5 Common English Resume Mistakes by ESL Students

Speaking English as a second language can help you increase your income by up to 20%, according to Albert Saiz, professor of economics at MIT. But before English can help you advance your career, you are going to need a good resume.

Do you want to improve your business writing and write a more powerful resume? In this article, we will cover ESL business writing and grammar mistakes that we have seen numerous times in our education of students. Writing a professional resume as an ESL student doesn’t have to be challenging. It becomes easier if you avoid a few common mistakes.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb agreement is one of the more challenging aspects of the English language, and one that ESL students need time to master. Compare the following:

“Our team have worked on a series of ongoing projects for…”

“Our team has worked on a series of ongoing projects for…”

Both versions can be considered correct, but depending on the context in which they are used, one of them can be more appropriate than the other. For example, if you want to stress that you have been part of a group, the first sentence can convey that better.

Missing the Oxford Comma

The Oxford comma is sometimes necessary to ensure that the meaning of a list of items clear. By making its usage a habit, you can make sure that there is no confusion. Here is an example to illustrate this:

“My previous role required the creation of marketing materials, online content and email support.”

By adding the Oxford comma, the sentence becomes clearer:

“My previous role required the creation of marketing materials, online content, and email support.”

While this sentence could be rewritten for better clarity, the use of the Oxford comma makes the meaning of the sentence clear. In the end, the Oxford comma is a good habit for anyone who writes in English, not just ESL students.

Dangling or Misplaced Modifiers

A dangling or misplaced modifier can make a sentence awkward or unclear. It occurs when a phrase or clause is not linked to the clause that follows it. Here are some examples of this frequent mistake:

“While working for X, the experience I gained…”
“While active in that role, the team I was a part of…”
“Working on online assignments, my role was that of…”

Now compare them with the following:

“While working for X, I gained experience…”
“While active in that role, I was responsible for…”
“Working on online assignments, I fulfilled the role of…”

Dangling or misplaced modifiers can make your resume seem less professional. Depending on the job you are applying for, it may even affect your chances of getting hired.

Not Using Action Verbs

This is not a grammatical mistake. But action verbs can make your resume more forceful. Compare the following two sentences:

Without active verb: “I was responsible for addressing customer complaints through email.”

With active verb: “I addressed customer complaints through email.”

The second sentence is not only more concise, but it describes your role more clearly, presenting it in a positive light. In English, the correct use of action verbs requires a strong command of the language.

Faulty Parallelism

When all the parts of a sentence are grammatically parallel, your writing looks and sounds better and more professional. Here is an example:

Without parallelism: “My interests include nutrition, sports, and listening to classical music.”

With parallelism: “My interests include nutrition, sports, and classical music.”

Like most other mistakes we’ve mentioned above, faulty parallelism may not always be an obvious error.


A resume is the first step to a new career. Often you will need to interview in person after your resume is reviewed. During the interview, you can highlight your written and spoken communication skills. Though it can be intimidating to start working in a new language, companies are seeking a diverse workforce. Remember that being multilingual is an asset for employers in today’s workforce.