Effective job applications – the importance of grammar

The speed with which employers assess applications is well-documented, you may only have up to 30 seconds to make a good impression. You could be the ideal candidate but if the first thing an employer sees is a poorly prepared application, with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, it suggests an applicant who is not really motivated and lacking the interest and enthusiasm that all employers require.

Good grammar gets your application noticed for all the right reasons!

Know The RulesAround half of all CVs received by recruitment consultants, according to the Recruitment and Employment Commission, contain spelling or grammatical errors and these are most likely to be made by those aged between 21 and 25. In this age group, graduates are twice as likely to make mistakes as those who did not go to university. (1)

When putting your job applications together always check and then double check your grammar and spelling. Many applications are let down and rejected because of simple grammatical errors. Let’s start by unravelling the confusion over the use of personal pronouns during specific stages of the recruitment and selection process – specifically, when and how to use ‘I’, ‘we’ or ‘me’.

CVs need to be consistent

Handwriting Consistency is The Key with marker on visual screen

Searching online for definitive advice on whether CVs should be written in the first or third person reveals conflicting opinions. Clearly, employers and careers advisers are not one homogeneous group. However, the majority of careers advice and recruitment professionals would advise you that it is good practice to avoid using the words ‘I’ or ‘me’ repeatedly throughout your CV.   It might feel unnatural, but it is quite obvious that your CV is all about you, so you can leave out the personal pronouns ‘I’ and ‘me’.

While there are a number of basic guidelines to crafting your CV, it is also very subjective. There are no hard and fast rules for writing graduate CVs but whatever style you do choose, make sure it is consistent throughout. As a Job Search Adviser at the University of Warwick I review hundreds of CVs and find that students who include ‘I’ and ‘me’ tend to write long rambling prose. This can make it difficult for an employer to filter out the applicants’ skills at a glance.

First impressions matter!

Time SnippetThe average time it takes an employer to form an impression from your CV is just 10 seconds! So make it easy for them, use bullet points to break down your work experience and start with active, positive words to ensure that your CV reflects the skills the employer requires.

The following examples show how the unnecessary inclusion of pronouns is a distraction, making your skills more difficult for an employer to spot at a glance.

Not like this…

  • I liaised with key stakeholders to inform the social media element of my marketing strategy.
  • I designed and I also developed printed resources and marketing materials.
  • I led digital marketing activity via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube which helped me achieve an increase in recruitment rates by 16% during 2014.

Go for this …

  • Liaised with key stakeholders to inform social media element of marketing strategy.
  • Designed and developed printed resources and marketing materials.
  • Led digital marketing activity via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube resulting in an increase in recruitment rates by 16% during 2014.


The personal pronoun conventions for completing application questions should not be confused with those for CV writing.  Many employers devise their own application forms and questions, usually with a specified word count. For example, you could be asked, ‘Why do you want to work here?’, ‘What is your greatest achievement?’, ‘What is unique about you?’ Here there is an expectation that you do use the personal pronoun ‘I’.

Application forms generally ask for basic biographical information but will also contain open questions which often require research. Employers will want to see that you have identified a clear link between the work they do and your interests and skills. Take a look at the Student Careers & Skills website for more application top tips.


Pronouns, English language sign series for writing & teaching. Isolated.Carefully consider which personal pronouns to use in response to this competency type interview question, ‘Tell us about a time when you have led a group or team?’ You are being asked to set the scene, give brief context to the situation and task you were given as a group, then move on to describe the actions you took as leader and the end results.

Interviewees often slip into answering this type of question framing all the response and description of actions using the personal pronoun ‘we’.  The interview question is posed in this way to assess your leadership competencies, so describe what you did and how you did it using the pronoun ‘I’. Leave the employer in no doubt that you have the leadership skills they are looking for.


One other key grammatical point to consider, do ensure you use the correct tenses throughout your CV and applications. Avoid confusion, include details of any work experience you are currently involved in using present tense (e.g. organise meetings), but use past tense for any previous roles (e.g. organised meetings). People judge you on how you write and speak; by submitting clear, concise and accurate applications you will significantly increase your chances of getting noticed for all the right reasons.




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