Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of common mistakes that applicants make when they are trying to put their best foot forward. Landing your next dream job takes a lot of writing skill, whether you’re updating your resume, smoothing your cover letter, or simply emailing back and forth as you set up phone screens and interviews. In this blog post I’ll show you some common mistakes that applicants make on their cover letters and resumes, and I’ll show you how to fix them. I’ll provide you with some links you can bookmark for the next time you feel uneasy over a word choice. And at the end of this four-part series, I’ll provide you with some good cover letter examples you can use to make a great first impression.
What is particularly interesting about most of these examples is that they aren’t the result of being a bad writer. They simply point to having learned something the wrong way. The words themselves are spelled correctly, so your spell-checker won’t flag them as mistakes, and they’ll slip right through. Since employers are extremely judgmental about typos and grammar errors, you can help yourself tremendously by knowing and avoiding these problems.
1. Make due vs. make do
The term “make due” would only be used in the event you have converted a billing date. You could say that you are making something due at a different time, and be correct. But hardly anyone does that in a cover letter or resume. When you are talking about accepting a situation, you are going to make do with what you have. According to the English Language and Usage site, there will never be a time when you can correctly “make due” with anything.
2. Free reign vs. free rein
Back in the day, kings and queens were free to rule in whatever manner they chose. They essentially had free reign, until there was a revolt, poisoning, or other disruptive event. On the other hand, horses drawing a wagon or stagecoach must be controlled constantly, so to give them free rein – those long leather straps that connect to the harness – is often a bad thing. According to The Grammarist, the idea of “free reign” is only a new development, and most likely wrong, since “free rein” dates to the 1700s. So if you want to tell a prospective employer that a previous manager gave you free rein to implement your own ideas, you should use the stagecoach metaphor, and avoid talking like a king or queen.
3. Should of vs. should have
Editor Samantha Garner believes that people make this mistake when they write what they hear, especially the contraction “should’ve.” She, and other experts, agree that there is never going to be a time when you can safely use the phrase “should of.” It may look like the sounds you make when you say the phrase, but it will never be grammatically correct. If you did write it, you should have corrected it.
4. Mute vs. moot
This one just looks bad when you see it if you have any writing experience. We all know what the ‘mute’ button does, and it is not even remotely related to a moot point. At About.com’s grammar site, they swat this one away easily, as a moot point is unrelated, irrelevant, misleading, or unnecessary. It’s hard for me to see a case where this should ever be in your cover letter or resume, unless you are a recent law school graduate who stood out in Moot Court.
5. Case and point vs. case in point
According to WorldWide Words, this is an idiom that dates to the 17th century and has its roots in the legal system. When trying a case, it was always better to have case law that backed up your legal point. The correct usage is “case in point” and while a very old phrase, it still gets used, but not well. For example, assume you are applying for a sales position and state that you always hit your quote – a case in point would be in Q4 2014, when you were at 250% of quota. I’d argue that sounds a lot smoother if you just write “for example,” and stop sounding so stuffy.
The bottom line is to proofread your writing closely. Leave time in your schedule to double-check your work, and try to develop a relationship with someone who can serve as a second set of eyes and review things for you. Don’t rely on your spell-checker, but certainly use it – better yet, configure it to search for grammar and punctuation issues while you check your words. Then re-inspect your writing carefully, and don’t let go of it until you are ready. Nobody’s perfect, but the writing in your cover letter and resume are likely to be the first thing a prospective employer will see as they form an opinion of you. Here at HireArt, we’re committed to helping you land that dream job, and we want to make sure you don’t let common mistakes wreck that first impression.