Grammar In Your Cover Letter And Resume

Grammar In Your Cover Letter And Resume

I really enjoy learning more about language and grammar. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a grammar nerd. I do, occasionally, joke with friends about grammar mistakes, but mostly when I spot them in mass market advertising. So, having said that I am not an expert, here are my favorite grammar rules and how they apply to your resume and cover letter.

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Why Is That Important?

One of the most effective exercises you can do in your job-search preparation is to go through everything you write and everything you may say in an interview and ask "why is that important?" Scrutinize every word you may write and ask yourself why it is important to the hiring manager? That's the important part. Why is it important to the hiring manager? It doesn't matter if it's important to you, just to the hiring manager.

For instance, you may have included on your resume a training program that you completed at a job 10 years ago, on a program used only in that company. Why would that be important to the hiring manager? Ok, I'll give you the answer to this one: it probably isn't.

If you can re-word it to put the focus of the importance on what the employer wants than it should stay, otherwise, toss it out.



Pls Don't Use Abbrev.

I started typing on an old typewriter. Electronic typewriters, what we called word processors, were already commonplace but I didn't know how to use all of the functions. What I did learn at an early age was how to abbreviate. And looking back at things I typed as a child, I abbreviated a lot.

But then I grew up and learned that abbreviations can hinder communication. As can acronyms and initialisms.

Just like buzzwords, abbreviations work best when both the reader and the writer share similar backgrounds. Although you might think some abbreviations may be universal, it is best to keep them off your resume and cover letter.

That means spelling out Street, Avenue, and California. Some abbreviations and initialisms I've seen a lot of recently:

  • Admin. Ass.
  • MS
  • Cust. Svc.
  • BS
  • UOP

Job search documents that have no abbreviations leave far less chance of being misunderstood. Spell out each and every word, every time. If it is exceptionally difficult to spell out an abbreviation, re-write the sentence or bullet and select another word.

Your resume and cover letter can only help you if they are read. Don't take a chance that any portion of yours won't be clear.

Increase Your Bandwidth To Grow Eyeballs And Value-Add

What in the world does that even mean? Who knows. But if you're a desk-jockey, it is likely that you  have heard these terms. It is also possible that you have drank the kool-aid and actually used them.

Alright, enough of the buzzwords.

I've seen many cover letters and resumes lately full of buzzwords like the ones in the title of this post. I've even heard quite a few during interviews.

Buzzwordsidioms, and metaphors, can help us communicate. To be most effective, however, you need a commonality with the person you're talking to. And that's where the problem is. Most of the time, you don't have the familiarity with the interviewer to use buzzwords.

The greater risk is that the hiring manager may think you're using creative language to hide the fact that you have no idea what you're talking about. Use everyday language during the interview. For me, I use the teenager test, since we just happen to have a 13 year old in the house. I asked her if she knew what "low hanging fruit", "herding cats", and "mindshare" were. Of course, she did not. But when I described what they meant in regular language, she completely understood.

So, dump the buzzwords.

There can be an exception to the rule.

If you're interviewing with someone that uses a lot of buzzwords, not just an occasional one, then it might be okay to use them sparingly. Even then, it is still better to avoid buzzwords altogether.

A Cover Letter By Any Other Name

One of the most common questions we receive is whether to send a cover letter or not. There's a simple answer. Anytime you send your resume you should include a cover letter. Even if you're sending your resume via an online application, e-mail or through the mail (yes, believe it or not, that still happens from time to time).

No matter what name the potential employer gives it: letter of introduction, letter of intent, and others; it's still a cover letter.

The purpose of the cover letter is to make an introduction and to entice the reader to read your resume. You can also use the cover letter to address any potential red flags, such as a gap in employment or a drastic change in your career path.

Always make an effort to identify the person that will be receiving your resume - stay away from "To Whom It May Concern:" when possible.

Express your interest in learning more about the company or position.

Reiterate a specific success you've had in your career that matches something the employer is looking for.

Lastly, be sure to include your phone number and e-mail address, and that it matches what is on your resume.

Who You Are Speaks So Loudly...

I love quotes. I have even been called a "quote junky". One of my favorite quotes is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, and works perfectly as job search advice:

Who you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you're saying

Yes, I realize that the great American essayist probably wasn't talking about resumes, or anything even remotely related to looking for a job. But still, this quote is so approriate.

Whether it's your resume, cover letter, or even responses to interview questions, who you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what your saying.

Having a list of generic qualifications on your resume won't get you noticed. Just because you wrote that you are a "team player" or "results oriented" doesn't make it so. Cite real successes and accomplishments that demonstrate that you are a team player. In an interview, discuss examples of when you were a team player, and how that helped the company.

