The last thing you want after working hard on your impressive curriculum vitae is to lose out on the perfect job because of a couple of typos!
In the UK alone, at least two English County Councils have banned apostrophes from their signage, and the bookseller Waterstones has dropped the apostrophe from its name entirely. It’s true that English-speakers everywhere are increasingly confused about the right way to use the apostrophe. On your CV there are a couple of areas where you need to take care too:
1) Look out for time and quantity
You will, no doubt, have to explain how long you spent in a role or in study e.g.:
– ‘I have five years’ experience in retail’
– ‘I completed two years’ research into biodiversity at the University of Lancaster’
– ‘I must give three months’ notice before leaving my present job’
You should add an apostrophe after the plural here as it is acting like a possessive. To test whether you need an apostrophe, say the sentence aloud, adding ‘of’ instead of the apostrophe e.g. ‘I completed two years of research …’ When the word ‘of’ fits perfectly with no change in meaning, you should add an apostrophe in the original sentence.
2) Beware ‘its’ and ‘it’s’
The word ‘its’ when indicating possession is something you may have to use on your CV e.g.:
‘For my thesis I studied the urban fox and its nocturnal eating habits.’
Note that with the word ‘it’, no apostrophe is needed to indicate possession.
However, if you were to contract the words ‘it is’ or ‘it has’, you would use an apostrophe to indicate the omission of letters e.g. ‘It’s raining outside’ and ‘It’s been a great experience’. Thankfully, you will tend to avoid informal contractions like this on your CV, so just watch out for the possessive!
3) Avoid the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’
Despite the fact that shop signs notoriously get this wrong (‘fresh pannini’s made to order!’), the apostrophe should not be used to indicate a plural. The correct way to describe a plural of, say, your qualifications, would be as follows:
– ‘I gained three GCSEs.’
– ‘I have undertaken two Diplomas.’
Some common CV misspellings
Misspellings can undermine the credibility of your CV too. Be particularly careful where two different spellings can create entirely different meanings e.g. ‘discrete’ versus ‘discreet’, ‘affect’ versus ‘effect’, and ‘accept’ versus ‘except’. A simple error here could leave your interviewer baffled.
– ‘I enjoy writing for many discrete audiences’ = you enjoy writing for a number of distinct audiences
– ‘I enjoy writing for many discreet audiences’ = you enjoy writing for people who are restrained or tactful
The trouble is, such words will slip by your spellchecker because it doesn’t know which meaning you intend. If you have any doubts at all about a word’s meaning, take a moment to double-check it in a good dictionary – doing so could ultimately get you the job!
Clare Dignall is the author of several books including Negotiation Skills and Successful Networking both part of the new 7 Simple Steps Series (just out, published by Collins). She has also authored Can you Eat, Shoot and Leave? A guide to correct English language punctuation.