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The Now, The New & The Next in Careers

Resume & Cover Letter Articles

Stay ahead of the curve with insights from our CTL Associates.

  • 17 Dec 2015 9:37 AM | Anonymous

    By Brenda Bernstein
    The Essay Expert

    I absolutely love the process of crafting great cover letters. You may have heard that some recruiters and hiring managers don’t read cover letters, but I would emphasize “some.” For the ones who do (and you don’t know who they will be), and for smaller employers, an impressive cover letter can make a huge difference.

    Your cover letter can show recruiters and hiring managers a little bit about how you would show up in an interview. Here are 3 tips that will get you in the door!

    1. Impress your reader quickly. In the first paragraph, after you say what job you’re applying to, list briefly the major reasons you are the right candidate for the job. This task can be done in just a few words. Yes, really, it can! For example:

      My experience as senior project manager at Blue Shoes, combined with my extensive coursework in business management at Green Vest University, give me the requisite skills for the Project Manager position at Purple Fashion Inc.


      Note: The reader doesn’t have to wonder whether you’ve got the training and experience for the position. He or she has a reason to read further.


    2. Say not what the company can do for you, but what you can do for the company (they couldn’t care less how great a match they are for your interests!)

      Do NOT say: “I have always been interested in fashion and the position at Purple Fashion Inc. will give me the experience I seek.”


      Aaargh!! Companies are not in the business of giving you the experience you seek. They hire people who will make a contribution, not suck the life out of them!


      Instead, say something like: “I have been studying business and working in the fashion industry for the entirety of my academic and professional career, and I look forward to contributing my skills and passion to Purple Fashion Inc.”


    3. Tell a good, brief story (this tip applies more to smaller organizations who take time to read your cover letter). The person reading your cover letter is a human being, and human beings like stories. If you do a good job with your cover letter, the reader will be enthralled and left wanting more — that’s the effect you want!

      Here’s a sample story: “In 2008, I worked with our product design and marketing teams to implement a new product campaign. After 3 months, our marketing plan was on track but it became clear that certain production costs would have to be reduced. Through my leadership, our team reduced those costs by 30% without any labor reduction and the campaign became profitable in the sixth month of operation. I will bring this capability for incisive and effective decision making to Purple Fashion Inc.”

    The above tips have generated great success getting interviews, and I know at least part of that success is due to the effective, engaging cover letters.

    Don’t forget the resume of course, which must be tailored to the job and packed with your accomplishments!

  • 17 Dec 2015 9:30 AM | Anonymous

    By Brenda Bernstein
    The Essay Expert

    Is your Education section taking up too much space on your resume? Are you finding it hard to fit in all the information you think is important?

    In this article, I answer some of your resume Education section questions– questions you might not even know you had! These tips will help you pack in lots of information without taking up half the space on your resume.

    1. Should the Education section come first or last?

    If you are a new graduate from college or graduate school, or if you are applying to graduate school or a job in academia, your Education section generally goes FIRST on your resume (after your header). Why? Because it’s what you’ve done most recently and/or it is most relevant.

    If you have been in the working world for 2 years or more, your Experience section will more likely come first, and Education might be last or close to last on your resume.

    2. What should the basic format be?

    • List your educational institutions in reverse chronological order, just as you do with your employment history.
    • The most important part of each school section might be the name of the school you attended or the degree you received. As a rule, use the same format you use for your employers.
    • For the degree you received, if you are still in school and anticipating a degree, write “Candidate for B.A,” “B.S. expected,” or “M.A. anticipated.” Fill in the appropriate degree of course.

    3. Do I need a separate line for my GPA and for each of my honors?

    If you need to save space, there is no need to put your GPA and honors all on separate lines. You can combine these onto one line, and you can even put them on the same line as your major. How you combine things will depend on how much room you have on other lines. Here are some possibilities:

    1. BA in Political Science, cum laude, 2006 (GPA: 3.41)
    2. Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, concentration in Psychology, May 2005 Major GPA: 3.73; Cumulative GPA: 3.683

    4. How should I list Honors and Activities?

    You do not need an entirely separate section for either Honors or Activities. Only create these separate sections if you need to fill space or if they are very extensive. To save space, put them under the appropriate school.

    Do you have a lot of honors and/or activities? You might want to group them together. For instance, you can have a bullet that says “Honors:” and name your honors, separated by semicolons. Then have a bullet that says “Activities:” and list your activities, separated by semicolons. Put any dates in parentheses after the honor or activity, and before the semicolon.

