13 Essential Grammar and Spelling Rules for Your CV
Recruiters and hiring managers don’t just scrutinise applicants’ CVs for their qualifications and experience. They’re also sticklers for grammar and spelling.
So much so that it takes just one teeny-tiny spelling mistake to make recruiters toss your application into the ‘no’ pile without a second thought – no matter how perfect you are for the position.
In other words, in addition to things like how you present your employment history, what fonts look good and how many pages you should use, you’ve also got to worry about your CV’s grammar and spelling.
Well, nobody said that writing a CV would be easy!
To help you get your application into the ‘yes’ pile, follow these 13 essential CV grammar and spelling rules!
1. Eliminate Personal Pronouns
First things first, let’s get one thing straight: the entirety of your CV is about you and only you. After all, it’s your name written at the top of the page, so employers know that they’re reading about your experience, skills and achievements.
This means that you can take out all first-person pronouns from your CV (‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’, etc.), and save some valuable space in the meantime. For example, instead of saying: ‘I managed a team of 5’, say: ‘Managed a team of 5’. It means the same thing, but it’s ever so slightly shorter.
2. Write in the First Person
As I just explained, your CV is about you. It’s not about ‘he’ or ‘she’ – you. It’s, therefore, only fitting that you write your CV in the first person, talking about what you’ve done in your career, and keeping it in the first person. In other words, don’t start your CV in the first person and then suddenly start talking about yourself in the third person.
Unless you’re including a quote about you from someone else (eg ‘John is an excellent communicator’), don’t ever refer to yourself in the third person on your CV – it only makes you look pompous, and it doesn’t quite have the same dynamic impact that the first person has.
3. Be Careful with Shifts in Tenses
Generally speaking, you should talk about old jobs in the past tense (eg: ‘Managed a small team of 10’) and your current job in the present tense (eg: ‘Managing a small team of 10’).
There are exceptions to this rule, though, like when you’re talking about something you accomplished in your current job. The key, however, is to avoid switching between tenses in the middle of a phrase.
If you are writing about your everyday responsibilities and your accomplishments in your current position, make sure that all current events come first. For example:
Managing a small team of 10
Driving sales of £20 million across the organisation
Developed new task management system that increased productivity by 19%
4. Explain Abbreviations
It’s a good idea to explain abbreviations on your CV to avoid confusing readers. You can do this by adding the abbreviation in brackets after you first mention it, for example: CareerAddict (CA). On all other mentions, you can simply use ‘CA’.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, everyone knows what a GCSE is, so there’s no point wasting valuable space by writing ‘General Certificate of Secondary Education’. Also, industry terms like HTML or CSS are just fine – employers know what they mean, so you don’t need to ‘educate’ them!
Remember: never put full stops in abbreviations!
5. Keep Sentences Short
Recruiters spend between 6 and 30 seconds (depending on the source) looking at your CV before deciding whether it belongs in the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ pile. One way to make them stay around longer? Write shorter sentences.
And the shorter, the better. An interesting study published by the American Press Institute back in 2009 found that:
Readers understood 100% of the information they were reading if sentences were fewer than 8 words long
This fell to 90% if sentences were between 9 and 14 words
Comprehension dropped to 10% if sentences were up to 43 words long
Martin Cutts, the author of Oxford Guide to Plain English, meanwhile, recommends an average sentence length of 15–20 words. If you have sentences longer than this, try to break them up or condense them.
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6. Watch Your Tone of Voice
Your CV is a professional representation of who you are and what you bring to the table – and, as such, should be written in a professional manner. Don’t use humour, slang, colloquialisms or profanity – no matter how ‘casual’ the company culture is.
Make sure to use the active voice (‘[I] Hired and trained 7 staff members’) rather than the passive voice (‘7 staff members were hired and trained by me’). The active voice gives a confident and strong delivery of your message, which loses its clarity and impact in passive constructions.
A great way to achieve this is by starting sentences with action verbs (also known as buzzwords), like ‘developed’, ‘implemented’, ‘organised’ and ‘authored’.
7. Be Consistent with Style
Whether you decide to use the Oxford comma, write out numbers below 10 in full (to save space, though, we advise you not to) or use British or American English spelling on your CV, it’s important that you’re consistent throughout.
On a side (but very relevant) note, make sure you use spelling that’s appropriate in the country where you’re applying for a job. For example, Americanised words for a British job can irk many potential employers.
Be sure to use accent marks where required. For example, Condé Nast’s name contains an acute accent on the E, while Häagen-Dazs has a diaeresis on the first A – regardless what language they’re used in.
8. Don’t Shout
DO NOT WRITE IN ALL CAPS FOR LARGE AMOUNTS OF TEXT. IT’S DISTRACTING, HARD TO READ AND IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING AT PEOPLE!
Also, don’t randomly Capitalise words on Your CV for No apparent Reason. Simply put: it makes you look juvenile and obnoxious.
Only capitalise when it is appropriate to do so, eg: abbreviations, acronyms, names, the first letter of a sentence, etc.
9. Know Your Apostrophes
Misplaced apostrophes make you look sloppy, careless and they could end up ruining your chances for job search success. Fortunately, the rules for when and how to use them are pretty simple:
To indicate possession, eg: Increased the company’s revenue by 42%
To indicate missing letters, eg: They’re applying for the same job (‘they’re’ is a contraction of the words ‘they’ and ‘are’)
To indicate time or quality, eg: Award-winning web designer with 10 years’ experience
Equally important is to be careful with plurals. For example, you wouldn’t say that a CV is riddled with ‘typo’s’, but rather ‘typos’. The same rule applies to pluralised abbreviations like ‘CVs’.
Other punctuation marks to look out for include exclamation marks and unnecessary commas.
10. Use the Singular for Individual Companies
If you’re talking about a single company or organisation, refer to it as ‘it’, not ‘they’. For example, if you work at CareerAddict, you’re part of its team, not their team.
11. Remove Articles
As with personal pronouns, articles like ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’ should be removed, where possible. This, essentially, helps condense text and save space, as well as avoid boring readers with unnecessary speech. So, for example, if you’re talking about how you were ‘responsible for the company budget’, say ‘responsible for company budget’ instead.
12. Avoid Common Spelling Mistakes
You wouldn’t want to turn up to a job interview with mismatched socks, and the same pretty much applies to misspelt words on your CV. Here are some of the most common words jobseekers get wrong:
Affect / effect
Its / it’s
Their / there / they’re
Weather / whether
To avoid making any spelling mistakes, try not to use any words you’re not familiar with. It’s also a good idea is to use a dictionary while you’re writing your CV and then perform a spellcheck on your finished document. Having said that, though:
13. Don’t Rely on Spellcheckers
One of the biggest mistakes people make when writing their CV is relying on spellcheck software to pick up on any grammar and spelling errors they’ve made. The problem with that is that even the best of the best spellcheckers can miss potentially embarrassing typos in otherwise grammatically correct sentences. Case in point: ‘Fluent in English and Spinach’ (yep, someone really did put that on their CV).
Make sure that you proofread your CV (and proofread it again), and then ask family and friends to go over it, too. Often, a second (or third or fourth, etc) set of eyes is all it takes to get your application into the ‘yes’ pile. Also, it’s a great way to get constructive feedback on your CV’s design, format and content from someone you trust.