Leadership

7 commonly misused words that could ruin your resume

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If you're giving your resume a second or third read, consider this terrifying thought: Spell check won't catch some of your biggest errors.

That's because it's possible you're misusing common words. These mistakes don't just make a poor impression. They could change the message you're trying to communicate.

Remember: Hiring managers take notice of everything, from word choice to typos. Even the smallest resume mistake can be enough to disqualify you.

"[The resume] is something that the candidate is using to represent themselves," Google senior recruiter Lisa Stern Haynes says in a company podcast. "So if there are going to be mistakes on that and you're noticing sloppiness on there, that really is a great indicator of how they'll perform in a job."

In their book "That Doesn't Mean What You Think it Means," authors Ross and Kathryn Petras delve into the proper meanings of the most commonly mixed-up words.

As you craft your resume, make sure that you're correctly using these seven terms so your resume doesn't land in the rejection pile.

1. Less vs. Fewer

When deciding whether to use "less" or "fewer," ask yourself: Is this countable?

"Fewer" should be used only for numbered, countable things, especially people or other plural nouns. Here's an example: "In my three-year span as a manager, fewer than 10 employees left the company."

Use "less" for singular mass nouns that can't be reasonably counted, such as "experience" or "knowledge." You can also use "less" for numbers that are a single or total unit, which are usually paired with the word "than." For example, "Over my three-year span as a manager, less than 3 percent of my staff quit."

2. Affect vs. Effect

"Affect" and "effect" are easy to mix up. Here's a simple way to differentiate between the two: "Affect" is almost always a verb, whereas "effect" is usually a noun.

"Affect" means "to act upon, to make change to something." For example, "I volunteered at a nonprofit for young people affected by cancer."

"Effect" typically means "a change that resulted from something else acting on it." For example, "The changes that I implemented had an immediate effect."

To make things just a tad bit complicated, "affect" can sometimes be used as a noun (most commonly in psychiatry, meaning an emotional response or state: "a flat affect"). And "effect" can be used as a verb, meaning "to cause change to something." Make sure that you're thinking about the context of the sentence to determine which word is appropriate.

3. Assure vs. Insure vs. Ensure

"Assure" means to reassure or to give confidence in something. On a resume you might write, "Our 30-day money-back guarantee assured customers that they could test out a product and return it if it wasn't to their liking."

"Ensure" means to "make certain" and it's considered a "power word" by some resume experts. In a resume you'd write: "I ensured customer satisfaction with a 30-day money-back guarantee, as evidenced by a 40 percent growth in sales."

"Insure" can sometimes be used interchangeably with ensure. But most linguists recommend sticking to insure when talking about financial matters. For a resume, you'd say, "I insured company equipment against losses or damages, saving the department $15,000 throughout the course of a year."

4. Elicit vs. Illicit

These words may sound alike, but they have very different meanings.

"Elicit" is a verb, meaning "to draw out or call forth a response or reaction." For example: "I implemented an unlimited vacation policy, eliciting a 30-percent jump in employee retainment across a two-year span."

"Illicit" is an adjective, meaning "illegal or socially disapproved of." As in, "I designed a program to scan online comments for illicit language."

5. Further vs. Farther

Although they're often used interchangeably, "further" and "farther" technically have different meanings. Use "farther" when talking physical distance. For example, "I left my previous job because I moved farther away."

"Further" should be used for figurative distance. For instance, on a resume you might write that you "furthered the team's skill development." That said, most grammatical experts believe that you can use either one when actual distance isn't involved. If you're ever in a panic over which to use, "further" has fewer restrictions and is the preferred choice in American English.

6. Perspective vs. Prospective

"Perspective" relates to a particular way of looking or thinking about something. For example: "My unique background and perspective helped the team sell products to niche markets, boosting sales by 50 percent."

Prospective means "expected in the future." A sample resume phrase could read: "Based on prospective market analysis, I invested $40,000 into digital technologies, increasing productivity by 25 percent."

7. Complementary vs. Complimentary

Complementary describes things that complete one another and enhance something's qualities. On a resume, one might say, "My complementary business and computer science degrees helped me find cost-effective ways to build new tech gadgets, saving the company more than $75,000 in fees."

Complimentary derives from the adjective compliment and describes things that convey praise or admiration. "Thanks to my sleek product design, 90 percent of our Amazon reviews were complimentary, up from 60 percent when I was first hired last year."

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