Do Mistakes on Résumés and Cover Letters Matter?

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resumemistakeDid you think I would say anything but  “YES”? Of course mistakes on résumés and cover letters matter — isn’t that what we’ve been telling you, and what you’ve heard for the past — forever?

If an employer is only looking over your résumé for about 30 seconds, you can bet that if what catches his eye in that time period is an error, your résumé is going in the trash. Same with your cover letter — why waste time reading something that you can barely understand?

To shed some light on this important topic, we have a guest blogger today. Nanci Lamborn is a 20-year veteran of human resources and recruiting, and a writer and blogger for BrightMove. BrightMove is a  leading provider of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applicant tracking and talent management solutions for staffing, enterprise, mid-market and outsourcing areas of recruiting software. As a recruiter who has seen it all, her blogs are always insightful, informative and make me chuckle a time or two.

Here’s what she says about  the importance of résumé and cover letter accuracy:

Do Mistakes on Résumés and Cover Letters Really Matter?

By Nanci Lamborn, BrightMove Team Blogger/Writer

I am unashamed to admit it; I am a grammar freak. Maybe it can be blamed upon genetics (my mother used to diagram complex sentences for fun) or upon my authoritarian yet somehow endearing English professor, Mrs. Stolpe (may she rest in peace). I am also, rather proudly, always able to properly distinguish between there, they’re, and their,  and I will not be affected by the effect of an improper homonym selection. I can spot a typo a mile away.

My own quirkiness aside, it seems I am certainly not alone in my bid for the Grammar Police Deputy of the Year award. The fervently like-minded Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson have taken their correction quest nationwide http://bit.ly/144CzC , and MSN has joined in reporting on the trend, with mixed feedback http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28900351/.

If my cringes were limited to the lovely hand-addressed letters from my sweet Aunt Mary who fails to remember I’ve remarried and have a new last name (for six years now), the muscles that control my high and mighty eye-rolls would not be so well developed. But how can I not find myself reacting with a vigorous eye-roll head-shake combo move when I receive the following opening line from a candidate? “I seen you’re add on line heres my résumé.”

You just rolled your eyes too.

Please allow me to share a few more noteworthy errors observed on real applicant résumés. Space does not permit me to even scratch the surface of the number of these grammar bombs that I see in one weeks’ time. And since my italicized editorial garnered such feedback in last week’s posting, my snide comments are provided herein.

Experrienced clerrical proffesional (Iss yourr keyyboarrd sstickkinngg?)
I am bright and maybe valuable to the workspace. (Maybe I am a desk lamp.)
Researches And resolves Customer needs For the Area (I Like random Capitals.)
Cashing handling (I’m thinking you’re liking adding ing to wording.)
Assisting manager in creating promoting. (Are you copying from Cashing Handling guy?)

All humor aside, receiving administrative candidate correspondence such as this really does put me in a quandary. Do I overlook the seven separate typos and horrid cover letter grammar to get to the meat of the relevant work experience, giving the poor candidate and my own peeves a break? What if by doing so, I uncover the precise job history that I’ve been unable to find in any candidate so far? How important are spelling and grammar really? If they did not matter, this question may have appeared as “How impotent are spelling and grammar really?”  Important / Impotent… both are grammatically correct, and ironically even the sentence with the mistake poses a valid question.

The worst offenders may chalk it up to nervous haste, or they may claim that grammar and spelling are not their strengths. Perhaps. But the fact that some candidates apparently have not learned how to use the “Spellchecker” function or taken the effort to have colleagues proofread their résumé sends me the message that these candidates are either grossly lacking in basic skills or they are simply lazy. I have even seen candidates misspell their own names. Can my company overlook the results of these traits?

It also makes it very difficult for me to provide honest feedback when one of these applicants inquires as to why they were not considered. I am unsure if it is more heartless to just ignore their inquiry altogether, to generalize about better qualified candidates, or to point out all of their mistakes. Heartless as it may seem to screen out administrative candidates who fail in the basics, if it means that the written communication produced out of my office to the public has a much better chance of being professional and correct, then I must believe I have made the right decision.

Nanci Lamborn is a 20-year veteran of human resources and recruiting. She   currently recruits in the Atlanta area for the insurance industry and recently obtained her SPHR designation.

What do you think?

