..", where I is the important thing. In many ancient cultures, that have matured over centuries, this is considered very "uncultured & ego-centric". This is something a HR guy will take into consideration. "xxx was done by me" sounds more cultured than "I did this...". Result is the same, you take ownership of the task, but a lot of HR people elsewhere already sees a problem and a misfit for their organisational culture.

krishnakanna
krishnakanna

Good points about the common mistakes,Toni. I found even senior management folks use the word "concerned" incorrectly in their communication. Like.. instead of right usage 'inform the people concerned" many times we find incorrect usage like "inform the concerned people". Even though grammatically the second one is also correct but the intended meaning lies in the former expression. Krishna

cputime
cputime

It appears someone doesn't know a contraction from a hole in the ground. Conjunctions have absolutely nothing to do with the point you were trying to make, and they don't contain apostrophes.

alan.radlett
alan.radlett

A while back we had a guy who was not too good at writing reports, but if you had a problem out on site he was definitely the go to guy. He was threatening to leave because he couldn't get promotion due to his perceived lack of competence. One of the other managers and myself agreed that he was far too valuable to leave so that we agreed to re-write his reports after he had sorted out our problems. Result: problems fixed, senior management happy with improved reports and, most important, happy staff member. Give me the guy that can do the job anyday.

irozenberg
irozenberg

Are you kidding, who is reading resumes in those days? Everything is parsed by a keyword matching software!

ZOMBlE
ZOMBlE

Doesn't phase me... I'm not going to write someone off because of a tiny grammar mistake... as I have made plenty... but my quality of work is high. Priorities are in order. I find too many humans focus on the insignificant. Wasting a lot of time and brain power.

clive.ellis
clive.ellis

A good list, Toni. Your article would be easier to read (and more correct) if you distinguished between hyphens and dashes. In your final paragraph, the use of a hyphen to join words is correct: "no-no". But under your heading 3, "world-in" is very confusing, and wrong. It should be "world - in". In Word if you type it as 'space hyphen space' it will automatically change to a dash, indicating that it is a break in the flow of thought. In that case it is like a pair of brackets (). I certainly agree that good expression and correct grammar and spelling help. (But then my father was an English teacher!)

Chuck L
Chuck L

"I led their help desk while there, and they're much better off with the changes I made. So there.” :-)

peter
peter

I work in recruitment and these mistakes are in CV's (yes you can use an apostrophe there) from all over - Tech folk, Marketing and MBA's alike. There are some genuinely tricky ones - the possessive of a noun ending in an s e.g. the idea belongs to a Scandinavian airline = SAS's idea or SAS' idea ? I know the theory but acceptable in common international English usage? I don't know :) When a CV has one or two of the errors mentioned, we encourage people to fix them. When theres :) a handful, we often reject the CV, especially if the client has specified attention to detail as a selection criteria! And is there ever a time to use its' apart from the possessive for Mr and Mrs Its? Tricky thing, English...

SALUCARD
SALUCARD

"I was upset by his leaving the meeting without the usual courtesies." This is correct. Sustitute 'him' for 'his' renders this fragment incorrect. Rule: the possive with the Gerund, always.

thenetdoctor
thenetdoctor

Despite all the comments on grammar here, more crucial to almost any job is clarity of communication. It is paramount that your CV demonstrate this. (Now work out if I was using a subjunctive here or maybe not....?)

amj2010
amj2010

RENAME or ADD A NAME to the phrase RE: thank you

SunnyRainbowHeart
SunnyRainbowHeart

I'm sorry but it is so exasperating to me to see someone purporting to be a writer hold forth on grammar and then make egregious grammatical mistakes as well as horrendous ones in explaining grammar. If you're a writer then, as a female who is 5'9" and 136 pounds, on top of not knowing any rules of football, I will declare myself to be an NFL defensive lineman.

SunnyRainbowHeart
SunnyRainbowHeart

Toni Bowers, you write that "If you see an apostrophe in a word, it's a conjunction (a word that joins words or groups of words)." NO! Conjunctions do not contain apostrophes. What planet are you on? Examples of some conjunctions are: and, but, or, nor, yet. I learned that in grade school! I'm sorry but if you're a writer you should know that. Grammar is basic, non-negotiable for a writer. Please stop holding forth on grammar--you are so confused and unknowledgeable on the subject that it's pathetic. Stick to H.R. or whatever it is that you do. On top of this you flaunt in your bio that you're an "award-winning writer". OMG! Who gave you the award? (And for writers as well as forum posters who are thin-skinned, expect public reaction if you post publicly.)

mb.techrepublic
mb.techrepublic

I think you make some very good points. I would just like to observe that "no-no"s belong to no one and therefore should be "no-nos". Also, your point 3 ("Your plurals have apostrophes") is more a point related to gerunds and gerundives, or, at least, your example is. In the statement "I don't like you hitting him", the implication is that the objection is solely to the hitting being performed by you, whereas I would expect (and hope) that the objection is to the hitting. So, it should be "I don't like your hitting him". Your example of a grocer's apostophe is slightly misleading, or to me, anyway. And in my day job I'm some sort of IT consultant.

