business english grammar

4 English Grammar Rules You Must Know to Get Your Dream Business Job

Let’s play a little game.

I’m going to show you three actions, and you guess what they all have in common:

Your first guess is probably that you have to do all three to get a job. That’s true… but it’s not the answer I’m looking for.

So what else is the same about all three?

They’re all hard. True again—applying for jobs and interviewing isn’t considered easy; even native English speakers have to practice.

But these tasks can be much easier when you realize the answer I’ve been looking for:

Resumes, cover letters and interviews all follow a pattern.

Once you know what to do, it’s all simpler. Learn the patterns and you’ll be fine.

To help us learn some of these patterns, here are four grammar rules that will improve your English on your resumes, cover letters and during interviews—to help you get the job of your dreams.

All right, let’s get started.

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4 English Grammar Rules You Must Know to Get Your Dream Business Job

1. Do not use contractions.

First off, we’ve got a general rule for resumes, cover letters, interviews and even business emails or presentations:

Don’t use contractions.

Contractions are shortened forms of two words. For example:

  • she + will = she’ll
  • is + not = isn’t
  • should + have = should’ve
  • do + not = don’t

Most of the time, writing or speaking with contractions is perfectly fine. (You’ll find them throughout all of FluentU’s posts!)

A friendly “How’re you doing?” or “What’s going on?” is great for making friends. Taking contractions apart can make people sound stiff and unfriendly.

For now, don’t worry about being friends with your interviewer—we need to focus on sounding professional. And to sound professional, we cannot use contractions.

For example, take a look at the two cover letter introductions below:

My name’s Edward Conne and I’m contacting you today in regards to an open Sales and Marketing Manager position at Korin, Inc. I’ve been working for the past three years as a Marketing Specialist at Jennings & Borinson.

My name is Edward Conne and I am contacting you today in regards to the open Sales and Marketing Manager position at Korin, Inc. I have been working for the past three years as a Marketing Specialist at Jennings & Borinson.

The second introduction sounds unnatural and stiff, but that’s what we want. Remember, it’s unprofessional to be friendly with your resume or cover letters.

You’ll have plenty of time to be friendly—after you get job. Now let’s move on to something a bit more difficult and technical. Things are going to get harder from here, but I promise it’s worth it.

2. Use the present continuous to talk about current jobs and future plans.

The present continuous is used when speaking or writing in the present tense. It’s important for the job application process and it should be used to:

  1. Talk about your current job(s) in cover letters, resumes and interviews
  2. Talk about future plans in cover letters and in interviews

To form the present continuous, here’s what we need:

present tense of “to be”  +  -ing verb (present participle)

It sounds harder than it really is, I promise. For example:

  • She is talking to her daughter.
  • I am walking to school.
  • We are going to start a new company.

Since we’re going to be using the present continuous to talk about ourselves, we only have to use sentences starting with “I am…” For example:

  • am taking classes for a Master’s Degree in Business.

We can also use the present continuous to describe temporary situations and future plans. For example:

  • I am taking classes for a Master’s Degree in Business until May. (temporary situation)
  • am taking classes for a Master’s Degree next summer. (future plans)

Most of your interview and nearly all of your resume summary and cover letter will be about you. So it helps to write in something else besides the past simple and present simple tenses.

The Present Continuous in Resume Summary Statements

Your resume’s summary statement is a section at the start of your resume with strong statements that summarize your qualifications, strengths and experience. Remember to keep your summary statement under four sentences. Too short and it looks unprofessional, too long and no one will finish reading it.

Putting the present continuous to use in a resume summary isn’t hard. In fact, if you follow two simple rules, it’ll take five minutes.

For example, let’s look at the resume of a student looking to find his first job.

I am currently studying English at Seoul National University and will be graduating in June. After, I am planning to work at an established textbook company for several years.

