As a writer, the only thing more important than the words I choose to use are the ideas behind those words, for without ideas no words would follow.
But sometimes even a professional writer fails to adequately express the underlying idea. This is especially true for email, text messages, and social networking posts, where we often put little thought into how adequately we are expressing ourselves.
It happened to me yesterday, in fact.
Having gone “out on the town” Friday night, I emailed a friend the next day and said something to the effect of “I’m going to pamper my aching body that’s not used to nights like last night, and do absolutely nothing worthwhile for the remainder of the day.” Somehow, my friend misinterpreted my words and replied, “Sounds like someone got a little physical attention last night!”
After a good laugh, I sent another note to clarify. “Someone danced a little too hard, too long, and now hurts today.” (Sadly, it had nothing to do with “physical attention.”)
Though the misunderstanding was harmless, it got me to thinking: How often do we quickly tap away at the keyboard and unintentionally provide the recipient reader with the wrong impression?
SPEECH vs. WRITING
With the popularity of email, social networking sites, and texting, more people than ever are using the written word instead of vocal speech. But few are properly trained writers — and, as I’ve just demonstrated — even the pros screw up when not enough thought goes into those type written words.
When we speak vocally — or, more appropriately, when we misspeak — our audience generally clues us in to any misunderstanding right away. We can then very quickly clarify our intended meaning. But when we write, it’s much more difficult to determine if we’ve accurately made our point.
Between friends, these miscommunications are typically (and hopefully) harmless. But what about those times that it really matters, such as when the job-seeker uses written communication to network, submit credentials to prospective employers, and to answer requests from job recruiters?
When using the written word in your job search, a misunderstanding of your intention can be fatal.
THE JOB SEARCH: CRUCIAL CONSIDERATIONS ABOUT THE WRITTEN WORD
If you are having little to no success in your job search efforts, yet you are “following all the rules,” perhaps what you are overlooking is a miscommunication in your written documents.
It’s time to evaluate and analyze, following these 6 tips and suggestions:
1. Basic Proofreading: Read your credentials package (résumé, cover letter, bio, and whatever else you include therein) aloud, top to bottom. In doing so, you should be able to quickly isolate anything that doesn’t make sense, that sounds awkward, or that is ambiguous.
2. Advanced Proofreading: Now, read the documents from bottom to top. Reading each sentence aloud, slowly, from top to bottom, forces the sentence(s) out of context and helps isolate issues that may otherwise be overlooked. By interrupting the logical flow of sentences, you neutralize any impression of correctness that would otherwise arise from your internal knowledge of the message you intended to convey.
3. After making any changes, go back over it again. This time, look specifically for these items:
A. Have you used the same tense throughout?
BAD: Implemented new policies which created 98% employee retention. Create strategic marketing plans which drive positive business growth.
BETTER: Implemented new policies resulting in 98% employee retention. Created strategic marketing plans to drive positive business growth.
BEST: Increased employee retention to 98% by implementing new policies. Drove positive business growth with a strategic marketing plan.
B. How is your spelling, punctuation, and grammar? [see below] If you only use spell-check, you may have some critical errors.
C. Is your language passive or active? The use of passive verbs is to be avoided.
BAD / PASSIVE: A decision was reached by the committee.
GOOD / ACTIVE: The committee reached a decision.
4. After reading it out loud and making necessary changes, give the documents to at least two trusted friends or colleagues — but not to your mother or spouse. Ask for an honest critique, and listen to any advice. If you find that you are defending yourself against their advice, you might miss a valuable bit of information!
5. Ask one of your LinkedIn connections with career management / HR experience to evaluate your documents. Then, in a follow-up phone call, ask some pointed questions about the impressions created: What does my cover letter indicate that I’m seeking? What expertise do I appear to have? In what capacity will I best serve an employer? What was my most impressive achievement?
6. Now that your credentials package is as good as you can make it, make sure that each time you revise a document (such as your cover letter), you carefully read it out loud before hitting “send.”
COMMON ERRORS THAT CAN OBLITERATE YOUR INTENDED MESSAGE: 10+ EXAMPLES TO GUIDE YOU
The following are actual examples of errors that I’ve caught in the past two weeks while reviewing documents for others:
WRONG: Deer Hiring Manager,
This could be fine, but only if you are writing to the Hiring Manager for deer, as in venison.
RIGHT: Dear Hiring Manager,
NOTE: Other common homophones (words that sound alike but are spelled & defined differently) of which you need to be aware include:
To, Too, Two: Use “too” when it can be replaced with “also“. Only use “two” when it can be replaced with “2” If neither of those work, use “to“.
Who’s, Whose: Use “who’s” only when it can be replaced with “who is”. Otherwise, use “whose”.
Then, Than: “Then” refers to a time sequence. (Exercise then take a shower.) “Than” is used for comparison. (My dad is bigger than your dad.)
Advice, Advise (not a true homophone because they are pronounced differently): When you advise someone, you give them advice. Advise is a verb; advice is a noun.
Site, Cite, Sight: You might sight the definition in a dictionary and thereafter cite your resource in your essay, then publish that essay to an internet site. Get it?
Compliment, Complement: “The compliment he gave her fully complemented all of the other accolades of the day.” Compliment means “to praise”; complement means “to add to or make whole.”
Stationary, Stationery: “The pretty stationery remained stationary on her desk, having been forgotten many years ago.”
Discrete, Discreet: These are frequently used incorrectly! “His job search was discreet in spite of the fact that his relationship with his past employer remained discrete.” Remember: Discrete = “detached”; Discreet = “careful”
Principle, Principal: “Principle” is used only one way, to mean “fundamental, beliefs or truths” as in “Though there were few damages, the lawyer was hired to fight on principle.” “Principal” has three meanings: a person of chief importance (like a school principal), an adjective with the same meaning, and the base payment of a loan.
