How to Fix 5 Simple Grammatical Mistakes That Get Developer Resumes Unfairly Tossed Out

Why should I care?

Imagine yourself as a hiring manager reviewing 100 job applications that you have received for a position you are trying to fill quickly. You might be concerned that if one applicant doesn’t seem to know the difference between “then” and “than”, they might not really know the difference between “==” and “===”! With 99 more applications to review by the end of the week, you don't have time to find out if this particular person does or not. You make a snap judgement and toss their application in the digital trash can.

This little thought experiment demonstrates that if your own job applications have any grammatical errors they can be dismissed unfairly, which can especially be a concern for you if you recently learned English. By the way, if you have had to learn English to become a developer, I’m terribly sorry from the bottom of my heart.

fry rhyme.jpg

Yep, that checks out.

So do yourself and your career a favor - check your resume, cover letters and communications against the following guidelines. Each section includes questions to help narrow down the use case, followed by the correct word for that context and an example or two. If you get confused or if I've made a mistake, feel free to reach out to me or comment below!

1.) Two/Too/To

A.) Trying to represent the number 2 as a word?

Two

I saw two people walk into the store, but watched three walk out.

B.) If you replace the word with “also” or “as well” does the meaning of your sentence remain the same?

Too

I love you too, grandma! (I love you also, grandma!)

C.) Are you trying to communicate an excess of something? (Memory trick: “Too” has too many O’s!)

Too

Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

D.) None of the above?

To

To infinity and beyond!

2.) Then/Than

A.) Need to represent order, timing, sequence, or the steps to do something?

Then

First, bake the cake. Then, make the ice cream.

You’ll take a right at the library, then you’ll see my house on the left side of the road.

B.) Are you discussing alternatives or comparing things?

Than

Rather than drive to the store, let’s just walk.

It’s colder than a polar bear’s toenails out here!

3-5 Interlude: Possessives and Contractions

Alright, now things are getting serious. These last few are the most confusing, and they’re the mistakes I see people, even very intelligent professionals, making the most often. I promise once you understand the pattern of contractions vs possessives, you’ll never mix up these types of words again!

A possessive word is basically one which describes ownership. There’s a lot to cover with possessives (a topic for another article), but for now we only need to be aware that possessives describe ownership and often use apostrophes.

Example: “We went down to Fred’s place for dinner.”

A contraction is a shortened (contracted) version of one or more words, usually constructed by eliminating a few letters from the word(s) and combining them with apostrophes.

Examples:

  • let us – let’s
  • cannot – can’t
  • I will – I’ll

Now we see where the problem lies. Both possessive words and contractions use apostrophes! But there is thankfully only one trick you need to know to expunge this confusion...

When you get confused about apostrophe use between two words that are spelled the same, I want you to think about them as being in a competition for the apos Trophy. Only one word can win this Trophy, and the following rule determines the winner:

In the fight for an apostrophe, contractions always win.

If that’s a little confusing, just keep reading. It will make more sense when you see concrete examples.

3.) It's/Its

A.) Would your message mean the same if you replaced the word with “it is” or “it has”?

It's

It’s great to see you again Monica! (It is great to see you...)

It’s been a pleasure talking to you Demetrius. (It has been a pleasure...)

B.) Are you describing ownership?

Its

The place I work has its own bar!

My TV has its own built-in stand.

4.) You're/Your

A.) Would your message mean the same if you replaced the word with “you are”?

You're

You’re beginning to get on my nerves with all of these grammar rules. (You are beginning…)

B.) Are you trying to show possession?

Your

Blade, your usage of commas is questionable.

5.) They’re/Their/There

A.) Would your message mean the same if you replaced the word with “they are”?

They're

They’re really not bad once you get used to them. (They are really not bad…)

B.) Are you trying to demonstrate possession?

Their

Their best ice cream flavor is pistachio.

C.) Are you using it in another way?

There

Just place the sofa over there.

There you are!

6.) Bonus/Mini Rant: It’s spelled JavaScript. No, there is not another acceptable way to spell it. Sorry not sorry for being pedantic.

This one mainly goes out to those nontechnical folks who are posting the dozens of job listings I’m applying to every month. Please forgive us applicants if we don’t take you seriously when you ask for “10+ years of Javascript experience” for that Junior Web Developer position :-). Most of our skills are acronyms anyway, please take the time to learn how to spell this one.

Conclusion

Well, that about wraps it up! I hope this was helpful for you. One thing I would ask is that if you see a spelling or grammatical error in this post (or anything I post publicly) please point them out to me in the comments or by reaching out directly. I’m trying to improve my communication skills while helping others do the same.

Thanks for reading. Next time we’ll dive into something a little less mundane!

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