Why you should hire people who make typos
By Suzanne Lucas
The best people for certain jobs may not have perfect résumés. Oh, sure, they’ll have the skills you need, but you might spot a “their” that should be “there” or vice versa. Many hiring managers reject such people on the spot. Research suggests that this may be a bad idea.
Typos are made because we’re so busy trying to convey meaning that we don’t always notice when we’ve made an error. We all know that it’s difficult to catch our own typos, but why is that? It’s because we already know what we mean, so our eyes read one thing but our brain translates it into the meaning that it already knows exists.
I almost always agree with my buddy Suzanne Lucas, one of my favorite HR people. But not about typos. I’ve discussed why I think illiteracy is a sign of ignorance before. The fact remains that writing is a serial process — you put down one word after another. This permits you to go back and check for accuracy. If the document is an important one, there’s no excuse for errors.
Do you carefully proof your resume? Would typos in a resume lead you to reject a job applicant? Do these kinds of errors tell us anything about a job applicant? Or am I full of baloney? What’s your take?
Nick, take a look at some of the research showing how this intersects with racism.
What?!?! This post isn’t about race at all.
I would really love it if we could stop making everything about race.
Sometimes a misspelled word is just a misspelled word.
Did you look at the research? Here’s some to get you started:
That article is bogus.
But, actually, Nicks response to you was perfect. I could not agree with him more.
@A: I read the article and I understand the point. No matter what a person’s race, religion, ethnicity or dietary preferences, if they hand me a resume with errors in it, and the job requires accuracy and being correct, they lose me.
Errors on a resume tell me one thing: When a person really, really, really, absolutely needs to get something right because a lot is riding on it, and they don’t do the work necessary to get it right, they are probably not worth hiring. Why would I trust them with my customers, employees, finances, equipment or jobs?
I’ve hired and worked for people who were quite talented and successful but more or less illiterate. Yet when time came to get something absolutely right because much depended on it, they checked, double- and triple-checked, and asked someone they trusted to review their work for absolute accuracy before they turned it in (or showed it to a customer).
Typos are about taking the time and doing what’s necessary to get something right when doing it right matters. If someone doesn’t think an absolutely clean resume matters, that’s up to them. I don’t see colors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, or formatting. I look for diligence.
The research you cite raises good questions. But the title, “Proof that typos are racist” reveals illiteracy. An error in typing or writing cannot be racist. Typos are insensate. They have no moral or ethical message or intent. At best, we might assume the author means that “a person who makes typographical errors is racist.” But that’s clearly not the intended message of the article. Errors like that raise questions about someone’s ability to communicate research findings. And they lose the reader.
I might be a poor speller, but when it matters, I can check and re-check my spelling. The issue here is whether a job you want is worth getting it right. Race has nothing to do with it. It’s about diligence.
The issue is that people hold typos against non-white candidates when they cut white candidates slack for them, and that happens unconsciously. It’s one of many ways the deck is stacked against non-white candidates and that doors open more easily for white ones.
I respect you too much to think you’d dismiss reams of research on unconscious bias. I hope you’ll explore it more in the future.
@A: I don’t dismiss racial bias in hiring. It’s a real problem. But conflating it with the use of legitimate criteria to select job candidates does a disservice to everyone. The cases we should be worried about are those where a non-white candidate produces a perfectly written resume and is rejected in favor of another candidate whose resume is full of typos.
Unconscious bias is also a real problem, but I think you will admit that’s a fuzzy topic. There’s enough blatant bias to keep us busy for a while. Let’s get with nailing those scofflaws before we start claiming that typos are used to reject non-white candidates.
Better yet, let’s teach non-white job applicants to stop wasting their time on resumes and to get with better practices like developing and using personal contacts. If, as some claim, there are candidates who come across better in person than in writing, those candidates need to exploit their strengths. Why would I go into a gun fight in the world of ATS algorithms when I can meet the hiring manager through someone that can recommend me personally?
More power to anyone that wants to sue. But few can afford that. My aim is to help people learn how to win in the job search. My overriding message is, if you’re going to use a resume, make sure it works!
Misspelled words on a resume make you look like a slack jaw. I’ve seen misspelled words, sometimes several, as well as numerous grammatical errors, on resumes. No excuse with spell check, or having a second set of reasonably coherent eyes check one’s resume. Shows laziness, a lack of self respect, and an initial loss of confidence in the eyes of many employers.
