Application spring clean: Spelling, grammar and accuracy

Posted in: Advice, Applications, Tips & Hints

In my last blog, I wrote about spring cleaning your job applications – fixing those clunky phrases that clutter the page, and making it easier to read. But don’t stop there! Once your CV or cover letter is as good as it can be, it’s still wise to check for typos and grammatical errors. We don’t offer proofreading at Careers, so it’s your responsibility to ensure your applications are error-free. Here are some tips.

Use a spell checker, but don’t rely on it

If you’re writing your application in Microsoft Word, you should use the editor function before sending it out into the world. Employers might be forgiving of one or two errors, but you should still be as accurate as you can. Google Docs can also check spelling and grammar, and if you use browser extensions like Grammarly, you can even check your writing on the web.

Do this alongside your own common sense. While spell checkers are becoming more advanced, there are some mistakes they can’t pick up on. Homophones – words that sound the same, but with different spellings and usages – are easily missed. Consider the difference between ‘role’ and ‘roll’. If you’re ‘looking for a roll in engineering’, this implies a search for a small lump of bread. Spell checkers won’t flag this, because as far as they’re concerned, maybe you are writing to procure bread rolls from an engineering firm. Who are they to judge?

Check your facts and figures

Why can’t spell checkers understand the implausibility of writing about bread rolls? It’s because they can’t understand context. They don’t know what you did or when you did it. Take dates as another example. It’s surprisingly easy to type ‘2012’ instead of ‘2021’ (or vice versa), so make sure your timelines are accurate.

While it’s a great idea to quantify your results, there’s a huge difference between 14% and 41% – and only you will know which is correct. Did you raise £10 at that charity function, or £100, or £1,000? You don’t want to look as though you lied or exaggerated – and if you raised £1,000, you don’t want to undersell your achievement.

It’s getting tense in here…

Job applications can be written in the past tense (‘demonstrated’, ‘assisted’), as they refer to duties you have already done, or actions you have already taken. You could also use the present tense to refer to ongoing responsibilities. For example:

‘As an Applications Adviser, I offer constructive feedback to students…’

What’s most important is to be consistent. Don’t jump from past to present tense unless this is contextually necessary. It’s fine to write about things you are going to do in the future, but make this clear and use the right tense to reflect this.

Get a second opinion

Even with a strong grasp of grammar, it’s easy to miss glaring errors in your own writing. Your brain knows what you meant to say, so it’s likely that this will be what you see on the page. Even when words missing or or duplicated. 😉

Also keep in mind that the more changes you make to your CV or cover letter, the higher the risk of new errors. I’m not saying you should stop making necessary changes. Just be aware that your corrections need to be, well, correct, so it’s worth doing a final check before you send your application. Consider asking a friend to read over it, or buddy up and return the favour. A fresh pair of eyes is more likely to spot mistakes – and you don’t want the mistake spotter to be a potential employer!

If you struggle with spelling

Having said all of the above, I don’t want you to feel like it’s unacceptable to make mistakes or find writing challenging. English is a complex and often inconsistent language. It’s my native language and I still find things that trip me up and make me think, ‘Wait… am I making sense?’

If you are neurodivergent – for example, you have dyslexia and/or ADHD – then finding and correcting errors might pose additional challenges. It may be worth contacting the Disability Service to find out how they can support you. Alternatively, the Skills Centre has a programme of skills enrichment sessions for academic writing, which can help you with your writing more generally. Remember you can disclose a disability at the application stage if you wish.

The point of no return…?

Finally, if you find a small typo after submitting your application, don’t panic. Making mistakes is human and employers understand this – they are human too! They have a roll role to fill, and if you’re a good fit then they shouldn’t reject you for a tiny error they could easily make themselves.

Yes, you read that right. Employers make mistakes too! I once saw a three-month position misspelt as a three-moth position. I was drawn to it like a month to a flame.

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Posted in: Advice, Applications, Tips & Hints


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