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

We need to diligently work to assiduously assuage splitting infinitives. While seeking jobs, the resume need to cautiousanly werk to absolutly insure never too use a danglin participal to hilareous affects because it's makes no cents.

Rick_from_BC
Rick_from_BC

I always thought there was a difference between a hyphen and a dash. The hyphen has no space between the hyphenated parts (co-operation) while the dash - with a space before and after - was used to separate phrases. A lot of my work has been preparing scripts for recording. The readers extracted clues on timing and phrasing from the punctuation. This enhanced their comprehension of the material. It sounded 'good.' I silently read as I write, in an effort to maintain fluency and understanding. So, the use of hyphens in the article definitely threw my comprehension right out the window.

Woody Goode
Woody Goode

Assuming this isn't link-bait-- another scary headline to frighten unemployed people into reading it-- this piece is another shining example of why the people who say there is a skills shortage are idiots. There is NO shortage of qualified people-- that there is only a shortage of people qualified to hire. No offense intended, but there isn't a single point here that isn't inconsequential crap. If I'm looking to hire an English teacher, a writer-editor, a PR person or a proofreader, obviously this matters. Given that this site is called TechRepublic, anyone who would ding a candidate for one of these things should be summarily fired for impeding the company's productivity. Candidates are already told that they need to rewrite every line of their resume for every posting they apply to. 90% of the time, that resume has to be pasted into some ridiculous application that garbles it. Given that directive, it's not surprising that errors slip onto a resume. Plus, two of these items aren't errors that people make. The spell and grammar check in Microsoft Word-- which people run because they've been told that any typo is fatal-- often puts the apostrophes in the wrong spots, and it will introduces these errors. I have the feature turned off, because I've seen from experience that it will insist that "there" should be "their." (Libre, Star and Open Office are even worse.) And, yes, an employer is free to reject an application for any reason. But when they ALSO are complaining that they have all these openings they can't fill-- that there aren't any qualified people-- this sort of quibbling is unacceptable. By the way, I am, among other things, an award-winning writer-editor-researcher who has nine books (including a New York Times bestseller) to his credit . I've also taught writing in my past and I would agree that most people don't write well enough. But I also know that there isn't a consensus on some of this nonsense (ending a sentence with a preposition) and it has absolutely nothing to do with someone's credentials as a usability engineer or data scientist.

ibabovic
ibabovic

I just can't stand it when I see people writing, for example, "Installed numerous PC's" or "Produced a million CD's"... Just one point for your example #3 - its is not a plural form (while it is still an example of a misused apostrophe).

megdw
megdw

I led their help desk while there...... Shouldn`t this be: I led their help desk whilst there

drjoeblack
drjoeblack

If we're going to get picky with grammar, it's not resume, but résumé.

jonathan_alvarez
jonathan_alvarez

I am not a native English speaker person, in fact only 1 ?? year living in a English spoken country, but I reckon a mistake then I saw it. My mother tongue is Spanish so the old Latin concept is behind those languages as well. About the grammar and logic mistakes, not just in the resume, but in email, news and general public texts, I have seen some sentence that keep me thinking if I do not understand the text or whether is a higher level of context, then after use a dictionary or any other translate help, just to figured out that the writer was wrong. So it’s not about the language you speak, is the logic way the ideas come and go in a paragraph, needless to say some rare things like “I are” that is not wrong but seems strange. (1rst persons with a plural verb form). Any way, I will be learning more and more as I read and read.

kcskrobela
kcskrobela

If you really care about how people use the language, you should read _The Subversive Copy Editor_ by Carol Fisher Saller, published by the University of Chicago Press. When you're done with that, start reading the questions raised of the authors of the Chicago Manual of Style. I'm a language Nazi. I spend my days correcting text that will appear online in real estate advertisements. I think I'm the queen of language, but in the course of all this editing I've discovered that there's more to life than getting the spelling and grammar right. I'm astonished by the errors I see in the comments here, as by the errors in the original article. I want to say, Physician, heal thyself! But I'd have to include myself in that admonition. Also, it's probably a good idea, when you're about to make a comment, to read the other comments to see if someone has said it already. Spare those of us who read them all from reading the same thing over and over.