These two sentences are already most of a good summary. All resume summaries follow the same basic pattern:

  1. Talk about what you’re currently doing (temporary situation)
  2. Talk about what you want to do in the future (future plans)

It might only be two lines, but it’s most of a summary and it’s perfect for summary statements.

The Present Continuous in Cover Letters

The present continuous is used in cover letters in almost the same way. In a resume, you might talk about the future, but in a cover letter you want to focus on the present using the present continuous.

The first line of any cover letter starts with why you’re sending an email. It should include:

  • The title of the job you’re applying for
  • Where you found the job opening

It’s just as easy as it sounds. For example:

  • I am submitting this application for the editorial position you advertised on Jobs Now.
  • I am sending this email in regards to the sales position posted on EmployMe.

If you don’t remember where you saw the posting, no problem:

  • I am submitting this application for the quality assurance specialist position open at Indica Labs.

Don’t be afraid to talk about your current job or any activities you’re doing now either. Cover letters aren’t supposed to be short, so if you want to talk a little about the interesting work you’re doing now, add it in using the present continuous.

The Present Continuous in Interviews

Since we can use the present continuous to talk about temporary situations or future plans, it is absolutely necessary for an interview.

Specifically, we can use it to talk about current jobs or responsibilities. For example:

Q: What do you do now?

A: I am working as a Software Quality Assurance Engineer at Brocks & Hendricks.

Or we can use it to answer questions about future plans:

Q: When do you graduate?

A: I am graduating this June with an MBA.

The present continuous is a good opening line. Follow it up with some details in the simple present, simple past or simple future tense and you’ll be sounding professional in no time.

Now we have most of a resume summary, the beginning of a cover letter and a way to talk about current jobs and future plans. You’re one step closer to the job of your dreams, a big step.

3. Use the present perfect to talk about your skills and experience.

To complete your resume’s summary statement and your cover letter, we’re going to need the present perfect tense. You can use it to:

  1. Talk about your skills, experiences and jobs
  2. Talk about how much experience you have or how long you have worked at your current job

Use it in normal conversations and it’ll sound like you’re bragging. In an interview, though, it might be exactly what gets you a job.

The present perfect is used to talk about any past action without saying when it happened. To form this tense, you’ll need two parts:

have/has  +  past participle

Regular past participles end in -ed, so they’re easier to recognize. Take a look at the examples below:

  • have studied English extensively.
  • We have been to London for many business trips.
  • She has worked as an engineer for six years.

These sentences have one very important thing in common: They don’t say when the actions happened. As a rule, the present perfect never mentions when something occurred.

Since we’re not interested in talking about other people, we’ll be using “I have…” for our sentences.

The Present Perfect in Resumes

For a resume, you can use the present perfect to list skills you learned in the past.

I have also studied Korean, Japanese and German.

The present perfect is the easiest way to list things you’ve studied, places you’ve gone to and things you’ve done.

Yeah, this is bragging, but this makes it the perfect ending to a summary statement. Let’s take a look at a completed summary statement.

I am currently studying English at Seoul National University and will be graduating in June. After, I plan on working at an established textbook company for several years. I have also studied Korean, Japanese and German.

Just in case you’re still not sure, here are a few more examples:

  • I have learned how to correctly use power tools and follow safety standards.
  • I have taken courses in business management and leadership training.

All of these are great ways to end a summary statement. Now, all that’s left is to list your educational background and work history in your cover letter and in interviews.

The Present Perfect in Cover Letters

The present perfect is the most important part of the cover letter.

In a cover letter, the present perfect can be used to talk about past accomplishments and experiences. For example:

  • I have been to London, Seoul and Bangkok to present at business conferences.
  • I have served as department chair for five years.

Every good cover letter has at least one paragraph dedicated to their current job, so yours should too.

