Beware of These 4 Grammar Mistakes on Resumes and Cover Letters

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In Larry Beason and Mark Lester's book, "A Commonsense Guide to Grammar and Usage," the authors understand that sentence diagramming and tense agreement may not be issues that most people are concerned with in their writing. However, that doesn't mean that writing well has to be difficult. "Avoiding errors is not the most important aspect of writing effectively, but it is important enough to deserve writers' attention," they write. And if you've ever written a cover letter or resume that claims you have "excelent attention to detail," but misspell excellent, you can understand why presenting yourself as a smart, capable worker who can communicate effectively is important to hiring managers.

That being said, there are four grammar mistakes that seem to haunt job seekers and workers alike. Whether you're sending an email, formatting your resume or drafting a cover letter, these are the four areas that deserve a proofread before you hit send, save or print.

1. Eliminating sexist pronouns
Most job-seeker materials will cite specific examples of your work or of people you know, so using gender-specific pronouns like he or she is a must when writing. But in emails or speaking about broader topics like industry or management trends, it can be easy to generalize in sentences like, "Each person should try to do his best." The problem is that gender-specific pronouns can create or reinforce biases in people's minds, which clouds your writing and degrades the message you're sending.

To correct this issue, Beason and Lester's write, "See whether you can make the subject of your sentence plural and change the gender-exclusive pronoun to the plural form (they, them or their). Try substituting his or her for a gender-exclusive pronoun when the subject is singular. [Or] revise the sentence to avoid using personal pronouns altogether."

2. Apostrophes in contractions or showing possession 
Contractions such as can't instead of cannot help writing sound more familiar and informal, which can coax your reader into a more relaxed and understanding mood. And citing ownership of a project ("The communications team's presentation went well") is a common scenario in writing. Unfortunately, when writers aren't sure of the rules apostrophes follow, they often abuse the punctuation mark and opt for overuse versus an embarrassing omission.

The authors' advice: "If you use a contraction, it'll need an apostrophe." For possession, "Check carefully each use of its and it's in your writing. If you are indicating possession, there is no need for an apostrophe [with its versus it's]. However, if you are using a shortened form of it is, you need an apostrophe to take the place of the missing letter."

3. Capitalization
Typically, job titles are capitalized on resumes when you're listing your experience and the companies for which you've worked. But if you're writing about truck drivers as the profession, not the specific role that you had, you wouldn't capitalize the term. Confusing? It can be.

Really, you want to minimalize capitalization because it demands importance and attention, which should be saved for your titles and not every reference to the profession or industry. The authors write, "Although capitalization errors can easily occur, it is important to avoid them. Frequently, capitalization errors – like spelling errors – jump out and distract readers from what a writer is saying." For your credentials, the authors recommend to "Capitalize the names of actual courses, schools and subjects. Do not capitalize when you are making a general reference."

4. Fragments
"A fragment is part of a sentence that is punctuated as though it were a complete sentence," the authors write. However, it's an incomplete sentence, such as "Which I had worked on all night." Out of context, it makes no sense. This is a frequent offender in emails and other casual correspondences, since we tend to write those as our thoughts occur to us or in quick response.

To combat fragment sentences, read through each sentence on its own. Does it makes sense standing alone or out of context? Does it still convey a thought? If not, it needs to be merged with another sentence to become complete. This strengthens your writing and the stance you take in it.
Writing well is a skill that every profession benefits from. It can also be what catches the hiring manager's eye and gets you a resume or what impresses a boss and results in a raise or promotion. Best of all, writing well furthers your causes and conveys your ideas, making a real impact on your career and the world around you.

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