When writing your CV, it’s so important to check and doublecheck your spelling and grammar. In today’s competitive job market, potential employers are looking for reasons to sort the Yes candidates from the Nos, and incorrect spelling or grammar can mean you fall at the first hurdle.
Get your spelling and grammar right and you’ll take a huge step towards securing that all-important interview for your next job. Here are our top nine grammar tips guaranteed to uplevel your CV:
Don’t reply on the spellchecker
Although it’s a good idea to run the spellchecker after you’ve written your CV, it’s not enough by itself. It didn’t pick up the error in the subheading above, for example. While great for picking up obvious errors, the spellchecker will skip straight past homophones (words with the same pronunciation but different meanings).
It won’t sea how grate you’re spelling misdemeanours are on you’re knew CV because all it will sea is that you’ve spelled every word write.
It’s a good idea to write your CV, put it to one side overnight and read it again with fresh eyes, preferably out loud. You are more likely to see incorrect homophones and hear when a passage is hard to read. We’d also recommend enlisting the help of a friend or colleague to proofread your CV too.
Talk about yourself in the first person (if you must)
Your CV is a tool to sell your skills and abilities to a new employer and, therefore, it makes sense to talk about yourself in the first person, i.e. I, me, and my. We would always caution against talking about yourself in the third person, i.e. He, she, or they (unless you’re quoting somebody else), because it makes you sound removed from the person being described in the CV and, if we’re brutally honest, can sound quite pompous. As with many of the other tips in this article, consistency is key, so don’t switch between the first and third person.
In fact, we’d go a step further and say that, as your name is at the top of your CV, the recruiter knows it’s about you. Try eliminating first-person pronouns altogether and simply starting each sentence with an action verb (see section on action verbs below).
Be aware of your tenses
Something that people do a lot, when writing, is accidentally switch between tenses in the same sentence, i.e. beginning in the past tense and ending in the present tense. As a rule of thumb, CVs are usually written in the past tense because they describe jobs, tasks, and achievements that have already taken place. You may decide to use the present tense when talking about your current role, although, here at Giraffe CVs, we tend to write about your accomplishments in the past tense, as you’ve already achieved them.
The key is to be consistent. Read each sentence aloud as it will be much easier to spot a switch in tense.
Beware of random capitals
When it comes to capitals, our philosophy at Giraffe CVs is ‘less is more’. Many people overuse capital letters, capitalising every word in a title, inconsistently capitalising job titles or departments, and even capitalising entire sentences for emphasis.
In fact, a number of research studies have shown that capital letters are harder to read than normal sentence case. These days, it’s often enough to capitalise the start of a title (as we’ve done in this article), rather than the first letter in every word. Random capitals in the middle of a sentence can be jarring and interrupt the flow.
Again, we would recommend that you pick a style and stick with it throughout your CV. If you’re going to capitalise a job title, do it consistently. If you’re going to capitalise every word in your titles, do that consistently too.
Use consistent punctuation with bullet points
One thing that often stands out on CVs is when people feature a list of bullet points under a specific job role, for example, and end some, but not all, of the bullet points with full stops.
Here are the general rules around bullet points and punctuation.
The text introducing the list of bullet points should end with a colon. If the text that follows the bullet point is not a proper sentence, it doesn’t need to begin with a capital letter or end with a full stop.
If the text following the bullet point is a complete sentence, it should begin with a capital letter. Technically, there should be a full stop at the end of each bullet point but it isn’t essential and the text can look cleaner without. This approach is my personal preference.
Lists of bullet points will have more impact if each begins with the same type of word – action verbs are great for this – and of a similar length.
Here’s an example from a CV:
– Planned and delivered engaging lessons for 120 Key Stage 1 pupils
– Met and exceeded challenging attainment targets, with 84% of pupils achieving two sublevels of progress within the academic year
– Created and implemented an extracurricular sports programme, positioning the school to secure a Healthy Schools London (HSL) bronze award
Choose action verbs
Speaking of action verbs, these are words that express an action and can make your CV sound much more dynamic. If you use action words, it gives the reader a sense that you are very much the person who was ‘doing’, rather than a passive observer reacting to things done to you.
Words such as taught, reached, developed, inspired, innovated, spearheaded, organised, transformed, and created, are all perfect for your CV.
Opt for one space after a full stop
When it comes to typing full stops, there are two distinct schools of thought – put one character space after the full stop, or add two. This article on the Cult of Pedagogy website explains why two spaces after a full stop used to be the norm, but are no longer best practice.
Believe it or not, but adding two spaces after a full stop may lead recruiters to make assumptions about your age (apparently nothing says over 40 like two spaces!). I have to admit, I was guilty of this until I read the above article, and I am trying hard to correct this habit of a lifetime. Once something has been drummed into you at school, it’s hard to change, but I am consciously trying!
The same goes for the Oxford comma. I was taught never to use it. However, now, as a free learner in my late 30s, I have made my own decision on the subject. I often need to remind the 11-year-old inside me to fall in line!
A closing argument for one character space after a full stop. Space is at a premium on your CV, so using just one space, rather than two, could free up valuable space.
Explain your abbreviations
There are some abbreviations that crop up in CVs all the time – GCSEs, for example, should need no explanation. Generally speaking, though, you should think carefully about using abbreviations in your CV. Abbreviating commonly used words can appear too informal. Also, if you abbreviate a professional body, software, or industry-specific jargon, it assumes the reader has specific knowledge.
It’s advisable to explain your abbreviations by writing the name of the organisation and qualification in full, and then including the abbreviation in brackets after the name. You can then use the abbreviation in subsequent mentions.
Keep your sentences simple
As we’ve discussed before, recruiters are generally time poor and need your CV to be easy to scan and digest at a glance. When proofreading your CV, think about whether you can simplify what you have written. Are you using five words when two will do? Is there a more common, accessible word than the one you’ve used?
You could always try turning on the readability statistics tool, if you’re writing your CV in Word. Go to File>Options>Proofing and the check the box that says ‘Show readability statistics’. When you run a spell and grammar check of your document, you’ll be given a review of how readable your document is – aim for a Flesch Reading Ease of 60% or higher and a Flesch-Kincaid Level of nine or below, and no passive sentences, for a really readable CV.
I have to admit, writing about grammar is somewhat nerve-wracking, and I have a few butterflies about publishing this blog. I’d welcome any comments on the points discussed, and would love to hear your grammar tips. Why not bring them to the conversation?
Like most, I’m always keen to learn and improve, using any new-found knowledge to enhance the quality of my work. I follow Grammarly on Facebook for fun, bite-size tips on grammar, punctuation, and style, and would encourage you to do the same. It’s a great resource for everyday clarification and really helps you to uplevel your grammar.