    Examples:

    • Honors: Undergraduate Honors Thesis Research Grant (Honors Program award); Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society; Golden Key International Honour Society
    • Honors: Dean’s List (2006-2009); Baylor University Alumni Scholarship (2005-2009); Greek Women’s Leadership Award (2009); Midwest Conference Academic All Conference Team (2008 and 2009)
    • Activities: Latino/a Student Association, Secretary (2006-2007), Delegate/Community Service Committee (2005-2007); Mexican Student Organization, Social Chair (2005-2006); South American Student Association, Member (2004-2007)
    • Activities: Varsity Women’s Basketball Team, Four Year Letter Winner; Pi Beta Phi Fraternity, Board Director (2006-2007) and Member (2004-2007); University Chapel Choir, Member (2004-2007)

    5. Do I need a separate section for Study Abroad?

    No! Study abroad is part of your undergraduate education. It can be a bullet, or if you want to emphasize it because of your international interest or language ability, you can bold it. Do not put a space between your undergraduate degree section and the study abroad section, unless you need to fill space.

    Example of bullet format:

    [end of undergraduate section here]

    • Junior-year semester at University of East Anglia, Norwich, England (1993)

    Example of bolded section under undergraduate section:

    [end of undergraduate section here]
    Reid Hall, Columbia University, Paris, France
    Summer 2003 Study Abroad (Coursework: 19th Century French Painting, French Language)

    6. How long should the Education section be?

    Unless you’ve earned five different degrees from five different schools already, your education section generally should take up a maximum of a third of a page.

    Implementing these suggestions will give you a great start on the Education section of your resume, making it both efficient and effective.

  • 17 Dec 2015 9:24 AM | Anonymous

    By Wendy S. Enelow, CCM, MRW, JCTC, CPRW
    Enelow Enterprises, Inc

    This article is not about the ABC’s of resume writing. Rather, it’s about creating the “right” perception of who you are to support your current search objectives. If you’re an EVP of Sales looking for another sales management position, the resume writing process is reasonably straightforward. However, if you’re that same EVP of Sales who is now looking to transition into a general management role, your resume will be entirely different. Although you’ll continue to highlight your strong revenue performance, you’ll want equal emphasis on your management achievements, roles, and responsibilities. You must create a resume strategy and structure that “paints the picture” as you wish someone to “see” you and understand your value.

    Following are four common resume strategies that might help you overcome specific issues or challenges you may be facing.

    CHALLENGE: To create a picture of cohesive employment despite the fact that your company has changed ownership 4 times in the last 10 years.

    SOLUTION: Use the recommended format below. Note that it communicates long-term employee with the same organization and not a job hopper with 4 employers over the past 10 years.

    VERIZON, Albany, New York – 1991 to Present
    (Originally recruited to NYNEX Telephone System in 1991. Company was acquired by Bell Systems in 1994; then by Alltel in 1998; and most recently, by Verizon in 2001.)

    Managing Director – US Cellular Division (2004 to Present)
    Director – US Cellular Division (2003 to 2004)
    Manager – Cellular Site Provisioning (2000 to 2003)
    Manager – Purchasing & Outsourcing Contracts (1998 to 2000)
    Purchasing Agent – Government Division (1996 to 1998)

    CHALLENGE: To create a resume that you can use for BOTH general management positions as well as “specialized” management positions (e.g., CFO, CIO, Sales Director, VP of Logistics).

    SOLUTION: Use the recommended format below. Note that this candidate wants to remain in the Financial Services & Banking industry, but is considering both general management and financial management positions.

    FINANCIAL SERVICES & BANKING INDUSTRY EXECUTIVE
    US & International Markets
    MBA Degree – NYU Stern School of Business

    Leadership & Organizational Expertise

    • Strategic Planning & Profit/Loss Management
    • New Business Development & Marketing
    • Cross-Border Trade & Finance Transactions
    • Information Systems & Technology

    Financial & Investment Expertise

    • Foreign Exchange & Treasury Operations
    • Corporate Credit Analysis & Risk Management
    • Debt & Equity Financings
    • Mergers, Acquisitions & Divestitures

    CHALLENGE: To position yourself for a career change into the technology industry when your entire experience has been in other industries.

    SOLUTION: “Connect” yourself to the technology industry with a format similar to the one below that was written for an executive whose entire career had been in the plastics manufacturing industry. Note the description of his company.

    PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE:

    Vice President & General Manager – 1999 to Present
    BLOCK MANUFACTURING CORPORATION, Butte, Montana
    ($40 million manufacturer with state-of-the-art technology & automation center)

    Job description is an equal blend of general management AND technology development/management functions, including such buzz words as e-commerce, networking and advanced automation.

    CHALLENGE: To create the perception that you are a “big” company executive when the reality is that you’ve worked for small consulting firms throughout your entire career.

    SOLUTION: Include a listing of your major corporate clients in the very first section of your resume. This clearly communicates that you’ve “played with the big boys” and immediately positions you as an “insider.”

    SALES PROCESS, PRODUCTIVITY & PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT EXECUTIVE
    Armour, Chevron, Citibank, Coors, Frito-Lay, Nabisco, Pepsico, Wells Fargo
    US & Global Business Markets

    WARNING: There are no absolutes in resume writing. These recommendations are simply examples of alternative strategies that may or may not be applicable to your executive career track. Use them to help you rethink your resume writing strategy to be sure that you are writing to support your specific search objectives.

    Remember, the single most important consideration in resume writing is to create an accurate picture of how you want to be perceived NOW (not in the past). Using your objective as the overall framework for your resume, how can you integrate your experiences to support that objective? You’ll find that the answer may not be the traditional chronological resume format, but perhaps a more unique strategy.

  • 17 Dec 2015 9:19 AM | Anonymous

    Brenda Bernstein
    The Essay Expert

    Each year, the Career Thought Leaders Consortium publishes findings from their annual Global Career Brainstorming Day. My particular interest lies in resume trends. Here are the Top 12 findings in the resume category from the most recent summit:

    1. Resumes are not dead!

    Every job seeker still needs one to present to employers, recruiters and network contacts. That said, the LinkedIn profile is becoming as important if not more important as an entry point and must be crafted to complement, NOT duplicate, the information in the resume.

    2. Brevity Reigns

    The 3-page resume, however, is going extinct. Keep your resume succinct and preferably to one or two pages, even if you are a high-level executive. This means concise writing, short paragraphs, brief lists of bullet points, and good organization and branding to assist the reader in quickly assessing your strengths. The top third of the first page is prime real estate.

    3. Extra Extra! Leverage Addenda

    Addenda are welcome attachments to short resumes when you have additional accomplishments to convey that did not make it onto the two-pager.

    4. Keep it Chronological

    Stay away from functional resumes. Hybrids are okay but reverse-chronological resumes are still the preferred format for recruiters and hiring managers.

    5. Smart-phone Savvy

    Keep in mind that some people will be reading your resume on their phones. This means you need good headlines and a compelling top third to half of the resume to encourage scrolling down.

    6. RoboResumes

    Keep ATS systems in mind. Preptel is a good way to make sure your resume is formatted properly to make it through the system.

    7. Retro Resumes

    Resume paper is still in style for when you present your resume in person! And it’s “retro” – you can send your resume in an actual envelope and perhaps get some positive attention for taking the time to do so in this email-centric world.

    8. Hyperlink it!

    Put links on your resume. QR codes are becoming popular, as well as other URLs that link to additional material about the job seeker.

    9. Be human

    Don’t skip the community service, continuing education, civic background, etc. Your character is being evaluated more than ever! And you are encouraged to put a testimonial on your resume. Why say it yourself when you can have someone else say it for you?

    10. There’s no one-size fits all.

    You need a different resume for each position you apply for, and then you need separate versions for the recruiter, the hiring manager, and the ATS software. How overwhelming can that be? That’s what career professionals and resume writers are here for. Hopefully we can make the process just a bit less overwhelming.

    11. Vital Stats

    You don’t need to include your street address in your resume header anymore! DO include your LinkedIn URL, web address if you have one, your city and state, ONE phone number and ONE email address.

    12. Ever heard of Twitrez?

    If you are media-savvy, you may have used the Twitrez tool to communicate your value proposition in a series of 10 tweets, 140 characters each. The idea is that each message can stand on its own and the combined 1400 characters “create a cohesive overview of a candidate’s core qualifications and value.” Or maybe you’ve tweeted your twesume?

    It’s important as a resume writer or job seeker to keep up with current trends. Thank you to Career Thought Leaders for providing these annual updates with guidelines to keep your job search current!

