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Write the perfect CV 

The perils and pitfalls of grammar, punctuation and spelling in your job applications

Imagine you are a human resources manager. The job youíve advertised has attracted hundreds of applicants, and itís your job to reduce them to a shortlist. How are you going to do it?

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Weeding out applications and CVs is much easier than you might think, because there is one sure-fire way for people rule themselves out of the running: with poor grammar, punctuation or spelling.

If your CV or application or even just the covering letter is littered with errors, what should have been a glowing advertisement for your qualities suddenly becomes evidence of your apparent weaknesses.

And donít fall into the trap of thinking that, if the job you are applying for doesnít require any great literacy skills, your written English therefore doesnít have to be much good. What you write doesnít just tell the reader how good you were in English lessons at school; itís also a window on what sort of person you are.

Shoddy writing can give the impression that you are uneducated, inattentive, lazy, sloppy and careless; that you donít check your work; donít take pride in your work; and are happy to leave the job half-finished.
 
Stick out like a sore thumb

The way you write says at least as much about you as the way you dress, so if any of the literature you send out seeking employment includes grammar, punctuation or spelling errors, itís like turning up for an interview in jeans and T-shirt.

Not that you will get as far as an interview.

The really bad news is that while you might think those errors in your writing could go unnoticed, to the trained eye they stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Good, clear and, above all, accurate writing is not guaranteed to get you a job or even an interview, but bad, confused and inaccurate writing will almost certainly rule you out at the first hurdle.

Graham Carter, who has 20 yearsí experience as a professional writer, and runs evening classes in writing skills at New College, guides us through the seven deadly sins of job applications and CVs...
 
1: Capital offences
 

 
If you really want to make a bad impression, use capital letters where they arenít necessary. Itís an extremely common error - and a dead giveaway.

Generally, you only need capitals for proper nouns Ė your name, your schoolís name, your previous employerís name, etc. The actual number of things that require capitals is surprisingly low. Seasons ( winter, spring, summer, autumn) donít, for instance, and in the world of CVs, neither do such terms as management, employees or payroll - although job applicants often think they do.

Some people capitalise their job title because they think it makes it sound more important, but itís not necessary for most jobs. For instance, unless itís at the start of a sentence or the start of a line in a vertical list, cleaner certainly doesnít need a capital, and neither does salesman, engineer or architect. But Managing Director might. This is because there is a bit of a grey area when it comes to people who are highly ranked in an organisation or are the only one in it with that job title/description. If this doesnít apply to you, itís best to write the whole of the job title all in lower case (non-capital) letters ( I would like to apply for the post of salesman).
 
2: Lower case lowdown
 

 
Just as bad as words that are capitalized unnecessarily are those that are written as lower case when they definitely should start with a capital. Itís not unusual to see people referring to themselves as i (instead of I), and some people even forget that English always has a capital letter.

Both of these are monumental errors that will spoil your application/CV. You may be given the benefit of the doubt and get marked down as a bad typist, rather than somebody who lacks literacy skills, but, either way, youíre creating a bad impression.
 
3: Apostrophes from heaven
 

 
Apostrophes are Godís way of sorting out people who took notice in English lessons at school from those who slipped into bad habits as soon as the teacherís back was turned.

The good news is that at least 95 per cent of people have forgotten the rules about apostrophes, so youíre not alone, but the bad news is your potential boss and/or the personnel manager who will be handling your application will almost certainly be among the other five per cent. Worse still, theyíve probably been trained to look for apostrophes - or the lack of them - as evidence of your competence in literacy and your approach to work in general.

The biggest giveaway of all is using an apostrophe to indicate a plural. They were simply not designed for this, and although you see this sort of thing a lot, CVís, jobís and employerís are not just wrong but very wrong.

Unfortunately, not only do you have to make sure you never put in apostrophes when theyíre not required, you must also remember to put them in when they are needed.

They either indicate ownership/belonging ( Jackís car, Jillís sister) or show that something has been deliberately left out ( donít, isnít).
 
If you are talking about one person owning something, the apostrophe goes before the S, but if more than one owner is involved, it goes after the S ( the dogsí food means the food belonging to more than one dog).

