Why even one grammar mistake could cost you your new job

All you need is a recruiter or employer who has a bee in their bonnet about grammar, spelling, punctuation and so-on…if your CV/résumé contains one or more mistakes, you are toast.

writing tips from Suzan St Maur
So are your job prospects with that employer.

Unfair? Why should, say, a prospective manual worker, road sweeper, athlete, shop worker etc. need to know how to spell? Probably they don’t.

So what’s the big deal?

You’re probably thinking that my view of recruiters is that they are drooling-mad grammar fascists who become tachycardic at the sight of a misplaced apostrophe.

Realistically of course there are some who don’t foam at the mouth if someone spells a word wrongly or uses an Oxford comma. These tend to be recruiters or recruiters’ clients who aren’t that fussed about correct spelling and grammar themselves, and who probably are more interested in whether the candidate concerned knows their onions in technical terms: not how to spell accommodation.

But there is more to this apparent nit-picking than you might think.

If you can’t get your job application right, what else are you likely to do wrong in the job?

Several times a year I do a turn for an amazing charity based in my home town here in England. They are called Worktree – and their core activity is arranging one-hour sessions of people in jobs ranging from solopreneurs like me to employees of major corporates, Armed Forces, the Police and many other organisations to come and do a ‘speed networking’ event in local schools up to the end of high school.

We sit in front of 3-6 students at a time and they ask us questions about our jobs for the following 6 or 7 minutes. They also learn about manners, engaging with employers and a number of other things which will help them in their search for work.

Let’s face it: the career choice of ‘business writing’ isn’t going to do it for most of them

I never fail to be impressed by some of the career choices these students want to make whether they intend to go on to tertiary academic or apprenticeship education.

Of course ‘business writing’ can encompass a number of careers covering copywriting, technical writing, business journalism, content marketing, and quite a few more. But outside those niches there are an impressive number of other career choices that were unthinkable back in the Ming Dynasty when I was at school.

The one thing I always say to these students is that whatever their chosen career path, it’s essential that they get everything right in their job applications, CVs, résumés, etc. Usually I’ll get one or two who say, “but I want to be a professional soccer player. Why do I need perfect grammar for that?”

Correct writing is not about being clever. It shows that you care about professionalism, which matters a lot whatever job you do

Whether you are a student starting out on your career path or someone further along in the career journey looking for better prospects, get this:

1. Whatever the paperwork or online submission you’re expected to fill in, take it very, very seriously.

2. In an application, take your time to understand what will light your prospective employer’s fire – not yours.

3, In a CV / résumé ditto – make it about them, not you. NB: There are more articles about  CVs and résumés here, and there are thousands of CV experts out there who can help you. Google ‘how to write a good CV’ or ‘how to write a good résumé’ (depending on which term is commonly used in your country.)

4. Above all else make sure – by checking, checking, checking – that your content is entirely free from spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax mistakes. You can use grammar and spell checkers but be warned: they do not always pick up on things like the incorrect use of ‘there – their – they’re’ or ‘its – it’s.

5. Get someone else to check what you’ve written – a teacher, parent, religious leader or clever friend. Even professional writers like me need to have second pair of eyes on our text, because after working with it for so long it becomes too familiar and we can become blinded to errors.

6. If there’s no-one available to help you check for errors, print out the text concerned or if there’s no printer around, change the font. As in #5 above your eyes become used to your original text so can miss mistakes: by changing the look of the text, you and your eyes pay more attention to detail!

Unfair though it may seem, just one grammar goof could make the difference between your submission being at the top of the applications pile, to being at the bottom.

Do you really want to take that risk?

Good luck!





  1. Sz, have you EVER toured a recruiter’s site or post and NOT found a grammar error?