Writing a CV (resume) in English can be a minefield. If writing in English is your second language, you're working against lots of confusing grammar rules while trying to show potential employers that you're the ideal candidate to fill their vacated desirable position.


If you're having trouble putting your CV together, check out these common mistakes. Are you making any of them? Below are ten tips (and resourceful gold nuggets) for you to take into consideration the next time you find yourself updating or even writing from scratch a CV.



1. Overusing capital letters


Many CV writers tend to overuse capital letters, capitalizing every word in a sentence. However, capitals don't actually work like that. They're usually only used at the beginning of a sentence, or to mark a proper noun. For example:


  • You don't need to capitalize your last role as a 'project manager', but you do need to capitalize the town you worked in, 'Swindon', as that's the name of the place (proper noun). However you use capital letters, make sure you stay consistent in your writing style.



2. Using the plural for a singular organisation


If you're talking about an organisation you've worked for in the past, it's tempting to talk about it as a plural. That's quite common as you're thinking of all the people who work there. In English though, the organisation itself is considered to be a singular item. For example:


  • You'll have worked for the BBC in the past, not the BBCs.



3. Not talking in first person


A CV is designed to be written by you, about your own work history. It's a personal document. That's why it's considered bad grammar to talk about yourself in the third person. Even worse would be if you unwittingly switch between first person and third person. If you have problems remembering this when you're writing, imagine that you're talking to the reader directly. For example:


  • You should write 'I worked in engineering for five years', not 'Mark worked in engineering for five years.'



4. Using poor grammar


Poor grammar is the number one reason why a recruiter would stop reviewing your CV. If they can't understand what you're trying to say, they aren't going to take the time to find out. The English language has complicated grammar rules, so you're bound to make mistakes along the way. If you don't check for them though, you're in trouble. Better yet, have someone you trust who is proficient in English also check for you. A tip:


  • Try using the Academized grammar handbook to catch those mistakes before you submit a CV.



5. An over reliance on spell check


Spell check is a wonderful invention, and it's taken a huge amount of work out of proofreading your CV. However, a spell checker tool doesn't replace the act of proofreading entirely. Many people fall foul of it every day, because they expect it to pick up everything. The only way to get around this is to do a full proofread of your CV after you've used spell check. For example:


  • Here's how spell check can miss mistakes in your CV. You may have wanted to write 'I worked for the BBC', but instead you wrote 'I worked four the BBC' by accident. The spell check won't pick up on it, because the word 'four' is spelled correctly.



6. Not looking for help when you could use it


A CV is a reflection of you and your skills, but that doesn't mean you have to write it alone. There's lots of help out there, so use it and get the most out of your CV. A tip:


  • Professional writers at sites such as Ox Essays and Resumention are experts at creating CVs, so get in touch with people there. 
  • Or you may even try to ask your italki teacher go over your CV with you while taking the lesson live.
  • All of the potential people you find and approach from these sites will help you write a CV that's an excellent reflection of your skills.



7. Using the passive voice


A CV is meant to really show you off in the best light. That means you need to sound dynamic and interesting. The problem is that some people write in a passive voice, making them sound the total opposite. To avoid this, you want to try and write in an active voice as much as possible. For example:


  • Files were collated' is an example of the passive voice. Instead, you could write 'I collated the files.'



8. Not explaining abbreviations


If it's not obvious what you're talking about if you use an abbreviation, it's considered good grammar to write the name out in full first, then write the abbreviation out in brackets. Thereafter, you can just use the abbreviation. Of course, you don't need to do this if the abbreviation is in common usage. For example:


  • Everyone in the UK knows what GCSE stands for, so you don't need to write it out. 
  • If you use an abbreviation, it would look like this: 'I worked at Industrial Light And Sound (ILAS) during 2014.'



9. Not proofreading your CV


You've worked hard on that CV, and you know that you've included everything you need to really sell yourself to any recruiter. However, you shouldn’t even think of submitting it anywhere until you've proofread it. That's because it's easy to make mistakes as you write, and if a recruiter finds those [silly or common] mistakes they're going to throw your CV away - on the spot. Recruiters peruse through thousands of CVs every day, so they don't have the time to waste.


This means that you need to make sure that you're proofreading everything you write. Check your writing over carefully for any errors you may have made, including spelling and grammatical errors. If you're struggling to do it on your own, then there is professional help out there. Writing sites such as Big Assignments can help you by proofreading your CV for you and editing it when necessary.



10. Writing a CV that's too long


In most English speaking countries, a CV is considered to be too long if it goes over two pages. If you're going over that, it means that you're including too much information, or information that isn't really relevant to the position. Keep your length short and your CV will be much more likely to be read. If you want to check the length of your CV, try using Easy Word Count.




As you can see, English grammar can be tricky, but you can work your way around it. Keep these potential pitfalls in mind as you write, and you should be fine. Talk in the first person, check all your grammar mistakes, use only active voice and don’t rely on spell check. Also keep your CV short and proofread before you submit and you're good to go. Check your CV right now and see which of these mistakes you’ve already made, fix them! After which, you are ready to find your dream job.


Hero image by Tim Gouw (CC0 1.0)