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Words That Make Job Candidates Sound Stupider

Professional with "L" on his forehead.

Listen, we get it: English is a tough language to master. Even native speakers have a tough time getting it right. Chances are, you’re getting a few grammatical rules tragically wrong. Some of these simple mistakes sprinkled into your cover letter, resume, or even your job interview vocabulary could be costing you jobs.

We asked LuAnn Glowacz—owner and head word nerd at WordCove—to help us compile some of the top misused words and other grammatical mistakes that might be derailing your job search.

“It’s” versus “its” and “you’re” versus “your.” Wait! Before skipping ahead, how sure are you that you’ve got this very basic rule mastered? Glowacz counts it as the top mistake she edits for CEOs and other high-level executives on a regular basis. Here’s a test. Which is incorrect: The dog wagged its tail. It’s going to rain. The answer: Both are right. The problem occurs when the rule on possessive nouns (add an apostrophe to show possession—like “the dog’s tail”) is accidentally applied to pronouns. Most possessive pronouns are different enough to not cause confusion (my, our, his, her, their), but “its” and “your” are another story. How to get it right: Every time you see “it’s” or “you’re” speak or read it as “it is” and “you are” because the only correct use of “it’s” and “you’re” are these conjunctions of two words.

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Moot points that aren’t mute. It’s tempting to use over-inflated words during an interview to showcase your intelligence, but if you misuse the words, the impression you leave won’t be ideal. Check yourself on these commonly misused words and phrases:

  • It’s a “moot point” not a “mute point”
  • You “home in” not “hone in”
  • When you use “irregardless” you probably mean “regardless”
  • Calling something “historic” when it’s really just “historical”
  • Saying “for all intensive purposes” when you mean “for all intents and purposes”

Forgotten or misplaced letters and confused words. Spellcheck with often catch mistyped words, but not necessarily if the mistake forms another word. If you find yourself often mistyping certain words, Glowacz recommends disallowing them in your program’s dictionary so that they’re flagged. Common occurrences for job seekers are:

  • “Manger” when you mean “manager”
  • “Principal” when you mean “principle”
  • “Sneak peak” when you mean “sneak peek”
  • “Affect” when you mean “effect” (or vice versa)
  • “Pubic relations” when you mean “public relations” (possibly the most unfortunate)
  • “Proceed” when you mean “precede”
  • “Insure” when you mean “ensure”
  • “Piece of mind” when you mean “peace of mind”

Awkwardly avoiding ending a sentence with a preposition (on, for, from, with). This point comes down to simply writing the way we speak. Whatever your middle school English teacher may have told you, it is, in fact, generally acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition if the sentence sounds conversationally appropriate that way. When someone tries to call you on it, recite to them this quote often attributed to Winston Churchill: “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.” The same rule works for many awkward phrases. And when preparing your resume, don’t fall into the trap of using up extra space with full sentences when short, impactful statements will do. Just be sure sections and bullets are consistent with their structure, tenses and punctuation.

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To avoid these mistakes, Glowacz recommends taking a few simple steps. First, use your computer’s spellcheck and turn the spellcheck functionality on in your email program, too. Default spellcheck programs like Microsoft Word’s are evolving and will check more than just obvious mistakes. But you can go a step further and use more advanced software like Grammarly to ensure that even more subtle wording mistakes are caught.

Second, reset your critical eye by reading your cover letter, resume, or another correspondence word by word. You can do this by either “reading” backward or by covering each next word with your hand or a piece of paper so that you don’t subconsciously jump ahead. This takes each word out of context, allowing you to catch missing words or letters better. Get a second pair of eyes involved, too, when you can.

Finally, when it comes to your interview vocabulary, practice makes perfect. Stick to words and phrases you know, and practice answering common interview questions while recording yourself. Again, enlisting help works even better. If you work with a recruiter or headhunter, they can help by preparing mock interviews for you and offering feedback.

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