Virtually everyone I have spoken with agrees 2020 was a terrible year. We all want to make certain 2021 is better. The problem is that a lot of things are out of our control.
A small thing we can control during 2021 is to use the correct words and phrases when we prepare resumes and job search correspondence. Grammar checkers and spellcheckers miss things. Even worse, they are sometimes wrong.
Here are 10 examples of words and phrases that I’ve seen job seekers get wrong, or that have been discussed in blog posts about incorrect usage.
1. Principal vs. Principle
This is the first word-pair that comes to mind when I think about incorrectly used words because one of my first executive-level clients had the job title Elementary School Principal. I was certain that Helene was using the correct word because she was a school principal for 30 years, but I checked with Google anyway.
“Principal” is the head of a school. A principal can also be in charge of something specific in an organization, such as a principal economist. A principle, on the other hand, is a first rule. One way to think about it is that the School Principal sets down the school’s guiding principle.
You will not get this wrong if you are a school principal, or principal investigator on a research team. Nonetheless it’s worth keeping this one in mind.
2. The accountant does not do “trail balances.”
About 15 years ago, I watched a presentation of cover letter bloopers a recruiter gave at a popular lecture series for job-seekers in Manhattan. A junior accountant’s cover letter wound up in the recruiter’s slide deck because he included “preparing trail balances” as part of his skillset. Accountants do “trial balances.”
This does not really qualify as a misused word error—it’s a typo your spellchecker will not catch because “trial” and “trail” are valid words.
3. Has our job posting peaked your interest?
Your job announcement piqued my interest. A peak is a topmost point, as in a mountain peak. Pique, on the other hand, is to upset or excite. So the job lead should have excited, or piqued my interest.
4. Are you making due or making do with the situation?
Christina DesMarais, in an Inc. blog post, pointed out that this is another confusing idiomatic expression. “Make do is the proper way to say that you’re going to get along with what you have.” The word “due” means “owed,” so this is not the meaning you are trying to convey. If the result of your work was that the agency could “make do with its current case management system, instead of acquiring a new system” that is the way you should write the statement.
5. Are you stationary when you write a note on your stationery?
My wife proofed a resume with me a few weeks ago and suggested I check whether I was using the word “stationery” correctly. Spellcheck accepts both. Dictionary.com quickly confirmed that stationery is “writing materials, as pens, pencils, paper, and envelopes.” Stationary refers to standing still.
6. Wear a costume when this is the custom.
Resumes have crossed my screen over the years with the words “costume” and “custom” confused, although they look like very different words to me. Like many confused words, both pass the spellcheck test.
7. Did you whet your appetite or did you wet your appetite?
According to Christina’s post. whet means to “sharpen,” so you are saying something sharpened your appetite. So “whet,” rather than wet is the correct word to use. For example, one of my early cover letters when I graduated college said that “my internship reviewing a program at Budget and Credit Counseling Service whet my appetite for doing program evaluation.” (I got the job.)
8. Our general counsel is chairperson of the Diversity Council.
It is unlikely you will confuse the words “council” or “counsel” if you work in a general counsel’s office or serve on a diversity council. Nonetheless, I have occasionally felt the need to clarify whether an entry-level job seeker I was speaking to worked in a counselor’s office, or worked for a council of some sort. Sometimes the answer is that they worked for a counselor that sat on a council.
9. Am I a shoo-in for this job, or am I a shoe-in?
According to the Inc. article, “you are urging something in a certain direction when you ‘shoo’ something” so shoo is the correct word. You probably feel the job fits you like a shoe, but it is not considered correct usage to write that you are a “shoe-in.” As a cover letter writer, I feel that stating “I am a shoo-in for your open position” would be too informal, and perhaps expresses overconfidence.
10. Should I take the express into Manhattan to have an expresso with you?
We will start emailing and texting our industry contacts to invite them for meetings in a coffee shop where we can have espresso with them when the Pandemic ends. The correct word, according to Grammar.com, is “espresso,” even though my MS-Word spellchecker accepts “expresso.”
Supervisors and managers have always told me they value team members that speak and write well, so start off “on the right foot” when you send informal texts and notes. If you are still not certain I am correct, invite your contacts for a coffee meeting.
There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of confusing words and phrases in the English language, so Google the word if you are not sure.
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