  • 17 Dec 2015 9:16 AM | Anonymous

    By Lisa Rangel
    Chameleon Resumes

    Crafting a great cover letter that is customized to each job search application and networking opportunity is a must in today’s career marketplace. Using a one-size-fits-all, general cover letter for all your applications and communications is not an effective means to uniquely presenting yourself in a job search. The following six cover letter tips will help you write a concise, impactful cover letter that will improve your chances of getting noticed and receiving the call for the coveted interview:

    • Ensure your cover letter is short—no more than a computer screen shot or a couple of scrolls on a smart phone. That’s it! Hiring managers and recruiting associates do not read much more than that length. If it is longer, you run the risk of your letter getting skipped.
    • Address your cover letter to a person—an actual person!Do not send it “To Whom It May Concern” or “Hiring Manager.”  Do the homework and research to learn to whom you should be addressing your cover letter and addressing the appropriately.
    • Specify how you found the person to email them. Most people have an instinctive response like, “How did they get my name?” when receiving an unsolicited, yet personalized inquiry. Indicate early on in the cover letter email how came to discover them to put the receiving party at immediate ease to continue reading. Whether it was research on LinkedIn or your former co-worker that led you to reach out to this person, informing the recipient of how your email landed in their inbox makes the person feel better.
    • Be explicit as to what job you are looking for, whether it is an exploratory request or if you are submitting your credentials to a job posting.  Do not leave it up to the hiring manager to decide which job you are applying to or where you may fit within their organization. If you do, your cover letter may get filed under the “T” file (Trash).
    • Do not write the cover letter as a prose version of your resume. It is not meant to be a regurgitation of your resume in paragraph form. A cover letter is supposed to summarize to the reader the value you will bring to the prospective organization and how your background fills a need they have. Nothing will put your credentials in the ‘no’ pile faster than a lengthy, synopsis of your career history with no ties as to how your credentials benefits the hiring organization.
    • Help the reader connect the dots as to why they should take action and call you for an interview or forward you to the right person to bring you in for a discussion. Use bullets, and no more then 3-5 bullets, to outline how you are a fit for the prospective position.

    Lastly, of course, end your letter with the professional niceties of thanking the person for their time and assertively offering to follow up to set up an interview time. Polite enthusiasm and humble persistence are never out of style and always stand out in a positive light in today’s marketplace.

  • 17 Dec 2015 9:14 AM | Anonymous

    By Brenda Bernstein
    The Essay Expert

    Certain words appear in almost every cover letter. I’ve explained below why you don’t want to use 4 of these too-common words and what some alternatives might be.

    If you want to make your cover letter stand out, do some editing and make sure to avoid these words completely. You might be surprised at the result.

    1. HOPE

    e.g. I hope to hear from you soon.

    OR

    e.g. I hope to be able to contribute my skills to ABC company.

    Why not?

    Hope springs eternal. The company doesn’t care about your hopes and dreams. They care about what you can do for them.

    Alternatives:

    I look forward to speaking with you further regarding my qualifications.

    OR

    My ability to take clear, decisive action will allow me to make an impact at ABC company from day one.

    OK, now we’re talking!

    2. HONE

    e.g. This summer, I honed my research and writing skills through a position at XX law firm.

    Why not?

    You and every other person honed something. It’s an outdated and overused expression. Tell them what you did and they will figure out that you honed your skills. If you absolutely must, use “strengthened,” “developed,” or even “sharpened.”

    Alternative:

    My research regarding constitutional rights violations culminated in a report and recommendations that guided the ACLU in future actions.

    It’s obvious this person is using some powerful research and writing skills.

    3. DRAWN

    e.g. I am drawn to ABC company because of its outstanding reputation and high quality service.

    Why not?

    You get drawn to a person across a crowded room. Companies don’t care to hear that you are drawn to them. And a bonus tip: companies with outstanding reputations don’t need to be told that you want to work there because of their outstanding reputations.

    Alternative:

    The relationship management skills I built while working in a state office are a match for ABC company’s commitment to outstanding customer relationships.

    That’s so much better, isn’t it?

    4. FEEL

    e.g. I feel the relationship management skills I built while working in a state office are a match for ABC company’s commitment to outstanding customer relationships.

    Why not?

    Can you see how adding “I feel” at the beginning of this sentence killed it completely? Tell a psychologist how you feel. Tell a company what you can do for them. If you must, use the word “believe” instead of “feel.” But see if you can avoid this type of language altogether.