22 Comments
  1. I am curious what you have to say about mistakes with text boxes or layout changes when sending electronic resumes. sometimes a text box or other small paragraph enhancer, that is only meant to make the layout of the resume stand out more when you print it on paper, can get mangled when viewing in a different program. For example, Microsoft Word gives you the ability to change the kerning and leading, whereas Microsoft Works does not have nearly as many options. Would it be better to just not use advanced techniques and stick with a simpler layout for a resume, or would it be good to keep the layout the way it is in hopes that it shows off just how much you know about a program like Microsoft Word or about editing/layout in general?

  2. Re: 13 Things You Should never Reveal to
    Your Co-Workers

    I had to laugh during this ‘article’ when I came across the term ‘verbal diarrhea’, because it perfectly describes this piece of writing. The categories you’ve chosen to include in this list leaves almost nothing for colleagues to talk about. I guess this is the way anal retentive, obsessive-compulsive people like you want our workplaces to be: sterile, bland hives of productivity completely devoid of humanity. Although I guess it must be hard writing such a dry blog that, at the peak of its’ usefulness (about 25% of the time) is able to painstakingly recount the blindingly obvious to its’ readers.

  3. Joshua, your comment is a valid one and brings up a great point about resume formatting. In this age of electronic resume reading technology and OCR text recognition, formatting can cause some issues. I do see a fair number of format malfunctions, often through some applicants who have applied directly from a third party job posting site, but those issues I have learned to overlook. It’s also why I personally recommend sending resumes as attachments in PDF format.

  4. Joshua,

    You have to be careful with how elaborate you format your resume these days because most companies will import them into an electronic applicant tracking system such as ours. I recommend applicants keep it simple on formatting so that they both parse and import well into web based systems. While almost all systems save a formatted copy, many recruiters do not look at that but opt to review the textual version that is parsed on import.

    I hope this helps.

    Michael Brandt
    COO
    BrightMove, Inc.

  5. Thank you, this helps quite a bit. I had definitely overlooked the pdf option. I was unsure of what tracking systems did to formatted resumes and I think that I will have to create a simple format resume for applying online and use pdf formats for attaching to emails.

    Thanks for the advice!

    Joshua Curry

  6. I absolutely agree with this article! I also tend to be a grammar freak, and have been a recruiter for ten years. The resume is the key to the first impression. If you cant spell or use grammar correctly, or worse, if you just want to write something you think sounds impressive; but don’t know what it means, you will be overlooked instantly, and will never get another chance.

    One mistake I often see on resumes, are the headings in all caps spelled wrong… If you don’t have spell check set to check words in all caps, its easy to miss. I ALWAYS print and proof read twice on any adjustments I make to a resume. There is something great to be said about old school methods.
    My favorite resumes are short and sweet. If you don’t have much to say, please don’t repeat the same job description three times on a resume! Tell me efficiently how you are going to be valuable to my company, either by skill/experience/education or quantifiable results. Tell me how you are going to generate income and/or save me money, and be sure to tell me who will verify your claims. I think its best to leave out the basics, unless you are applying to be my receptionist. All the details can be discussed when we meet in person, because after all, you made things easy for me by saving me time from the very start. References up front also make a good impression. After all, why do I have to request them if you have them ready and are sure about what will be said?

  7. Am not great with grammar. Needs to do some practice writing. How can I get some help. I recently started a job that helps candidates find job after leaving vocational training. Without being at the top of my game I can’t market them properly bygiving them the resume that sells them. How can I get help in this field

  8. My daughter is on her 3rd yr attending university and has been working with same employer part-time and has been promoted twice. She belongs to a sorority and they do a lot of volunteer work which requires planning, scheduling, etc. Can she list the sorority on her resume?

  9. I was more than impressed with the article on grammar and spelling. I loved getting the chuckles as well. I would much rather be given helpful tactful feedback as to the reasons why my application was jettisoned to “file 13″ as opposed to never hearing back from a prospective employer. Or receiving a cookie cutter response that gets forwarded to all candidates even qualified ones that aren’t selected.

  10. Recruiter Jen: Please review your Paragraph One, Sentence Four. There are other snafues as well. You could have done better.

  11. I realized in horror that the only word I mispelled on my resume was career (I put carreer). I need to ask CareerBuilder to delete the resume I sent so I can send a corrected one.