Some of the names I’ve seen on resumes (e.g. Slayer, Metallica, Moonbeam, Femalee) make me wonder what the parents, or in many cases today “parent”, was thinking.
I’ve also seen (more often with younger folks) email addresses that looked like they were created by rapper thugs, or by pornographers. I’ve seen resumes like these trigger female HR Managers, and immediately end up in the trash can.
So, I’d agree misspellings are one thing and resumes should be checked double checked and then checked again.
But what about grammar and style?
Have any of you rejected resumes for using phrases and not full sentences? Rejected some because of poor sentence structure?? Or punctuation!?
I’m curious about that.
And it plays into some generational differences too. Younger generations have different grammatical habits/rules than older ones…
@J: You’re distinguishing between orthographic errors, grammatical errors and quality of writing. The problem with resumes is that as soon as you decide to rely on one to present yourself, you’re conceding to a format and a model. Who are you to break the model and expect it to still work?
It’s why I hate resumes. They cannot defend you, and woe if you get stuck trying to defend your resume when you’re not present while someone is reading it! I’d rather you send me a handwritten list of the problems you think I need fixed and a list of how you’ll fix them. I’d rather you have someone call me up and tell me you’re an ace at the work I need done.
In other words, errors on resumes matter only if we use resumes. But if we’re going to talk about this troublesome tool for job hunting…
I might not reject an applicant because of errors in a resume, if I see other qualities that are important to me, but the errors will affect how I interview and assess the applicant.
If I’m sorting through a big stack of resumes, such errors are an easy reason to reject an applicant, just for practical reasons — I have too many resumes, which tells me lots of unqualified people probably applied just because it was easy, so I have no qualms making the first cut easier.
Knowing that applying for jobs online makes it likely you’ll face enormous competition, do you really want to give me a easy reason to reject you?
Or you could find a better way than a resume to show me how you can help me.
How about if the job you’re applying for is as a writer? Or web content creator? or Marketing guru? YOU CAN’T EDIT YOUR OWN COPY, PEOPLE! Particularly in the era of spellcheck and auto correct, you tend to see what you think you wrote, not what actually made it to the document!
THAT’S WHY WE HAVE EDITORS! Have someone else look over your resume before you send it anywhere.
As to the racist correlation, reported above. It’s more a reflection of educational disparities than race…although depending on your location those disparities may be race-based, and a reflection of localized economics.
Educational disparity. And with massive budgets. They just voted in a property tax increase for the local public schools in my area, and this in the throes of Covid19 when a lot of people are still unemployed here.
I say a lot of this is just flat out laziness. Seems like an epidemic where I live and work.
If it is a detail oriented job, which most are… then you bet. Typos mean that you do not take pride in a job well done and if your best foot forward indicates a letter or resume with typos, misspellings, etc. then what type of work or you going to do for me and my company. Plus, anyone can throw it into Word and check spelling and meaning of words.
Perhaps it is my former business partner being a Canadian francophone, but resume(re-zoom), instead of résumé (ray-soo-may) is something I _always_ notice. The Windows key combination (Alt+0233) is not that hard to remember.
@Randy MacDonald: I’ve noticed the lack of accent marks too. I was taught that when you use foreign words you include the accent marks. But that was a long time ago, and now I see that most people don’t bother with them, and it seems the consensus is that it is equally acceptable not to use them as it is to use them (at least here, in some academic settings). As you’ve noted, the Windows key combination for the most common accent marks are easy to remember, and if not, it is equally easy to google the key combinations for foreign language accent marks.
@Randy: Touché. I used to worry about that, but “resume” is no longer a French word. It’s become an English word and our keyboards don’t have accented letters. It’s nice when people “spell” it properly, but we could also argue that Greek words like photo should be written using the Greek alphabet. :-)
As a Canadian who uses APL as a platform, Greek and accents are mandatory ???. You can present Unicode to the world, but you cannot make Americans use it :( #Horse2Water
@Randy: I’d hire you in a minute! :-)
if APL was involved, I’d take that hire in an instant.
@Randy: No such luck, sorry. BTW, the first Computer Science course I ever took taught the basics of programming using SP/K, a subset of APL. I’m not a computer scientist or a programmer.
