Resumes & Cover Letters

5 Spelling Errors That Can Torpedo Your Resume or Cover Letter

Double-check your work to avoid these common, embarrassing and totally preventable mistakes

You know you’re qualified for the position, but you could derail your chances of being hired if your resume and cover letter contain typos and misspellings—especially if you’re applying for a content or editorial job.

No matter what kind of work you’re going for, you can make sure potential employers focus on your best qualities by keeping your resume and cover letter free of the five common trouble spots below.  

1. Misspelled names. First things first: Since you’re sending a cover letter to a specific person (after all, “To Whom It May Concern” is a big no-no), triple-check the spelling of the recipient’s name. Pay special attention to first names with common variants. (You may be accustomed to seeing Alison spelled with one l, but Allison and Alyson are possibilities too.) If any spelling error will pop out to the reader in neon lights, it’s this one.

2. Misspelled action verbs. Resume-writing experts recommend beginning each bullet point with an action verb, but several of the most useful ones (achieve, acquire, analyze, guarantee, liaise, synthesize) are frequently misspelled. Keep a master list of any verbs that regularly give you pause, and add relevant adjectives (knowledgeable, necessary, noticeable) and nouns (acquisition, calendar, commitment, privilege) for good measure. Update your list as needed—and consult it often.

3. Incorrect verb tenses. Speaking of actions verbs, the ones you list for your current position should appear in the present tense (“Lead monthly workshops”). Action verbs describing your former jobs should be in the past tense (“Led monthly workshops”).

4. Mixed-up homophones. Homophones are words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings. The spellings of the words below seem straightforward—which may be the reason we gloss over them when scanning our work for errors. Take advantage of the “find” function of your word-processing software to hunt down and highlight every instance of the words listed. That way, you can double-check that you’re using each one correctly.

You’re/Your You’re is a contraction of the words you are. Your is the possessive adjective (which shows ownership) for you.You’re the best candidate for this position. Your resume makes that absolutely clear.”

They’re/Their They’re is a contraction of the words they are. Their is the possessive adjective for they. “Many qualified applicants applied, but they’re not as impressive as you are. Indeed, their resumes are no match for yours.”

It’s/Its It’s is a contraction of the words it is. Its is the possessive adjective for it.It’s only a matter of time before the company hires you. You’ll increase its sales tenfold.”

Let’s/Lets Let’s is a contraction of the words let us. Lets is the present tense of the verb let  (third-person singular). “Let’s discuss the perks of this position. Your employee badge lets you into the executive lounge, for one.”

5. Inconsistent spellings of repeated terms. Lock down a style for terms that appear more than once. On your resume, you’ll need to list dates of employment for each position, but dates can be styled in several different ways. The month can be spelled out in full (January 2014), abbreviated (Jan. 2014), or listed as a numeral (01/2014). All these choices are legitimate, but pick one format and stick with it. Otherwise, you’ll risk looking sloppy and haphazard.

Your proofreading strategy:

By all means, run spell-check—but only as your first defense. Spell-check can help you catch typos, but it may not catch mixed-up homophones (see above), and it can’t fact-check the spellings of proper names.

Enlist a member of the grammar police. You know that friend on Facebook who can’t resist pointing out spelling mistakes? Now is the time to use those powers for good. Ask your pal to proofread your resume in exchange for a tasty beverage at a local cafe. Bonus: While you’re there, you can study up on other tricky spellings, such as cappuccino, macchiato, and decaffeinated.

Read your resume and cover letter out loud. When we’re typing quickly, short prepositions (to, of, and for) and articles (a, an, and the) have a mysterious tendency to go missing. Even spookier? When we’re reading quickly, our mind has a tendency to fill in those gaps without our awareness. It’s the literary equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. Reading aloud encourages us to slow down, so we’re more likely to notice when pesky little words go MIA.

Print out your files one last time before you send them. Whenever we go back into a document to make a change, there is a possibility we’ll introduce a new error. (It’s fun being human, isn’t it?) In addition, auto-correct functions can work lightning-fast, making it easy for random and nonsensical “fixes” to slip by us. As a precaution, always make a clean printout after editing your files. Take a short break to refresh your eyes, and reread your work one last time. The file is ready for attachment only when the last printout is mistake-free.

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