    Alternative:

    The relationship management skills I built while working in a state office are a match for ABC company’s commitment to outstanding customer relationships.

    Delete these four words from your cover letters and I promise you more creative and powerful language will show up.

  • 17 Dec 2015 9:12 AM | Anonymous

    By Brenda Bernstein
    The Essay Expert

    Most of us are familiar with the concept of “power verbs” on a resume. We also have unlimited resources for finding and choosing power verbs, including many websites that provide lists of such verbs.

    How many times have you heard, “Every bullet in a resume should start with a verb”? Dozens at least, right?

    Then why are you starting your bullets with the phrase “Responsible for”? Responsible is not a verb, no matter how many times it shows up on your resume. Furthermore, you can be “responsible for” something and not actually do it! Employers care about what you *did.* Compare:

    1. Was responsible for submitting two sports-related blogs per month for publication on website.
    2. Submitted two sports-related blogs per month for publication on website.

    And compare:

    1. Responsible for raising $250,000 by recruiting staff to run door- to-door canvass reaching 200,000 people
    2. Raised $250,000 by recruiting staff to run door-to-door canvass reaching 200,000 people

    Version 2 in both cases is shorter and more powerful than version 1.

    You might be there saying, “But I didn’t just do things, I was responsible for them!” If you had supervisory or managerial responsibilities, there are verbs for that. Some of them are:

    Supervised

    Developed

    Managed

    Ensured

    Handled

    Monitored

    If you had many significant responsibilities that are important to list on your resume, you can have two sections, one that says “Significant Responsibilities” and one that says “Key Achievements.” Then start your bullets under those sections with *verbs*!

    In a pinch, “Held accountability for” does start with a verb.

    Be “responsible for” the words you choose on your resume. Otherwise you might be “responsible for” impressing a recruiter or employer, but will you succeed?

  • 17 Dec 2015 9:10 AM | Anonymous

    By Wendy S. Enelow, CCM, MRW, JCTC, CPRW
    Enelow Enterprises, Inc.

    Whether writing your resume, cover letter, or executive leadership profile, having an informal networking lunch with a colleague, or sitting in the boardroom during an interview, it is critical that you speak the language of the position you are seeking and NOT the language of the last job you held. What does that mean?

    Here’s an example: Suppose you’ve just resigned from your position as VP of International Sales and are now looking to transition from sales into marketing. DO NOT focus your language on “sales” words (e.g., territory management, sales team training, key account management). Rather, transition your sales skills into “marketing” words (e.g., strategic market planning, competitive analysis, new business development). By doing so, you are presenting yourself as a qualified marketing professional and not just “some sales guy trying to transition into marketing.”

    Here’s another example … You’re a CFO seeking a promotion to CEO. In this situation, you don’t want your language to focus on spreadsheets, currency hedging, and corporate treasury. Rather, the emphasis should be placed on strategic planning and development, new ventures, financial achievements, and the like. Describe yourself as “one of three senior executives responsible for leading the entire corporation” and not “just” the CFO. If you use the “right” words, you’ll create the “right” perception. In this instance, you won’t be viewed as the “number cruncher,” but rather as a business driver and leader.

    This same strategy applies to industry-specific language. If your entire career has been in the plastics industry and you’re now seeking to transition into the high-tech arena, don’t talk about extrusion molding! Use language that is more general. Talk about the size and scope of the organization you managed, quantifiable achievements, business and operating improvements, and information that is applicable across industries and market segments. Don’t niche yourself into a particular industry by focusing so much of your language on information that is, for the most part, irrelevant at this time.

    Language also extends to customer names. Using the “plastics to technology” example above, if your company sold to Amana, Black & Decker, and Whirlpool, either (1) don’t draw attention to those companies, or (2) refer to them collectively as “Fortune 500 customers.” On the other hand, if your customers were IBM, HP, and Dell, be sure to mention them. That language ties you directly to the technology industry and instantly changes a prospective employer’s perception of who you are.

    You can also use language that will tie industries together. Again, using the “plastics to technology” example, rather than describing your past employer as a “$45 million manufacturer of automotive and aerospace electronics,” describe it as a “$45 million manufacturer with state-of-the-art technology center.” See what a tremendous difference it makes? Instantly, you’re part of the technology industry and not an outsider.