@Shirl: Your comment re using Spell-Check works only up to a point. I’ve found, from working with students, that Spell-Check will find and flag those words spelled incorrectly, which means it will catch typos (e.g., “fo” in lieu of “of”), but I’ve found that it does not always catch words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly (e.g., people routinely confuse “there”, “their”, and “they’re”, “to”, “too”, and “two”, “through” and “threw”, to name a few). Additionally, Spell-Check will not catch more complex grammatical and syntax errors.
I used to tell students to use a dictionary (preferably a hardcopy but electronic will work too if they persist instead of giving up) instead of relying upon Spell-Check. Why? Because using a dictionary to look up words (check to make sure the spelling is correct) should also force them to read the definition, and if it doesn’t match the meaning they are trying to convey, then they need to figure out which word more accurately works in that context. The dictionary will also provide the correct past tense, plurals, etc.
Years ago, when I was working at a large university, one of my jobs was admission. My then boss, the interim Graduate Program Director, worked with me, but her decision was the final one when the two of us came to different decisions re applicants. There was an applicant who used a word incorrectly in her personal statement. She spelled the word correctly, so Spell-Check did not catch her error, but it was the wrong word. The word was “cannon”, when she should have used “canon”. My GPD mentioned that embarrassingly glaring error first when she checked the “denied admission” box, and then used this applicant’s personal statement (where she used “cannon” instead of “canon”) as an example for the other admissions committees on which she sat (and yes, she was a stickler for correct grammar and sound writing skills, including attention to details when it came to spelling and typos). We didn’t work in the English or History depts but in Public Health (and yes, in Public Health you still need to be able to communicate well–it isn’t all epidemiology and statistics). This applicant’s personal statement with the error was a source of hilarity for faculty and staff sitting on the other admission committees with the school, and served as a bad example of what NOT to do. Her use of “cannon” instead of “canon” was not the sole reason she was denied admission: her cumulative undergraduate GPA was below the minimum required for admission to both the Graduate School and to our program, low GRE scores, and only so-so letters of recommendation (the “she’s a good kid kind of letters rather than the kind of letters that would have given us additional insight into who she was, her abilities, whether she overcame other obstacles, etc.). But that isn’t what people remembered about that applicant–everyone remembered her misuse of “cannon”.
I have another story, this time from one of my students at the same institution. He telephoned me one day asking whether I knew if the university offered any online English writing courses. He had looked online and not found the kinds of courses for which he was searching. He wasn’t looking for himself but for an underling at work. He was/is a commissioned officer in the USPHS (United States Public Health Service), and he had a junior officer under his command who struggled when it came to writing reports. My student said that his underling’s reports were so badly written, so confusing that it was embarrassing. He said he and his superiors were otherwise pleased with the officer except for his poor writing skills, so they were willing to pay for him to take English writing courses to so he could improve (and it would save time and energy in the long run because he and and his supervisors wouldn’t have to do multiple revisions of his reports).
At the time, the university’s English dept. didn’t offer any English writing courses online, and the underling lived in Alaska (as did my student), taking classes on campus here in Massachusetts wasn’t an option. My student said that his underling’s reports were so bad that my student had been given the task of going over them and re-writing them. The underling was put on notice that if he didn’t take the writing courses and improve his writing skills, he would no longer be eligible for promotions even if his other work, skills, and knowledge were exemplary. No promotions meant no increase in responsibilities, salary, and it would mean a working lifetime of missed opportunities.
My student gave me some examples of where his underling struggled. Besides the usual spelling errors and misuse of common words (the usual “there”, “their”, “they’re”, etc.) but also bigger grammatical and usage errors (misplaced modifiers, so when he was writing about cannisters not secured to walls getting loose and going off, he made it sound like it was the people who not properly chained to the walls instead of the cannisters). I started to laugh, but my student was embarrassed both for his underling, for himself, and for the agency for which they worked. A good proofreader or editor will help, but that agency expected the officers to write well enough so they wouldn’t have to hire English majors just to proofread and edit officers’ reports.
What happened to the underling? He never took the writing courses, continued to submit poorly written reports, and my student said he was told that he would never be considered for promotion (meaning his career was at a dead end).
I apologize for the length of my comment, but I wanted to give a couple of examples of how not having sufficient writing skills (or at least a good editor or proofreader) can have an impact on you, and not just when it comes to getting a job or getting admitted to graduate or professional school.
