Common Writing Mistakes For Applicants – Part 1

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.

free reins

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.

scales of justice

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.

28 Comments

  1. said:

    Oh, dear…Are those genuine examples?

    Suggested future post: Disabling auto-correct-until-it’s-wrong feature.

    January 12, 2015
    Reply
  2. dubs said:

    Do you have any evidence that these are “common” mistakes on apps? These are some of the most commonly reprinted “mistakes” on the web, but I don’t think anyone actually commits them. Please give us better content.

    January 12, 2015
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    • Ryalyn said:

      This list is disappointing, these are definitely not common writing mistakes.

      January 12, 2015
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    • Neil said:

      I agree

      January 22, 2015
      Reply
  3. Molly Gove said:

    I was hoping for more than a 4th grade level tutorial.

    January 12, 2015
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  4. Joanie said:

    Sorry to be so blunt but these examples are insulting. They are basic grammar distinctions 101. Would love to see something more relevant.

    January 12, 2015
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  5. Janet said:

    How about duh vs. dur? I can’t believe I clicked on the link expecting to learn something.

    January 12, 2015
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  6. Andrea said:

    As a hiring manager, I’ve actually seen these mistakes and more (“your welcome;” they’re vs their) from applicants – luckily not usually HireArt applicants, but applicants. It’s always a deal-breaker since our work is customer-facing. Thanks Elli for the clarification. Sending to my younger cousins and mentees who are on the job market now 🙂

    January 12, 2015
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  7. Kari said:

    I agree with all the other comments. As a new user of HireArt, this has left a bad taste in my mouth.

    Even if these mistakes were relevant, I don’t think they would even be a deciding factor of a successful/non successful cover letter.

    I suggest using the cover letters people send to you to find real time, relevant mistakes made across the masses.

    January 12, 2015
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  8. Connor said:

    Nicely done, Elli. While some may poo-poo these examples I’d invite them to review job applications for a day or to (sic). I’ve seen these and more: “to, too, two;” “than, then;” “their, there, they’re;” “dualy, duly;” “labtop, laptop.” And I cringe at these after I’ve read “I’m detail-oriented.” Not all of us are English majors but it doesn’t take a genius, in this competitive time, to ask a friend to proofread. Or go to your local library and ask for a second pair of eyes. When I see these mistakes I file the resumes in the shredder!

    January 12, 2015
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  9. Mark said:

    Wow – way to insult job applicants. In my view only the most pedantic individual would have an issue with ‘free reign’ vs ‘free rein’. If, as you say, HireArt are committed to helping people land that dream job, I’d love to know the kinds of dream jobs you think people want. Surely no dream job would be one or lost on relatively obscure grammatical points or misuse of expressions. Some of the examples given in comments are much more relevant (their, they’re, there; to, too, two, etc.). You even end on suggesting that using a 17th Century legal phrase is “less stuffy” than using ‘for example’. Shouldn’t a cover letter / application be direct and to the point?!

    Think you need to take a look at your marketing team – they may have had perfect spelling on their applications, but if this is the best content they can come up with, maybe you should have hired someone who had previously enjoyed free reign. This content isn’t bad, it is insulting.

    January 12, 2015
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    • Neil said:

      Well said.

      January 22, 2015
      Reply
    • Thomas McEachran said:

      Hey Mark,

      Waste of time or not, I will look up the word you used,”Padantac”, or whatever it was, before I jump out at you as a critic. That being said, and I’m not making a painstaking effort here to be gramatically correct,(this is not a resume or cover letter), I don’t think the author, “One or Lost”, their job do to the examples given. I couldn’t help wondering if you thought you, “WON or Lost”, anything with your comments. Too much negative energy being thrown(not Throne), at someone trying to help people, that obviosly need a little help. Do you see(not sea) my point? If not, try proofreading your comment….I’m thinking you may have WON the spelling bee ONE time, but probably not. My apologies for being so sarcastic in my attempt to make Humor out of negative energy. Thanks for the effort Hire Art!

      January 23, 2015
      Reply
  10. Tony said:

    COMMON MISTAKES IN TARGETING AN AUDIENCE
    Really????
    I was expecting there would be something of subtance when I clicked on this article. Not to be rude, but a person that makes the obviously wrong mistakes the writer chose to feature, would most likely never read an article about writing a compelling cover letter.
    If you are going to set the expection of offering valuable advice, perhaps you should compose articles of more substance, relevence and intellect. By doing so you would actually be providing content that appeals to the audience you are targeting.
    Oh well, so much for not wrecking a first impression.

