• Fatin Abdal-Sabur

Common Language Mistakes to Be Aware of When Job Searching in the U.S.

Learning English is challenging. Think of all the different situations in which you need to use it: shopping, doctor’s offices, school, and many others. The potential for miscommunication is high, and everyone who has studied a foreign language has made mistakes in each one of those contexts. But what about job seekers? When it comes to your job, salary and livelihood, much more is at stake and when interacting with potential employers, you’ll want to make sure your English is as accurate as possible. This may seem like a lot of pressure, but never fear. As long as you work on the common mistakes that we are about to discuss, you can go into any job-searching experience with confidence.

Talking on the Phone

The phone rings. You pick it up and the person on the other line says “Hello, may I please speak to Amir?” What should you say? You might be tempted to answer “I am Amir,” or “This is me,” but that would be incorrect. In the US, you should choose one of three options: This is he. (This is she for women), This is Amir, or Speaking. Now This is he might sound a bit strange. Perhaps you’re thinking This is him would be a better choice, but that would be incorrect and here’s why. First, let’s break down the sentence.

This is he.”

This is the subject and “is” is something called a linking verb. When you use a linking verb, what comes on the other side has to be grammatically the same. In this case, another subject: he. This is him is not correct because him is an object, not a subject. (For example, you can’t say Him goes to the interview.)

Now, let’s move onto another common mistake which could really cause problems when talking on the phone. Imagine you are on a networking call with someone who is in your desired industry. They’ve just given you lots of great tips on how to advance in your career and at the end you say

Thanks for the advices.”

At this point, feel lucky that you’re on the phone so you don’t see the perplexed look on the other person’s face! Ok, so why is this incorrect? It is incorrect because advice is a non-count noun. Before we go any further, let’s do a quick review.

A countable noun is one that you can count. For example, cars, dogs, pens, etc. There are three pens on the desk. A non-countable noun, on the other hand, is one you cannot count. For example, water, work, information, air, etc. There are three airs in the sky. Does that sound right to you? It shouldn’t. So, back to “advices.” When your contact is done giving you all those wonderful tips, say “Thanks for the advice.” Don’t add an -s because you can’t count advice; it is a non-countable noun.

Watch Out for English Mistakes During Meetings - ReDefiners World Languages


The first common mistake we’ll talk about here has to do with pronunciation. Arguably, this is one of the most difficult aspects for English learners to master, so you’ll want to be very careful when you go into an important meeting, such as an interview. Pronunciation mistakes can also be embarrassing, so you want to make sure you get things right to avoid making a bad impression. Pronunciation is a huge topic, so for now, we’ll only focus on one word: executive. This word may remind you of another word you’ve seen: execute. But watch out! These two words have vastly different meanings and must be pronounced differently. First of all, the dictionary defines executive as “one that exercises administrative or managerial control.” In other words, a person in a leadership position at a company. The word executive has four syllables: ex-ec-u-tive. The stress, or the emphasis comes on the second syllable. To contrast, let’s talk about execute. When you look in a dictionary, you’ll see that this word has eight different definitions! But for our purposes, we’ll talk about the one which could cause the most confusion: “to put to death especially in compliance with a legal sentence.” Execute has three syllables: ex-ec-ute, and the stress goes on the first syllable. Do you see where we’re going with this? Be very careful when pronouncing executive. If you put the stress on the wrong syllable, you could confuse your interviewer by making them think you’re referring to killing someone! You don’t want that, do you??

Here is another mistake that English learners make often.

I was teacher for 5 years.

Can you guess what is wrong here? No? Well, it has to do with the use of definite and indefinite articles. Another quick review. The words a, an, and the are called articles. Articles are used before nouns to indicate whether that noun is known or unknown to the reader. When the noun is known, we use the, the definite article. When the noun is unknown, or when it is general, we use a, or an, the indefinite articles. So, the sentence I was teacher for 5 years is wrong because it is missing the indefinite article a to indicate that the word ‘teacher’ is general (The interviewer doesn’t know what type of teacher you were.) So when you’re in the interview and you’re explaining what job you had or where you worked, make sure to add the appropriate article.

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Written Communication

When either applying to or inquiring about a job, you may have to write a cover letter or an e-mail. When it comes to things to watch out for, remember that business writing has to follow formal conventions. In other words, use language meant for a person in authority, not for a friend. When English learners come to the US, they may often encounter informal language, such as that used with texting. For example, pls instead of please, or ty instead of thank you. In business communication, especially written, you must always use the full, formal, version of the word. Write out Thank you or Please. This is crucial if you use texting language with a potential employer, you will appear unprofessional and most likely will not get the job.

Cover letters and emails are hard. Even some native English speakers try to rush through them, but they are a necessary part of the job-searching process. You may want to speed up the process or make it easier by translating directly from your native language. Resist the urge because this could make your writing difficult or even impossible to understand. Here’s an example. Let’s pretend you are a native Japanese speaker who wants to translate this sentence.

I’m leaving work now, but I will get in touch later.

Let’s look at the first part, I'm leaving work now. In Japanese, this sentence would translate to the following.

Now house return.

Your reader might be able to guess what you are talking about, but ultimately the meaning is not clear and could indicate that you are not a strong speaker of English. Just like using texting language, this mistake has to do with your image. Employers want people with strong English skills, but translating can make your skills appear weak.

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Reading Job Ads Online

When it comes to reading job advertisements online, there is some common vocabulary that could be confusing. Here we will focus on four different words, their meanings, and their pronunciation.

Firstly, there are the two words personal and personnel which could be confusing due to the similarity in their spelling. But be very careful here because these two words have completely different meanings. Personal means of or relating to a person, and personnel means the group of people who work at a company or the Human Resources department. Their pronunciation is also different. For personal, the stress goes on the first syllable: PER-so-nal. With personnel, the stress goes on the last syllable: per-so-NNELL.

Now let’s look at some potentially confusing vocabulary which refers to types of job positions. For example, there is the word contractor, which may be new to you. Well, here’s a trick to figure out unknown vocabulary. Look for a word you might know which is “hiding” inside the unknown word. Here we have the word contract, which means a type of agreement. So you can guess that a contractor is someone who enters into an agreement, or a contract, with a company to oversee some type of project. (As an aside, this word is often used in the construction industry.)

A second word which may be new to you is part-time. Again, look for those “hidden” words. Here we have “part,” which as you know means a little bit or the opposite of full. You can guess that part-time means a job where you only work for a few hours and not a full, 8-hour day.

As you can see, there is a lot to remember when it comes to job searching. There is a lot of potential to make mistakes which can reflect poorly on you or even cause you to not get hired. But never fear. ReDefiners World Languages is here to help you improve your English, which will lead to good jobs and a comfortable life here in the US.

For more information about studying a new language, volunteering or even donating to support language program scholarships to underserved populations, visit www.redefinerswl.org or email info@redefinerswl.org.


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