The resume mistake I see all the time – that spell check (and even proofreading) won’t catch

A family member recently asked me to help him revise his resume. He was a successful sales and marketing executive who hadn’t had to look for work in over a decade. However, he was in the travel industry, and COVID-19 had him suddenly having to find new opportunities.

The resume – as you might expect after ten years – was a little bit outdated. I could help with that. The other issue that stuck out to me was a recurring grammar/spelling mistake that I see all the time in resumes.

It’s the unnecessary capitalization of words that the resume writer thinks are important – words that have no actual reason to be capitalized. For example, my family member pointed out in his opening summary that he had, “over twenty years of progressively advanced experience in Sales and Marketing.”

Sales and marketing are not proper nouns unless you are actual formal name of a department. People tend to say that they have expertise in areas such as Social Media or Content Marketing. The desire is to emphasise these industry sought-after terms in the resume, but again, these examples are not proper nouns.

Not only will spell checking software not catch these grammatical errors, but even proofreading won’t help if the author deliberately capitalized the words and thinks that is how they should be written.

For example, I once declined to hire a candidate who applied for a marketing manager role because her resume claimed that she had successfully “led numerous E-Mail campaigns” and was well versed in the “latest S.E.O. and Internet trends and technologies.”

These were choices, not typos. However, in the industry, no one who actually runs modern email campaigns would spell the word ‘E-Mail,’ and search engine optimization is commonly referred to as SEO, not S.E.O. These nuances become important when you are putting yourself forward as someone with expertise in the sector.

Capitalizing Internet is more of a grey area. It used to be standard, as ‘the Internet’ was considered to be a place. However, that was back when people also used terms like World Wide Web and Information Superhighway. The internet hasn’t been considered to be a proper noun for years now.

These may seem like small details, but they matter. If your spelling and capitalization of industry terms is outdated, it will give potential employers the impression that your skills and experience in the field are similarly rusty.

Over-capitalizing the key words that you want to emphasise just gets annoying. That’s because once it starts, it tends to carry on throughout the document. In the case of my relative’s resume, every time he used the words Sales and Marketing (and as a sales and marketing executive, this was a lot) they were capitalized.

– Increased Sales by xx% in my first year.
– Managed Marketing campaigns for xx brand.
– Recruited and trained a team of Sales professionals.
– Created Video and Print Marketing campaigns. (Video and print also should not be capitalized.)

On your resume, only capitalize proper nouns. These include the names of companies and schools as well as your actual job titles. Official team or department names as well as projects and publications with formal titles can also be capitalized. When described in a sentence, your skills and experience – other than official certifications or the names of software – should not be. If you have a bullet-pointed list of skills, the first letter of each bullet should be capitalized.

The next time you’re proofreading your resume to apply for a job, take a look at your use of capitalization. Is it standard throughout your document? Have you adopted the latest industry standards for your sector? Are you a flagrant Over-Capitalizer with Words and Phrases capitalized where they shouldn’t be?

It’s a fairly common error that can be distracting for readers, but it’s easy enough to fix once you know what to look for.

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