    Underlying ALL of what I’ve written above is one simple and vital rule … YOU MUST BE 100% HONEST! What you write on your resume and what you say during an interview must be totally accurate. There is an invisible line that can never be crossed. So, choose your language carefully and truthfully, but allow yourself to focus on what lies ahead of you and not behind.

  • 17 Dec 2015 9:03 AM | Anonymous

    By Wendy S. Enelow, CCM, MRW, JCTC, CPRW
    Enelow Enterprises, Inc.

    WHAT ARE KEY WORDS?

    “My expertise is in process mapping, SAP technology, productivity improvement, operations redesign, team leadership, and supply chain management. Who am I?” If you guessed that I’m the Vice President of Operations (or something similar), you’re right! Those few words above communicated a very specific message about “who am I.” That is precisely what key words are all about.

    Ten years ago, no one had even heard of key words, yet they’re nothing new. Previously known as buzz words, key words are words that are specific to a particular industry or profession and have two vital purposes in your job search:

    • A single key word communicates multiple skills and qualifications. When prospective employer read the key word “sales,” they will assume you have experience in new business development, product/service presentation, negotiations, sales closings, customer relationship management, new product introduction, and more. Just one key word can have tremendous power and deliver a huge message.
    • Key words are the backbone for resume scanning technology. If a company is seeking a Chief Financial Officer, they may do a key word search through hundreds of resumes to find candidates with experience in tax, treasury, cash management, currency hedging, and foreign exchange. If you don’t have those words in your resume, you will be passed over.

    Typical key words for the $100,000+ executive include:

    • Strategic Planning
    • Organizational Leadership
    • Performance Optimization
    • Profitability Improvement
    • New Business Development
    • Joint Ventures & Alliances
    • Consensus Building & Teaming
    • Corporate Administration
    • World Class Organization
    • Best Practices & Benchmarking
    • P&L Responsibility
    • Multi-Site Operations
    • Budgeting & Finance
    • Decision-Making

    NOTE: Although one might assume that key words are individual words, key words can be multiple words as demonstrated above.

    HOW & WHERE DO YOU USE KEY WORDS?

    As a $100,000+ executive job search candidate, you must use your key words in all of your job search marketing communications – resumes, cover letters, interview follow-up letters, executive profiles, and more. Carefully integrate them into the text, when and where appropriate, to be sure you are communicating a complete message of “who you are” and what value/knowledge you bring to the organization.

    NOTE: Resume scanning technology can find these words anywhere in your resume or letter! They do not need to be in a separate section.

    Here are a few ideas of how and where to incorporate key words into your resume:

    • In the Career Summary at the beginning of your resume. Summaries are the ideal section in which to highlight your most notable key words, and you can do this either in a paragraph format or a listing of bulleted items. By doing so, you’re quickly communicating your core qualifications for immediate impact.
    • In your job descriptions. Use key words to write powerful action statements, project highlights, achievements, and more.
    • In a separate section. Although optional, as noted above, you may choose to summarize your key words in a separate section titled Professional Qualifications or Executive Qualifications.

    MOVING FORWARD

    Get a copy of your resume and review it carefully. Have you incorporated all of the key words that are most relevant to your profession and your industry (if your search is industry-specific)? If not, go back through and integrate the appropriate key words so that your resume clearly communicates “This is who I am.”

    And, remember, these same key words will be the foundation for your interviews. Not only do you need to be able to write about your key words, you must be able to verbally communicate about them in strong and powerful statements that highlight your successes, contributions, and achievements. Be an educated and well-prepared $100,000+ executive search candidate and the victory will be yours!

  • 17 Dec 2015 8:57 AM | Anonymous

    By Brenda Bernstein
    The Essay Expert

    Do you want to impress the people who matter?

    For better or worse, many people judge you on your ability to express yourself in words. Whether you are an entrepreneur, a blogger, a college applicant or a job seeker, it is crucial that you write clearly and coherently.

    I read a lot of bad writing, and I have noticed certain errors that occur over and over again. If you AVOID this list of errors, you will stand a chance of getting in the door.

    NOTE: There is a game in this article! If you see two word or phrase choices in brackets, see if you can choose the correct one. What’s your grammar score?

    1. Its/It’s

    This one might be the most common error of them all. Its is the possessive of it. It means “belonging to it.” E.g., The computer is on its last legs. The tree lost its leaves.

    The confusion comes from the fact that usually we use an apostrophe to form a possessive, e.g.,

    I stole the dog’s bone. The President’s speech did not inspire me.

