Common Writing Mistakes For Job Applicants – Part 2

In my last post, I showed you some of the common writing mistakes our team has recently seen in applicant cover letters and resumes. Yes, these are real examples! I’d like to continue with that theme and point out a few more problems that you can easily avoid.

Here at HireArt, we’re seeing more and more competition for sales and service jobs up and down the org chart. Some positions attract as many as 100 similar applicants, all trying hard to get noticed. When your resume and cover letter are polished, you are in a strong position because you show you can communicate, you attend to the details, and you take pride in your work.

We want to help you shine – you’re talented, you’re qualified, and you’re ready for your next challenge! These mistakes won’t automatically disqualify a qualified candidate – but avoiding them will help you look better. Remember, we put this post together because these are the kinds of mistakes we ACTUALLY see. They get past your spell-checker, and you’ll only catch them if you carefully proof your work.

Now, on to the examples:

  1. Less/Fewer

Wikipedia describes a raging debate over this word choice, which you should probably stay out of. Here’s the general advice: use “fewer” for people or things in the plural. Use “less” for singular nouns, or something that can’t be counted or perhaps has no plural. The problem is so common that we even spot the inappropriate use at the supermarket. “For 12 Items or Less” is common for the express line. “Ten Items or Fewer” is probably more grammatically accurate, but sounds overly stuffy.

Over time, I managed fewer direct reports and saved the company $12,000 per quarter.
Our customers wanted to spend less time learning the interface, so I developed a plan to accomplish that.

For more information, Oxford Dictionaries has some great examples.

  1. Advise/Advice

This one should be simple, but it’s not. The words look similar, sound somewhat similar, and mean close to the same thing, so they get confused easily. At Diffen, they stress that advise is a verb, and advice is a noun.

I advised our clients on software upgrades during the turnaround.
Co-workers asked for my advice on numerous occasions.

  1. Lead/Led

You have to wonder if this pair would have ever been mixed up if not for the popularity of the immortal rock band “Led Zeppelin.” Their name was a clever turn on the phrase, “It went over like a lead balloon.” Now we have generations of writers way too familiar with the word ‘led,’ and apparently yearning secretly to use it. At, they sum up the difference between lead and led this way: Use ‘led’ as the past tense of ‘lead’ when it rhymes with ‘bead.’

The manager asked me to lead the team to improve sales.
I led several corporate initiatives that improved our financial position.

led zeppelin

  1. Accept/Except

The elearning site has a long write-up on when to use accept v. except. The bottom line is that ‘accept’ is a verb that means to receive, admit, or regard. ‘Except’ is a preposition that has to do with exclusion, when you mean to leave something out.

He decided to accept the job offer.
The entire team was laid off except for me.

This one gets complicated when you use an arcane form of ‘except’ in this way: “Present company excepted Which means you are talking about everyone except those in your conversation. If you start tinkering with this usage, such as “You must except the present management team,” you are probably trying too hard to sound smart and may confuse the recruiter reading your resume or cover letter.

  1. Peak/peek/pique

These are homophones – that is, they sound the same, but mean different things. The Grammar Girl says they are easy to keep apart if you think of their definitions:

Peak – a mountain top or sharp point.
Peek – to sneak a glance, or look discreetly
Pique – from the French word ‘to excite’ and used in the form “to pique interest”


If you’ve worried about your word choices, take advantage of the links I’ve provided to study up. Then, use this handy list before you hit that ‘Send’ button:

  1. Configure your spell-checker to search for grammar and style issues.
  2. Run your spell-checker more than once.
  3. Read your words out loud to see if the cadence and sentence length work for you.
  4. Get a second opinion whenever possible.

Do you have additional advice on how job applicants can build up their communication skills? Please let us know.

To close out this series, we’ll look closer at the style and structure of good cover letters. I’ll show you how to stay focused on selling yourself, and I’ll give you some sample text you can use and adjust to your situation. I’ll show you how the first rule of a cover letter is like the phrase incorrectly attributed to the Hippocratic Oath: “First Do No Harm.” And I’ll provide you with some sizzling examples that will get you noticed for all the right reasons.

hippocratic oath



  1. Barbara Saunders said:

    “Piquer” also refers to the point. It means “prick,” “jab,” or “sting.” It suggests something like poking someone into attention with a pin.

    January 22, 2015
  2. said:

    Your punctuation needs a bit more polish.
    1> Under Accept/Except, the phrase “Present company excepted” is missing both a comma and a closing quotation mark, and the word “Which” that follows should not be capitalized.
    2> Under Peak, etc., your first definition has a period, but the other two do not.

    January 26, 2015
  3. gus said:

    So, 8th grade English is a skill many applicants are lacking?

    January 30, 2015
  4. Fiona said:

    I can’t understand the negative comments for Part 1 and 2 of this blog entry. As with all advice, you can take what you need, and leave the rest. Yes, applicants do make spelling/grammatical errors. Yes, potential employers do get hundreds of applications for every position posted. Wrong or right, good or bad, eliminating the applications with spelling/grammatical errors is a fast and easy way to pare down…

    February 5, 2015

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