cerewa
cerewa

Toni Bowers -- you begin a section with this heading "Your plurals have apostrophes". Half of the section pertains to the heading, and then it wanders into a different topic (including, or not including, an apostrophe for possessives), making the heading a poor reflection of the content of the section as a whole. The proper thing to do would be to change the heading or change the content, so that they match. Writers who can match headings to content show that they are focused enough to make one clear point at a time, and to allow readers to get an overview by reading headings, or to skip from one section to another.

jime2000
jime2000

I see the word lose spelled loose so many times it makes me worried about our literate future. Thank god that ebonics never really took off. My son is used to text-lingo, which bothers me immensely because spelling was never one of his strong points and now I'm worried that he's going to run into problems filling out any job applications ? Great article that says alot about our education system. We need to start teaching instead of just testing.

SunnyRainbowHeart
SunnyRainbowHeart

OMG, Toni Bowers. You're confused on your parts of speech. You write about a common mistake in your section 3 entitled "Your plurals have apostrophes" then use the word "its" as an example. "Its" has nothing to do with plurals. The word "its" is a possessive adjective, synonymously called a possessive pronoun; it has nothing to do with plurality. "It's" is a verb contraction standing for the pronoun subject and verb phrase, "It is."

Hashim Kammoona
Hashim Kammoona

I like TechRepublic.com...Now it is much better than before...Good luck Wishing the above subject (Four mistakes you probably don't know you're making in your resume ) be fully elaborated... With Best Regards Hashim Kammoona Expert in Architecture and Urban Planning Toronto

rhober
rhober

I hired people for high-tech, detail-oriented positions on and off since the mid-seventies and one of my pet peeves is misspelled words. (Homonyms are right up there, too-to-two.) When I come across a misspelled word in a resume it quickly finds its way into the "round file". Everyone I know of with a spelling issue is acutely aware of it and knows how to work with it. Personally, I have little trouble with spelling but my typing is bad. Spell-checkers work for either. This may sound harsh but my concern is that, if you don't care very much about your first impression, how much will you care about the lasting one my clients and I are left with if I hire you?

andrew232006
andrew232006

I found this a bit confusing since you're referring to possessive pronouns not plurals. Sometimes plurals' characters include apostrophes.

jetkins
jetkins

As a fellow curmudgeon and grammar Nazi, I feel obliged to point out that: * Apostrophized words such as "they're" are not conjunctions but contractions. ("But" is a conjunction.) * "They're", "their", and "there" are not homonyms but homophones. * "It's" vs "its" has nothing to do with the misuse of apostrophes in plurals. Overall, a good article, and I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, but people who live in glass houses... :)

jdm12
jdm12

If you are going to use "gerunds" as a "rule," then include them in the example. The rule on parallelism discusses gerunds, but the examples employ verbs. This is bound to create confusion.

jgm27
jgm27

Public sources such as newspapers and television, where poor spelling and grammar is common place, have a hugely detrimental affect on us all. Young people get a poor general English education at school these days and when they hear and see mistakes repeated from what should be a good reference they stand no chance of improving their English skills.

Silverhill
Silverhill

"Phase" is too commonly mis-used for "faze". Beware of homophones! ;-)

Silverhill
Silverhill

Clive Ellis, beware of "Muphry's Law" (the observation that when you try to correct someone online, the chances are good that you, too, will make a mistake). [pedantry] ( and ) are parentheses; [ and ] are brackets. [/pedantry]

gavin.burgess
gavin.burgess

Perhaps you should consider a screen name change. How about "DarkCauldronHeart". There are many ways to discuss issues and to argue points without sarcasm or meanness. Perhaps cutting back on the coffee would help. Or a new boy/girlfriend.

tech
tech

...not hire someone because they have crooked teeth too? Maybe bin the app because it was written in blue ink? I have said it a couple of times on here already, I agree your resume is the first look for a company, but unless the job required perfect spelling, grammar and language skills, you may be throwing away your best applicants with no consideration at all. Sure you a mis-spelling should be counted against them, but to dismiss from consideration for one error is kind of crazy. I use it as a tool to see how they will handle criticism during the interview (assuming they have the correct skill set(s)...).

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