    Exception alert! Possessive pronouns (yours, hers, ours, theirs) have NO apostrophe, e.g., Is that picnic blanket yours, ours or theirs?

    There’s an exception to the exception: One’s, which is also a possessive pronoun. E.g., It’s good to take one’s time when writing a business letter.

    It’s – with an apostrophe – means “it is.” It’s a contraction like do not (don’t). E.g., It’s a beautiful day! It’s hard to know when to use “then” and when to use “than.Then/Than

    2. Then/Than

    Then refers to time. Many people tend to use then when than is correct. Here’s a cool trick: Then rhymes with when! First I saw.Then I came. Then I conquered.
    When? Then.

    Than refers to comparison. The Empire State Building is taller than my house. I love you more than he does.

    If you’re not answering the question “When?” (Answer: Then), [know/no] to use than.

    3. Know/No

    Know is what you do with knowledge. If you know how to spell knowledge you know how to spell know.

    No is used to express the negative and is the opposite of Yes. E.g. No way! No means no!

    I know you can get this [write/right].

    4. Write/Right

    Write is most often used to refer to what you do with words. Conveniently, “write” and “words” both start with a w. Write words.

    Right is the opposite of left, or of wrong. E.g., You write with your right hand, am I right? Right can also mean to set something straight. E.g., [Everyday/Every day], my cat knocks over my ficus plant, and every day I right it.

    5. Every Day/Everyday

    If you do something every single day, use every day. Try putting “single” in the phrase and if it belongs there, make sure you put a space between “every” and “day.”

    If something is commonplace or done every day, use everyday.

    e.g., I don’t wear my everyday shoes every day. Sometimes I like my shoes to [stand out/standout].

    6. Stand Out/Standout

    Stand out is a verb. Try putting the word “right” into the phrase. E.g., She stands [right] out in a crowd. If the sentence works, make sure you put a space between “stand” and “out.”

    Standout is an adjective meaning impressive or noticeable. E.g.,We attracted a standout crowd on opening night, despite the foul [weather/whether].

    7. Weather/Whether

    Weather comprises things like sun, rain, snow, sleet and hail.

    Whether is a conjunction used to introduce an alternative. E.g.,Whether or not, here I come! Whether raises a question, much like other questions words like “who,” “what,” and “which,” which also start with “wh.”

    As questionable as the weather may be, it does not start with awh. E.g., In early Spring, I often [here/hear] weather reports that contradict each other as to whether it’s going to rain or snow.

    8. Here/Hear

    Hear is generally what your ears do. Notice that “ear” is part of “hear.” This one should be easy. Can you hear me now?

    Here relates to a place or a time. E.g., Please come over here.

    The expression “Hear hear!” comes from “Hear ye Hear ye!” We love what these folks have to say and we want to hear [they’re/their/there] words!

    9. There/They’re/Their

    There is a place. Look over there. Note it has “here” in it, which is also a place: There.

    They’re is the contraction for They Are. You make it the same way you make don’t (do not), it’s (it is), and you’re (you are).

    Their is a possessive pronoun. It has “heir” in it. If Bob and Jim are heirs according to [statute/statue] then the money is theirs.

    10. Too/Two/To

    Too means “also” or “as well.” Think extra. An extra thing and an extra o.

    Two is a number, also known as 2. Unfortunately it does not have 2 os in it, which would make things easier to remember. Just remember w for wacky. ‘Cuz this is a pretty wacky spelling of a word if I ever saw one. Or you can think of other words that have “tw” in them like “between” and “twins” that also have a “tw.”

    To is a preposition. It gets you from one place to another. It is the beginning of the word toward, which is another word that [affects/effects] your location.

    11. There/They’re/Their

    There is a place. Look over there. Note it has “here” in it, which is also a place: Where? There.

    They’re is the contraction for They Are. You make it the same way you make don’t (do not), it’s (it is), and you’re (you are).

    Their is a possessive pronoun. It has “heir” in it. If Bob and Jim are heirs according to [statute/statue] then the money is theirs.

    12. Affect/Effect

    Affect is almost always a verb meaning “to have an impact on.” E.g., How did the news affect you? It starts with the letter a – remember a is for action, and verbs, including affect, are action words. Affect can also be used as a noun meaning an attitude or countenance. E.g., Whenever she went to a dinner party, she put on a snooty affect. A is for attitude! Effect is almost always a noun meaning “impact.” E.g., What was the effect of the recession on your finances? Effect can also be used as a verb meaning to implement. E.g., Jane is the only person I know [that/who] takes action to effect change in environmental policy.