    January 12, 2015
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    • M McNamee said:

      “expection”?

      January 12, 2015
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  11. Margot said:

    I’ve written many cover letters and I have never used any of these phrases.

    January 12, 2015
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  12. e gunty said:

    While I agree w/most of the comments above [I think it is safe to say we were all expecting something more pithy ], at the same time I think it needs to be noted that these ARE real mistakes…whether they seem simplistic to us or not!

    January 12, 2015
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  13. amy said:

    agreed that these examples are arbitrary, rarely used in a cover letter context, and condescending to applicants. simply clicked on the link out of curiosity, as i think most “don’t mess up that first impression” job-hunting articles come with a tone of condescension: writers, you were all seeking that first job once. write what you would have wanted to hear. also, someone write a cover letter using all 5 of these phrases, correctly, cogently and not shoehorned in, and i will hire you on the strength of that alone if i am ever able.

    January 12, 2015
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  14. ChandraMohan said:

    Yes. Mistake, even the slightest one is but ‘mistake’. But is it so detrimental for a candidate to be dishonoured in a selection process ?

    January 13, 2015
    Reply
  15. Wendy said:

    Here’s a word I hate – mentee! When I learned English and grammar the relationship was mentor and protege. Who made this up?!?

    And another real world pet peeve – all intensive purposes! Sigh.

    January 13, 2015
    Reply
  16. said:

    The purpose of this blog post was to help applicants who are making simple errors on their resumes and cover letters. Many of the posters who are reacting here are excellent writers who would never commit any of these errors, and could easily start their own blogs about the intricacies of the English language. Rest assured that you weren’t the target audience for this information. We’re not about to violate confidentiality standards and start posting actual examples from our clients, and we don’t have the time or staff to create a peer-reviewable, statistics-driven scientific study. Our screening team suggested the entries based on what they were seeing most often, with the goal of helping people put their best foot forward. HR professionals agree that applicants with writing errors are less likely to get past the first level of screening, and we want to help candidates avoid that error. We welcome any advice you might have for struggling writers who lack confidence and experience. Meanwhile, we stand by the advice at the end of the post – use spell-checker, proof your work closely, and use a friend to provide perspective.

    January 13, 2015
    Reply
  17. Nikki said:

    I only found one example to be interesting, not actually useful. Good thing I read this before I forwarded to friends and family.

    January 22, 2015
    Reply
  18. Lynn said:

    I, for one, am surprised by the vitriol spewing forth in these comments. I took this article to be a reminder of the kinds of mistakes that can be overlooked when we are in a hurry, and a reminder to be careful as we prepare application materials. The few moments it took to scan the article were a mere drop in the bucket of time. Put yourself in the shoes of the person to whom you direct your contempt. Remember: A person who is nice to you, and not nice to people in service positions, is not a nice person.

    January 22, 2015
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  19. Jen Crook said:

    I agree with the few comments above pointing out that while we may not use these same words in cover letters, the examples are none-the-less seen often enough to warrant mention. While so many are dissing the article for not being more substantive, I would like to point out the “one” vs. “won,” second the point about expectation vs. expection, and can’t leave out “even end on suggesting” when more proper language would be even end by suggesting. I would also enjoy reading commentary about the lack of proper capitalization and poor punctuation. While I can agree that we won’t see too many cover letters with some of these mistakes, these are most definitely common. As one who has hired many employees over the years, these types of mistakes in grammar and spelling are very indicative of future performance. And, regardless of level of the job, one needs to ask oneself if your company can be well represented by someone who doesn’t understand these basics, or even the need to understand them.
    I hope that you also plan to comment on punctuation in one of your articles. Way too many hyphens being used in these comments.

    January 22, 2015
    Reply
  20. As the others have mentioned above I also have not seen these mistakes or think that they are common. On the other hand, I do get the wrong spelling of words used in the proper syntax. Those being their, there, they’re, were, we’re, where, here, hear, wait, weight, wate, wrong, rong, to, too, etc..

    January 22, 2015
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    • just to clarify, I purposely misspelled wate and rong because I have seen these. 🙂

      January 22, 2015
      Reply
  21. V said:

    Thank you for the information. 🙂 It makes me happy to see that some people are so useless in their lives that they negatively nitpick an informational blog intended to help..and it makes me even happier to know I am not one of those people.

    Cheers & Best. 🙂

    January 27, 2015
    Reply

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