The key is: show, don't tell. Here are a few resume examples:



Top performer Exceeded sales goals by 25%, earning Sales Executive of the Year...
Customer Focused Achieved 99.4% Customer Quality score...
Experienced in balancing budgets Increased revenue 9% while reducing operating expenses by 13%...

Look through your cover letter and resume. Do you have generic statements that lack evidence? Answer questions like, "What does that means?", "Why is that important?", "How did I do that?".

Focus your interview preparation on specific accomplishments. Even if you're not specifically asked a situational interview question ("Tell me about a time when..." or "Give me an example when..."), it is best to answer with a specific example.

Your Resume Has One Job (You Can't Eat Your Car Keys)

Your resume has one job: to get you an interview. This is why you don't need an objective on your resume. Your objective is to get an interview.

You are not going to get a job because of your resume. An effective resume can help you get an interview. From there, you'll need to demonstrate that you have the skills for the job and that you are a cultural fit in their organization. After that, you might get a second interview, or you might even get a job offer. But that rests more on how you perform in the interview.

To take a step back, the goal of your cover letter is to get your resume read; the goal of your resume is to get you an interview; the goal of the interview is to get you a job offer; the goal of the job offer is to get you the job you want!

Expecting your resume to get you a job is like eating your car keys when you're hungry. Your keys are just a tool that can help you get to the next step. Your car keys can help you drive to Dante's Pizza but that's as far as your keys can help.

If you're not getting many interviews based on how many resumes you're sending out, you likely need to work on your cover letter and resume. If you're satisfied with the number of interviews you're getting but not getting any offers, you need to work on your interview.

How To Handle A Request For Your Salary Information?

Some of the most frantic questions I receive are related to job postings that ask for "salary history" or "salary requirement".

How much you earn is very personal. I completely understand why people are nervous about sharing their salary information. It should feel very un-natural to say (or write) how much you money you make.

But sharing your salary information is an important part of the recruiting and selection process.

Let's review how to provide your salary information.

The best way is to include it in your cover letter. Your cover letter can be a separate document, an e-mail, or in an online form. Simply add these sentences:

My current salary is $25,000 per year. I am currently interviewing for positions in the same range.

That's it. Of course, you can change that sentence to make it more applicable to your match your compensation. If you work less than full-time you may wish to reference your hourly rate rather than an annual salary. If commissions or incentives make up a significant portion of your pay, you should list your typical annual earnings, and write:

My expected salary and commission earnings this year are $25,000. I am currently interviewing for positions in the same range.

If you are currently not working. You can change "current" to "previous".

Don't get hung up on sending more than that. Hiring managers and recruiters want your salary information for two primary reason:

  1. To determine that you are "in the ballpark". If the position pays an annual salary of $25,000 and you have been making $50,000 you are probably not in the ballpark.
  2. To compare apple to apples. Job titles can often be so vague that hiring managers have a difficult time determining what your skill level really is. For instance, an Account Manager can mean something completely different from company to company.

Separately, if you advance through the selection process, you will likely have to share your actual salary history. Although this typically happens on an employment application, you may be asked to provide it alongside an application. If so, a simple one-page document (use your resume header) listing your positions, dates of employment, and ending salaries will suffice. But there is no need to provide that level of detail when you're first applying for a position.

Three Biggest Resume Red Flags

To increase the likelihood that your resume will earn you an interview, you may want to spend as much time looking for red flags as you do documenting your achievements.

What is a red flag? A red flag is a warning, they can be seemingly insignificant things, nasty little buggers that pop up in your resume, application, or interview that, if not accounted for and dealt with, can ruin your chances.

Here are the three biggest red flags:

  1. Dates of employment without months - makes me think you are hiding something. Without adding the months it is easy to hide how long you've actually worked somewhere.
  2. Replacing the company name on your resume with a generic description of the company - again, looks like you're hiding something.
  3. No address on your resume - with all of the focus on privacy on the internet, job-seekers are getting more nervous about sharing personal information. Don't list your address on your resume and I will think, you guessed it, you're trying to hide something.

Red flags can be difficult for the subject of the resume to see. Share your resume with a trusted friend and ask the question, "What are things on my resume that might make you flinch?". If you're having a hard time finding any red flags on your resume, e-mail it to me ( I'd be happy to take a look.

Ditch The Accent

A resume by any other name is still a resume. Even if it's the dreaded résumé or, worse, resumé. I'd rather you call it a curriculum vitae, even though 99.99% of curriculum vitaes are really just resumes. So, what's the correct way to spell it?

First, one quick point. The most likely place you will actually type the word "resume" is in your cover letter, as in "my resume is attached for your review" or something similar. If you use it more than that you're likely over-using it.

Ok, now that I've got that out of the way, it is time to ditch the accent. Just use "resume". It's cleaner, and given the context, the reader will never confuse it for the homonym, resume (the one pronounced ree-zoom).