    Believe it or not, spelling and grammar have always been a passion of mine as well. As a small child, math was easy, but spelling tests caused anxiety. I used the M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E from Disney to make words easy to remember.
    Also, a babysitter corrected grammatical errors mercilessly. When we started covering grammar in school, I thanked her.

    Now I find myself still shaken somewhat by being laid off. Though I knew that work was slow, and I had been the newest member of that department, I was still at a loss to know how I could have been good enough for them to keep. That is no excuse for the mistake, but recognizing that anxiety and feelings of inadequacy might make me more careful to watch for mistakes.

    On to my communication with CareerBuilder!

  12. To c barnes:

    I strongly suggest you take an evening course in business writing. There are books that I could suggest, but it my opinion that it is better to have a teacher for this.

    The first thing that stands out to me in your post is something called “telescopic sentences.” That is when a writer leaves small words out and the sentence gets shorter like a telescope.

    “Am not great with grammar” should be “I am not great with grammar.” “Needs to do some practice writing” should be “I need to do some practice writing.” I’m not entirely pleased with the choice of words, but I’m only trying to illustrate what is meant by a “telescopic sentence.”

    “I need to practice” sounds a bit more sophisticated than “I need to do some practice.”

    Watch out for sentences that are too short, they may come across as simple-minded.

    “I went to the store. I bought a ham. I like ham.”

    “I bought ham because I like it.”

    Which one sounds more like an adult? The exact structure and information required depends on the purpose of the sentence. Perhaps someone asked me why I bought a ham. If someone had asked what I was just doing, the sentence might include the store but not include that I like ham.

    Punctuation is just as important as grammar and spelling.

    I am not an expert, nor is it my intention to imply that I am. I am in technical college right now (three weeks to graduate) and recently completed a course in business writing and have been working in a book on technical writing.

  13. I have been told by several potential employers -not- to send resumes and cover letters in PDF format. Instead they often requrest them in TXT format, or in DOC with the caveat that they want no fancy formatting.

  14. Hi Nancy,

    I read your piece about errors on résumés on CareerBuilder.com and was wondering about the grammatical correctness of the following excerpt from your writing:

    “Please allow me to share a few more noteworthy errors observed on real applicant résumés. Space does not permit me to even scratch the surface of the number of these grammar bombs that I see in one weeks’ time. And since my italicized editorial garnered such feedback in last week’s posting, my snide comments are provided herein.”

    Isn’t “one week” singular?

    Nancy, this is not meant to be critical at all, it is just meant in good fun. Please do not take offense. I certainly make many, many mistakes more often than I care to admit. I really did enjoy your article. Until reading your post I was having a rather dull day. Thanks for providing a “week’s” worth of fun!

  15. To Mark Atchley,

    No, “one week” is not singular in the way Nancy used it in her sentence. It would have been had she left off the word “time” at the end of her sentence.

  16. No doubt, grammar and spelling do matter. That said, it is also obvious that it matters what a person applies for. Every employer will understand when the resume/cover letter was written by a foreigner (Iss the keyyboard sstickinng?). Maybe if any of these strict ladies had to apply in a foreign language like chinese, russian or arabic, they would be less perfect too.

    A person may not have good grammar skills, but be ingenious in math and despite all the errors show enough verbal skills to understand the tasks. If math is what the job involves – he/she may in fact be a good candidate

    In further disagreement with Nancy, I think a resume needs enough details to give a sense of truthfulness. Why should an employer take a chance with what may be nothing but exaggerations?

  17. It’s sad that too much attention it’s paid to grammar. Are employer’s looking for perfect people or they need someone to work? Understand
    that if you have an office job, then it’s ok to be picky,but if the job doesn’t deal with office work,grammar has no importance. We had a vice president who could not spell a word, and a big deal was made about that. We are living in a very imperfect word, get over a litte grammar error’s that’s why the eraser was invented. The only perfect person was Jesus besides him nobody comes close! Resume doesn’t prove anything, because most people make up so much trash that’s not true on them. Have a nice day and I hope not make too many grammatical errors were made.

  18. I was pleased to hear your view ,hope every employer thought like you.Unfortunately grammer and presentation problems have become a barrier for many people in getting jobs.

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