Resumes and CV’s: The Importance of Grammar

Pick up a good book, and if you are like the majority of people. You start to picture in your mind what the character looks like, largely because of the information provided. Interestingly enough, the image you envision is different from the image other readers have, even though you read the same description.

Now look at a CV or resume. Unlike a work of fiction, this is the work of a real person who you may not have actually met yet. Do you find yourself forming a picture of what they look like, how professional or casual they are or maybe the language even suggests that they are from a foreign country. If the document contains spelling errors and grammatical mistakes, you might find yourself making all kinds of judgments about their level of education and literacy too. And do you get exasperated when they say somewhere that they have strong attention to detail, and communicate effectively?

When I see someone working on their CV or resume in our Resource Centre, I often start-up a conversation with them with the line, “Ah, working on the dreaded resume; mind if I have a look?” What I’m really doing is trying to do is make their effort worthwhile. I think it is very sad that some people feel proud of their work, believe it to be error-free, and then head out with an inferior document with such high hopes for success. The choice of telling them what they want to hear or sharing honest feedback from a supportive but critical point of view is easy for me, but sometimes difficult for the person to hear.

For some, it’s a matter of English not being their first language, and when they talk and write, they mix up the placement of verbs and adjectives, neglect the use of plurals and you can almost hear the accent as you read it. For others, the message they want to convey is trumped by an unintended message which is either that they can’t be bothered to proofread, or don’t have the education to know when something is wrong. Neither of these last two are messages you want to convey to an employer.

It is precisely because we all have different skills and abilities that it is imperative that as you construct your resume and cover letter, that you seek out the help of someone who does it for a living. How foolish would I be as an Employment Consultant, to tackle the job of adding an addition to my home unless I also had qualifications in that area. I would use the services of a professional to do the work. Why would I assume that anyone can do it? Likewise, if my vocabulary is rather basic, my spelling and grammar are suspect, or the language I’m writing in is not my first language, I’d be wise to seek out some professional feedback.

I really believe that a good critique of your resume and cover letter is one that is thorough. While it might be nice to only have one or two corrections or revisions to make, if the person you are asking is limiting their feedback because you strike them as hostile to suggestions, you haven’t gained much. Communicate that you really would value a critique of your whole document, no matter the extent, and you might initially be embarrassed and frustrated, but in the end, you’ll leave with an error-free document that you can really feel confident in, not just confident in out of ignorance; be smart enough to know the difference.

By way of example, just yesterday a colleague of mine was reviewing a resume and offering to correct some glaring errors. As I entered the situation, my colleague had met with such resistance, he was passing over many errors, trying to just fix the worst of the lot. Not knowing this however, he brought me into the conversation and used me to support his position that there were many errors to be found on the paper. So as I started making the same suggestions without knowing it, the client got more and more defensive. I backed out of the situation and soon the client left with a very poor document. While my colleague was choosing his words carefully, all the client could hear was negative and he just wasn’t ready for open and honest feedback.

Remember that an employer looks at resumes and cover letters in an attempt to screen OUT candidates. If your documents have spelling and grammar errors, they may replace the content of WHAT you are communicating in HOW you communicate it. Having all the right qualifications and experience may not be all you need; spelling and grammar really do matter!

Kelly Mitchell, BA

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