    13. Who/That
    I often see people referred to as “that.”

    IMPROPER USE: I’m looking for a lawyer that can help me with my divorce.

    PROPER: I’m looking for a lawyer who can help me with my divorce.

    When you’re choosing a word to refer to a person or people, always use who. Use that when referring to things, e.g., There are many grammatical errors that drive me crazy, and I really wish people would make [less/fewer] of them!

    14. Less/Fewer

    Less is used to refer to something that can’t be counted, or that you would describe an amount. E.g., I wish there were less violence in the world. Or, Tastes great, less filling!

    Fewer is used to refer to something that can be counted, or that you would describe as a number. E.g., I wish there were fewer incidents of violence in the world.

    Dollars are somewhat of an exception. Whenever we refer to a dollar amount, we’re really referring to an amount of money and not a number, [irregardless/regardless] of the fact that we can count dollars.

    15. Regardless/Irregardless

    Irregardless is NOT a word. Trust your spell check on this one. Don’t ever use this non-word! It means “without regard.” Why did anyone ever add an “ir” to it?

    E.g., I know you love your father and [I/me] regardless of how many times we take away your TV time.

    16. I/Me/Myself

    The most common mistake I see with these pronouns is usage ofI where me would be proper.

    IMPROPER USE: I know you love your father and I.

    PROPER USE: I know you love your father and me.

    To figure out which word to use, strip away all parties other than yourself. You wouldn’t say “I know you love I” so why would you change it to “me” when adding the father into the picture? If you would say “I know you love me,” then say “I know you love your father and me.”

    Second most common error: Inappropriate use of the word myself.

    IMPROPER USE: Your father and myself love you even though we give you timeouts.

    PROPER USE: Your father and I love you even though we give you timeouts.

    Once again, just take father out of the picture and you have your grammatically correct answer. You wouldn’t say “Myself loves you” so why change it when you add the father? If you would say “I love you” then say “Your father and I love you.”

    Very simply, your best bet with pronouns is always to strip the sentence down and see what’s left. Then you’ll have [your/you’re] answer.

    17. Your/You’re

    This example is our third lesson in contractions.

    You’re is a contraction for you are. If you’re using the word to mean you are (2 words), write it as a contraction. E.g., Do you know that you’re about to miss the 5:00 train?

    Your is a possessive pronoun. E.g., I mistakenly [lead/led] you to believe that your train is leaving in 2 minutes.

    18. Lead/Led

    Lead is a type of metal and also the present tense of the verb “to lead.” For some reason, it is very common, especially on resumes, to use “lead” as a past tense verb. This usage is incorrect.

    Led is the past tense of the verb to lead. E.g., I led my team to a 200% gain in profits last year by decreasing the [incidence/incident] of production error by 25%.

    19. Incidence/Incident

    An incident is an event of some kind. It is something that happens. E.g., It was not uncommon for there to be thousands of incidents of AIDS in one small African village.

    Incidence is the frequency at which something occurs. E.g., The incidence of AIDS [between/among] the people of Africa is astounding.

    20. Between/Among

    Between is used when there are only two things. E.g., Between you and me, I can’t really tell the difference between the twins.

    You might remember this one by thinking b stands for “both” (another word that requires 2 things) or by remembering the tw(tween/twins) connection. As we saw with the number two, “tw” refers to things that come in 2s.

    Among is used when there are lots of things. [I.e./E.g.], Among the many errors made by writers, the 20 listed here are the most common I have seen.

    21. I.e./e.g.

    I.e. is Latin for id est, meaning “that is,” or “in other words.”

    E.g. is Latin for exempli gratia, meaning “for example.”

    They do not mean the same thing and should not be used interchangeably! Use i.e. when you are stating something in another way. Use e.g. when you are giving examples. For example:

    There are 7 colors in the rainbow, i.e., red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. (complete list)

    There are 7 colors in the rainbow, e.g., red, orange and yellow(examples/incomplete list)

    I hope the examples above lessen your everyday incidence of grammatical error. I also hope this article has led you to feel more confident in your writing. It’s not rocket science, and regardless of whether you are a job seeker or a business person, it’s important to get these words right. It will have a positive effect for you with anyone who cares about the quality of your professional writing, making you stand out in a positive way.

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