Five top tips to help your CV and cover letter shine

UQ’s chief of the grammar police dishes out her most heinous grammar crimes – how many offences have you committed?

If you’re thinking about a new job or a promotion, you’ll most likely need to submit your CV and a cover letter. Those documents need to capture who you are, and who you have the potential to be, so this is really your time to shine. You need to make the selection panel say ‘wow,’ and you’re not going to do that with dangling modifiers and apostrophe catastrophes!

Roslyn Petelin, Associate Professor in Writing at The University of Queensland, recently revealed her five top grammar tips for CVs and cover letters, and some clever ways to help remember them.

1. Grammar and spelling 101!

Do you know when it’s ‘its’ and when it’s ‘it’s’? It’s is a contraction of it is or it has, so, always check whether you have used the correct spelling – reading out loud can help to pick up these mistakes. This is the single most credibility-reducing error you can make, and is guaranteed to eliminate your application unread by a potential employer. In a similar vein, do not confuse:

  • Your with you’re;
  • Their with they’re;
  • Whose with who’s.

Again, these contractions can usually be picked up by reading a sentence out loud and seeing if makes sense when it’s not contracted, for example:

  • Anne, who's normally on time was late today;
  • Anne, whose work is exceptional, is running late.

Also on the spelling front: driving licence is spelt with a ‘c’. It’s easy to remember that ‘ice’ is a thing, as a driving licence is a thing. Stationary vs. stationery – try to remember to use the ‘e’  for envelopes! Speaking of which, use appropriate stationery and typography in your CV. No Comic Sans, coloured paper, or teddy bears around the edges of your page!

2. Avoid archaic language

Unless you’re applying to be an apothecary in 1856, words like ‘amongst, whilst, therewith, and whereof’ can be left in the era from which they came. Do not take on a pompous style to try to impress a potential employer, such as in the following sentence: ‘I find myself adequately qualified for the desired competencies of the assistantship'.

3. Don’t be such a downer!

Avoid the desperately negative tone of the following: ‘I have no commitments and am willing to work under adverse terms and conditions’. Try to always be positive about yourself, as your CV is like your dating profile (but for your boss) – you don’t want to appear desperate or miserable.

4. Watch out for malapropisms

These little suckers are the misheard lyrics of the formal writing world. Words used wrongly that create slight amusement in the reader such as in the following: ‘Suspected to graduate at the end of the year’ and ‘As indicted, I have five years experience’. Were you that person who sang ‘hold me close now Tony Danza’ until someone pointed out Elton was actually talking about a very small dancer? Then you are going to want to watch out for malapropisms. Pacifically speaking, for all intensive purposes, you probably actually mean ‘specifically, for all intents and purposes’. 

5. Avoid non-errors where possible

Lastly, it is wise to avoid "non-errors" that some out-of-date language mavens still believe are errors, such as ending a sentence with a preposition and splitting an infinitive. While these Latin-based beliefs are as out-of-touch and dated as your Myspace profile, you should still avoid using them just in case your CV falls into the hands of a pedant!

Disclaimer: eNews articles are intended to provide general commentary and general information only. They are not intended as professional advice or as a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon as such. They are the work of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the university or involve the recommendation or endorsement of the university.