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Caution! Watch Out for the Differences in Canadian and American Spelling

By Daisy Wright

Although it might not be well known, there are subtle differences between Canadian and American spelling of many words, and when it comes to the job search, it could be the deciding factor in landing a job.

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Misspellings or Different Spellings?

Nowhere was it more evident than at a job fair in Toronto several months ago hosted by two healthcare entities from the USA. A client, who is a nurse, heard of the job fair on short notice, and presented her resume formatted for the Canadian market.

After reviewing her resume and cover letter, the recruiter told her that her resume had "several spelling errors." Of course, she was taken aback.

Some of the "errors" were Centre, Cheque, Honour, Judgement and Practised.

After she composed herself, she told the recruiter that the documents were created for the Canadian market, hence the spelling; that her Spellchecker would not have picked up the "errors," and that she didn't realize it made such a difference.

The recruiter also told her she was not aware there was a difference. In the end, these "spelling errors" did not cost her the job opportunity as she was offered a position and moved to Florida.

The situation could have easily been reversed with an American job seeker being tripped up by American spellings used in a resume submitted to a Canadian employer.

The Commonwealth of Spelling

As a member of the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly known as the British Commonwealth), Canada owes its "spelling allegiance" to the British. It's the same in Australia and the English-speaking Caribbean islands.

In reality, though, Canadians tend to straddle the fence and use what's convenient. If they are conducting a job search in the USA, then they use the American spelling, but that same resume could be used in Canada and not many people would notice the difference.

As a matter of fact, in the back of our minds, we sometimes wonder if the differences really matter. How else would one explain the fact that Canadian words such as analyze, categorize, customize and legalize are consistent with the American spelling where the "s" is substituted for a "z"?

For example, here is a partial list of all the words that are spelled differently in Canada and the US.

American Spelling

  • Acknowledgment
  • Behavior
  • Center
  • Check
  • Favor
  • Honor
  • Judgment
  • Practice
  • Licence

Canadian Spelling 

  • Acknowledgement
  • Behaviour
  • Centre
  • Cheque
  • Favour
  • Honour
  • Judgement
  • Practise (verb)
    Practice (noun)
  • License (verb)
    Licence (noun)

The aim of this article is to shed some light on some of the nuances that exist and help us adapt when job hunting - or reviewing resumes - on both sides of the border and internationally. The next time you are preparing your resume for the "other side" of the border (regardless of which side you are on), check to see if your spelling is consistent with usage in the target country.

Bottom Line

When in doubt about Canadian spelling and grammar, refer to The Globe and Mail Style Guide, and Gregg's Reference Manual (Canadian Edition). American job seekers using Canadian spelling will look more knowledgeable about Canada as well as more interested in fitting in.


About this author...

A Certified Career Management Coach, Daisy Wright is Author of "No Canadian Experience, Eh? A Career Success Guide for New Immigrants."  She is also the founder of The Wright Career Solution, where she assists executives, managers, and other job-seeking professionals with their resumes, cover letters, social media profiles, and interview preparation. Daisy can be found blogging at Career Musings, hanging around in CareerTips2Go Cafe as the resident "Coach-on-Call," or tweeting as @CareerTips2Go and @NoCdnExperience.


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