When an apostrophe is used to show that something is missing Ė usually involving a contraction of two words ( donít and isnít instead of do not and is not) - just put it where the missing letters would have gone, and remove the spaces.

Note that there is one tricky exception to the rule, which is its/ itís. Just this once, no apostrophe is require if you want to say the dog ate its food, but you need one if you want to contract it is ( The dog ate its food, but itís still hungry).

Itís well worth making the effort with apostrophes. As most people get them wrong, you always score a point when you get them right.

Weíre nearly finished with apostrophes now, but itís worth knowing that when it comes to job applications and CVs, thereís a big accident waiting to happen. Note that one yearís experience (or two yearsí experience) always requires an apostrophe. Itís very common for people to miss it out, so get it right and youíll get ahead. Itís even worth going out of your way to work the phrase into your application/CV, just so you can show that you know what youíre doing.
 
4: Magic Spell

 
 
These days, there is absolutely no excuse for bad spelling. Because of the help we get from word processors and because everybody can afford a dictionary, whatever reasons you thought you had for allowing spelling errors to creep into your writing have now evaporated.

Whether you spell correctly or incorrectly now mainly comes down to whether you take the trouble to check and double-check. Think about what this says about your attitude to work, and how accurate spelling can be seen as a sign of thoroughness.

So, never publish anything you havenít spellchecked Ė either with the relevant software or, if necessary, by checking difficult words in a dictionary. In fact, do both, because the spellchecker on your computer may let you get away with choosing the wrong word altogether, as long as that word is in the dictionary.

Even worse, it will let you use American spellings Ė and if thereís one thing that is guaranteed to get up the nose of somebody who is conscientious about spelling, itís Americanisms such as color, center and donut.

If you suspect there is another way any word could be spelt, check the dictionary Ė regardless of how long it takes.

Take extra care with words that are used together, and therefore are likely to require hyphens. These will slip past spellcheckers, and some are almost certain to crop up on CVs. Part-time, full-time and customer-based all have hyphens, so writing part time, full time and customer based is, to the trained eye, a bit like walking around with your flies undone.

Some people are genuinely born with an inability to spell, but thatís no excuse. If youíre not confident in your spelling ability, thatís all the more reason to spend more time checking it.
 
5: Comma criminals
 

 
Itís possible to fill a whole book with instructions on the correct use of commas, but the main thing to say about them is they are never so bad as when they are used to do the job of a full stop.

Make sure your sentences are either only making one point ( The sky is blue) or the two separate points you want to put across at the same time are joined by a conjunction such as or, but or and ( The sky is blue and the grass is green). The sky is blue, the grass is green is a howler.

Also note that certain phrases that will almost certainly crop up in a CV or job application are absolutely crying out for a comma in the right place. If you start a sentence with For example, note that there must always be a comma after example ( For example, I am qualified in first aid). The same goes for including Ė only this time there is always a comma before it: I have had several jobs, including tinker, tailor, soldier and spy.

6: A short guide to abbreviating


 
Abbreviating can be summed up in one word: donít.

Abbreviations such as approx just look sloppy, while ugly, lazy words such as BBQ (instead of barbecue) are even worse, and under no circumstances write Xmas when you mean Christmas.

Also, never use an ampersand ( &) just to save yourself from having to write and (unless youíre talking about B&Q, Marks & Spencer or a similar company that has specifically chosen to use an ampersand in its trade name).

Oh, and if you are even thinking of using anything that belongs in a text message Ė gr8, thanx, 4 (instead of for) or suchlike Ė forget the rest of the application because youíve just moved yourself to the bottom of the list.
 
1: Doing it on your own makes you go blind!
 

 
Even the best-educated, most careful writer cannot avoid making errors. This is because, when you come to read through what youíve written, your brain just canít help reading what it thinks is there, rather than what is actually on the page.

For this reason at least, you should always have somebody else Ė anybody else - read through your work before you send it out into the world on its own.

And, obviously, the best thing would be to run it past somebody who is confident that they understand not just the rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling, but also the pitfalls. Fall into them and you can be sure somebody will notice.
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