Example #2: Regarding those regards!
WRONG: I am writing with regards to …
RIGHT: I am writing with regard to …
BETTER: Regarding the executive management vacancy, enclosed please find...
NOTE: The “Better” choice is better for several reasons. First, the use of “regards” (plural) is limited to such phrases as “As regards“, “Kindest regards“, or “Give my regards to…” Proper use of “regard” (singular) includes: “With regard to“, “In regard to“, or “regarding“.
Second, telling your audience that you “are writing” is obvious. Never state the obvious. It’s as annoying as the phrase, “Needless to say….” (If it’s needless, why say it?)
Example #3: Tight or defeat?
WRONG: This is an opportunity I do not want to loose.
RIGHT: This is an opportunity I do not want to lose.
BETTER: I value this opportunity.
Example #4: There, They’re, Their
WRONG: My most recent employer closed there doors and I now seek ….
RIGHT: My most recent employer closed their doors, and I now seek ….
BETTER: Due to the closing of ABC Corp., I am now in a position to seek …
GET IT RIGHT: Do you know when to use Their vs. They’re vs. There ? If not, learn! These three words have different meanings. They’re not the same, and there is no reason not to learn the differences if you want their attention.
Example #5: Your, You’re
WRONG: You’re attention to this matter is appreciated.
RIGHT: Your attention to this matter is appreciated.
BETTER: Thank you for your attention to this matter.
TEST: If you can replace “you are” in the sentence, use “you’re“. Otherwise, use “your“.
Example #6: Is it it’s or its?
WRONG: ABC Corp. grew by 50% under my direction and it’s profits for the last quarter exceeded all records under my leadership.
RIGHT: ABC Corp. grew by 50% under my direction, and its profits for the last quarter exceeded all records under my leadership.
BETTER: Under my leadership and direction, ABC Corp. enjoyed a 50% growth with record-setting profits in its last quarter.
TEST: Its vs. It’s — It’s easy to use these two words correctly! Can you replace the word with “it is“? If so, use “it’s“. If not, use “its“.
Example #7: Are you affected by the effect?
WRONG: Corporate profits were effected by ….
RIGHT: Corporate profits were affected by ….
BETTER: My marketing strategy affected corporate profits by ….
TEST: Most often, “affect” is a verb meaning “influence”, and “effect” is a noun meaning“result”. If you can replace the word with any other verb, choose “affect.” Ex: My marketing strategy pushed corporate profits…”
Example #8: If you have alot, you’ve* nothing!
WRONG: I have alot of experience in the IT industry.
RIGHT: I have a lot of experience in the IT industry.
BETTER: My experience in the IT industry is substantial.
TEST: “Alot” is NOT a word. Allot for space between the two words!
Example #9: Is it I, or is it me?
WRONG: The ABC Award was presented to the Vice President and I in 2008.
RIGHT: The ABC Award was presented to the Vice President and me in 2008.
BETTER: The Vice President and I both received the ABC Award in 2008.
NOTE: The use of “I” in conjunction with another person is the most frequently confused rule of grammar. Just because you are putting yourself with someone else does not necessarily mean that you refer to yourself as “I“.
TEST: What happens if you remove the other person from the sentence? Here is a sample —
Carol and I went to the seminar.
First, leave Carol out of it:
I went to the seminar.
Rule: use “I” if you can leave out the other person and have a complete, accurate sentence.
Here is a harder one:
The seminar was presented by Carol and I.
First, remove Carol from the sentence:
The seminar was presented by I.
Consider: Does this sound correct? No! Using “I” sounds wrong, don’t you think? (I hope you do!) Let’s try “me“:
The seminar was presented by me.
Better? Yes! Sounds much better. Now, let’s add Carol back in so that the correct sentence is:
The seminar was presented by Carol and me.
Remember: Always put the other person first!
Example #10: The Dangling Participle
WRONG: After building a new division, our P&L manager announced that my initiative created an additional $300,000 in revenues for the year.
TEST: Who built the new division? The sentence reads as if the P&L manager did it just before making an announcement!
BETTER: As announced by our P&L manager, my creation of a new division resulted in an annual revenue increase of $300,000.
I used the following sentence, above:
Right or wrong? At first glance, this may seem wrong — but it’s not! Many people would write, “You’ve got nothing.” Notice, however, that “You’ve” is a contraction; it means “you have“. If you insert the word “got” after it, this is what you have:
You have got nothing.
Yuck! That’s why it is incorrect to insert the extra verbiage. When we deconstruct the contraction, we have:
You have nothing.
And that, my friend, is correct!
WHEN IT’S OKAY TO BE BAD & WHEN IT’S NOT
There are times when it is perfectly permissible to use bad grammar, mess up the punctuation, and to even use slang. One of the benefits of email and social network comments is the acceptable use of the-spoken-word-in-type.
U really said that?!? Dude Ur insane. Wtf? I don’t get it…
As we might do in informal speech, it’s sometimes okay to end your sentence with a preposition, use phonetic spelling or make liberal use of elipses (something for which I am notorious!)
So, for such uses as text messages, instant messages, social networking posts (like Facebook, or even LinkedIn when appropriate), and even the occasional blog, informal writing is fine. Throw the rules to the wind, if you choose. But when you are doing anything related to a job search, slow down and get it right!
Knowing your audience and clearly articulating your intended meaning are concepts which are dangerous to ignore, however. When it matters, make it matter!
I am happy to provide my readers with a free critique of your resumes and cover letters. Before contacting me, however, please click here to read my submission guidelines.
Until next time ….
~Lynda C. Watts