Words you May Be Using Incorrectly on your Resume

Having read thousands of resumes, we have seen just about every common mistake imaginable. But we are careful not to judge because we are all prone to making writing mistakes. For many of us, it’s due to the fact that we can’t type quite as quickly as we can think. So we often leave out definite and indefinite articles such as “a”, “an”, and “the.”  Usually, quick proofreading will catch those. Yet we don’t see those types of mistakes quite as often as we see the misuse of a few particularly tricky words. In fact, we can summarize the most common ones in this resume bullet where we have bolded the five most problematic words that I’d like to discuss in this article:

  • Lead a team comprised of 20 individuals as the principle IT support element; insured that the team was properly trained to identify and eliminate the affects of computer malware and viruses.

Explaining the Confusion

Lead vs. Led.  It’s a little surprising at how common this mistake is. The misuse comes down to the proper conjugation of verbs (e.g. I run, I ran, I was running, etc.). In almost all cases your resume takes on the past tense because you are describing things that you already did. Therefore you want to use the word “led” since it is the past tense of “lead.”  Example:  Led the platoon to the highest performance on annual gunnery certification.
Comprised vs. Composed. This one is probably the most common errors we see on resumes. The misuse of “comprised” occurs when it is used in combination with the word “of” such as “a company comprised of 90 employees.”  Technically, the word “comprised” should never be followed by the word “of.”  A more proper way to make the statement is “a company comprising 90 employees”  or alternatively “a company composed of 90 employees.” Note that the word “of” can follow the word “composed.” But full disclosure here – the incorrect usage is so common today, that it is generally accepted by all but the most steadfast grammar purists.   
Principal vs. Principle. The word “principle” refers to a rule or doctrine whereas “principal” refers to a person (at least in the noun form). Here’s a silly way to remember the difference. The last three letters of ‘principal’ is “pal” which we often think of as a person. So if you are referring to a person, use “principal” (though we doubt that you think of your high school principal as your pal). Additionally, “principal” can also be used as an adjective to convey “most important, consequential, or influential.” That rule explains our incorrect usage in the example above.
Insure vs. Ensure. Contrary to popular belief, these two words have very different meanings. In almost all resume cases, “ensure” is the appropriate choice for a resume. The word “insure” means to protect against loss or damage (think life insurance), whereas “ensure” means to make certain. So for resume purposes, a proper example might be: Ensured that the department was fully prepared for its annual inspection.Note: A slightly less common mistake is using the word “assure” instead.  Assure means to convince or give confidence to.

Affect vs. Effect. The word “effect” is almost always used as a noun to describe a result, whereas “affect” is usually a verb meaning “to cause.” Though “affect” can be a noun, we doubt you would use it as one on your resume since it refers to a display of emotion. And while “effect” can also be used as a verb, in our humble opinion it’s just a non-standard way to say “accomplish.”
Nothing like nerding out on some grammar, right? Let us know if you have come across other commonly misused words.