Most importantly, the present perfect can be used in talking points that the job posting might mention. Many job posts mention years of experience, specific training or required skills. For example, here is a job posting for a travel writer:

Required Skills:

  • Proficient in English
  • Excellent writing and research skills
  • Familiarity with travel/tourism

Most job listings have three to ten talking points. You don’t have to talk about all of them, just the ones that apply to you:

  • I have studied English for the past ten years. I started at the beginner level and now I am fluent.
  • I have also studied writing and spent many hours researching travel. My research starts with websites, books and magazines—anything that might help me.
  • I have traveled all over the world, including the Antarctic. Traveling is a hobby of mine.

Each section starts with a sentence in the present perfect. Next you can spend two or three sentences going into more detail.

This is the most important part of a cover letter. Without this, it might as well be a blank email. Actually, this is the whole point of a cover letter!

The Present Perfect in Interviews

The present perfect can be used for anything, but in an interview it’s great for:

  1. Talking about long you’ve done something
  2. Talking about when you started to do something

Since every question in an interview will be about you, eventually they’ll start asking questions related to time. For example, take a look at the following:

Q: How long have you lived in the UK?

A: I have lived in the UK for 7 years.

Q: How long have you studied English?

A: I have studied English for 10 years.

You can use the present perfect to talk about your skills and experience, just like in a resume or cover letter. But using it to talk about how long you’ve done something is much more advanced. It’s a great sign that you really know your English!

Now we’re almost at the end and I’ve saved the best for last.

4. In interviews, use the past continuous.

The past continuous is used to talk about a past action that continued over a period of time. This is just like the present continuous (I am working), except we’ll use was/were—the past tense of “to be.” Here’s the format:

was/were  +  -ing verb (present participle)

For example:

  • Last year, he was working with Jordan Belfort.
  • While we were watching TV, they were studying.
  • When we were at school, Jacob was sleeping on his couch.

Just like the previous sections, we’ll be using “I was…” during our interview answers.

The past continuous is used to do two things:

  1. Link two events occurring at the same time
  2. Say when something happened in the past

To link two events using the past continuous, they have to happen at the same time. The general rule for this is:

While + [Long Event (past continuous)] + [Short Event (past simple)]

For example:

  • While I was working at McDonalds, I was promoted two times.
  • While I was living in Japan, I learned how to cook noodles.

Using the past continuous is a big way to show off your English skills. Talking about two events at once isn’t easy and it takes practice, but it helps with two things:

  1. It allows you to answer questions and show off at the same time.
  2. Shows off your knowledge of advanced English grammar.

It’s probably the hardest one on the list, but it’ll do wonders for your conversational English. Make sure to use it with your past accomplishments and awards for a big effect!

Putting It All Together: English Grammar Rules to Know When Applying for Jobs

Let’s take a look at what we have.

Unnatural Speaking

Not using contractions is a great general rule for business letters, job applications and presentations. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, it will make everything a little bit more professional.

Writing a Summary Statement for Your Resume

Summary statements are all about three things:

  1. Information about your current job (present continuous)
  2. Future plans for your career (present continuous)
  3. Bragging about your skills (present perfect)

Remember, keep it short and never go past 50 words. Don’t expect anyone to read something longer than four lines and only write the most important facts.

Writing a Cover Letter

More than resumes, cover letters show that you are the perfect person for the job. Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Start with a sentence in the present continuous. It should include:
    • the title of the job
    • where you found the posting
  • Make sure to talk about why you should get the job. Talk about any skills that make you perfect for the job in the present perfect.
  • Start with a sentence in the present perfect and follow with more details about your skill, experience or training.

Sounding Good in Interviews

Use the grammar rules to your advantage when talking in an interview. Practice helps, but keep these points in mind:

  • Talk about your current job and future plans in the present continuous.
  • Talk about length of time and brag a little using the present perfect.
  • Talk about two things at once and mention all your awards and experience using the past continuous.

Finding a job isn’t easy but it doesn’t have to be so hard. Using these rules, you’ll discover patterns in resumes, cover letters and interviews that you can follow again and again.

Now go out there and get your dream job!

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)



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