It depends upon the job. IMHO, if you’re applying for a job that requires a certain level of proficiency in English (e.g., journalist, writer, editor, etc.), then yes, I think that you need to pay attention to details and that means typos too. Ask someone to proofread your résumé, cover letter, writing sample, etc. before submitting it to the hiring manager. And make sure to check for content, not merely run spell-check. Spell-check is great, and will pick up most, but not all, spelling errors.
But if you’re applying for a job as an accountant, or a plumber, or cashier, then I would think that typos and spelling errors wouldn’t matter as much. I would think that an employer would be far more concerned about your math skills (for an accountant or a cashier) or about your skills to install or repair plumbing.
Yes, I agree, but only to a certain point, that typos mean you’re stupid, lazy, or don’t care. We’ve all made typos, and the hard part is when you’re proofreading your own material, you don’t catch the typos because your brain reads the material as if there were no typos (you’re too close to the documents to notice because you know what you wrote). That’s where a fresh pair of eyes (or a couple of fresh pairs of eyes) come in handy. They’re not familiar with what you’ve written, so they’ll be more likely to spot any typos or grammar and syntax errors.
I know plenty of master plumbers who’ve rejected applicants for misspelled words on resumes and employment applications. Same for lots of other trades. Misspelled words and poor or incoherent sentence structures to these types of employers equates to poor output, questionable skills, and a careless attitude. It’s a credibility robber.
What if the plumber decided to become a plumber, and a good one, because he was not good with writing, but good with fixing stuff?
I’ve worked with people who are mechanics, general labor, etc. who would ask me to review and/or proofread their resume. Many wanted to pay me and I did it out of helping them in their profession. It is important to know how to communicate, and if you can write it down, your oral communication skills increase.
Many times people review resumes without even knowing the race, gender or cultural background. I prefer to review resumes over applications, just for this purpose. It provides a view of the person’s knowledge, skills & abilities, as well as experience. Resumes give insight on how a person thinks, what they consider important in their career and how they write. Applications just don’t pick up those abilities, more generic.
I have seen where it comes down to 2 applicants that are both highly qualified for a position. Who was offered it, the one that did not have a misspelled word on their resume.
Doesn’t matter how competent a plumber he is, or how competent he is at any other trade or occupation If he can’t spell, or write a reasonably coherent sentence, he’ll often get rejected.
Our company’s chief geophysicist is Russian. Our IT manager, who doubles as petrophysicist, is Chinese. Both are incredibly skilled and smart men. But their English is…funny, because the grammar and structure of their native languages seep through. The same goes for our two French geologists. Should that disqualify them?
If a resume contains errors because it is – or gives the impression of being – sloppy, that is reason for rejection. If the candidate clearly is skilled for the job, but an occasional typo, or their native language seeps through – would you risk losing a good candidate for that?
@Karsten: Good points. But if these folks have language issues, why would they rely on a resume to get a job?
I once sent an engineer fresh from the ROC (he called himself Sam) to interview with an engineering manager client (Roger). I had provided no resume to Roger. That’s how we worked. He trusted my judgment. Roger called and praised Sam’s engineering acumen but pointed out the language problem. Sam was very difficult to understand. English was still a very new language for him. He didn’t want to hire him.
Sam came up with the solution (which I don’t recommend unless both the candidate and manager have great integrity). He offered to work for 2 weeks for free so Roger could try him out. “My English is only going to get better!” he said to me with a confident smile.
Roger liked the idea but said his HR department would never go for it due to legal and insurance reasons. Later, he called me back. “Screw it. Keep this under your hat. Don’t tell HR. Tell Sam to show up tomorrow.” Sam did. Just 4 days later Roger put in a job offer and hired Sam. “He’s fantastic. Thanks!” Roger also arranged for Sam to get paid for those 4 days. I got loads more business from Roger, who never asked me for resumes.
I don’t suggest offering to work for free. In fact, I discourage it. My point is, if you’re not good at getting in the door one way, try another door.
Agree that one should not rely on a resume to get a job. The point here is that rejecting a candidate due to typos, language errors etc may mean rejecting them for the wrong reason.
How about the spelling of medications in a tablet? I once caught a young student nurse accepting the auto-check of medicine she keyed in after interviewing me in a hospital.
She then showed me; I immediately pointed out as it being incorrect. The misspelling was close to what I took; I spelled it out for her. She realized her mistake in assuming the name of the medication. She thanked me, saying that she would double-check the spelling of drugs in the future.
Always be aware, depending on the situation, when it comes to typos. My past employers always liked when I caught a typo or two, including grammars. I proofread any documents.