A few months ago, I posted a question on LinkedIn: “If someone who is not a professional writer has a couple of typos in their resume, why does that speak to anything more than being human?” 1,270 comments later, it’s abundantly clear to me that people have some pretty strong opinions about this.
The reason I brought it up is because I’ve read thousands of resumes while hiring for my company, and every so often I’ll catch a typo, which plenty of hiring managers and recruiters have told me is a pretty big red flag. For many, a single typo is an automatic veto. If someone isn’t going to pay attention to details here, the logic goes, where else won’t they pay attention?
“It’s a total disqualifier for me,” one user wrote. “I am always interested in candidates who are willing to put that degree of effort into the detail of their work.”
“Warrants a giant red X,” declared another.
“I asure you that I have the rite skills, kwalifications and ecksperience to add valew to the bisiness,” a third cheekily weighed in.
After reading through hundreds of the comments that poured in on LinkedIn–including plenty that were more generous-minded than these–I’m still not convinced that a resume typo is as a big a deal as it’s sometimes made out to be. Let me explain.
Employers’ Ballooning Expectations
Looking for a job is a daunting task. You usually have to apply to dozens of jobs to get a single interview, but you’re also told that every resume and cover letter has to be personalized to each company. And that’s just table stakes. This means that in between your current job (if you’re lucky enough to have one), you also need to think and perform at the level of a professional writer while looking and applying to open positions.
You don’t have to bemoan that challenge as categorically “unfair” (which I don’t, by the way) in order to see hiring managers’ one-strike policy as a little extreme. “[Typos] are unacceptable,” one commenter averred. “They create an impression the applicant does not care.”
But is that impression accurate? With all that goes into a modern job search, an employer expecting you to have the perfect resume isn’t just unempathetic, it’s a poor proxy for that all-important job qualification, “attention to detail.”
This might’ve made sense around 1985, but we’re now in a world where much of our work output is digital, where websites and even social media posts (Twitter being a silly exception), are editable. The ubiquity of the “edit” button is a humane concession to life in an attention economy where attention spans themselves are fleeting. It’s an acknowledgement that speed and the ability to multitask are the most critical skills.
Being responsive–and knowing how and when to revise or update your work–is the better test of someone’s “attention to detail” than getting everything perfect the first time.
What Typos Don’t Tell You
Many LinkedIn users who weighed in on my question pointed out that there are roles where details do matter. Copy editor? Please, no typos. Rocket scientist? You’d better check stuff twice. Email marketer? You can’t unsend that. As one commenter put it, “I once saw a typo in a resume from someone who was applying to become a technical editor with my company. So much for that applicant!”
This makes sense to me. But for other roles, a zero-tolerance approach to resume typos may hurt some job seekers more than others–and for the wrong reasons. Consider the entire industry of resume coaches, proofreaders, and even writers out there. If you’ve got the money to spare, you can pay your way toward a flawless, masterfully composed resume and cover letter. If you don’t, well, it’s your fault for being so sloppy and careless–sorry!
The fact is that not everyone has the money or time to spare to give their applications an expert-level polish–but they’ll almost certainly be competing against candidates who do. Much the way that unpaid internships drive structural inequality, the ironclad requirement of an eloquent, error-free job application has the downstream effect of excluding people who don’t have time or resources to perfect every resume they send out before the opening gets filled.
One commenter on LinkedIn mentioned that this “red flag” rule has another unintended consequence: discriminating against dyslexic people. He wrote (with imperfect punctuation and capitalization), “Being a tad dyslexic means just that, it doesn’t mean i am not good at others things, lot to be said for thought diversity in any team.”
Resumes are meant to provide a 90-second summation of a person’s entire professional self. They are deliberately one-dimensional. Faced with massive volumes of resumes, recruiters and hiring managers need filters to winnow down their applicant pools. But a superficial factor like a typo is an unfair and ineffective one in today’s hyperconnected, digitally driven workforce.
What matters more is finding someone who’s responsible, digitally savvy, adaptable, and driven. A resume should serve as a reference document to help remember key details about someone’s work experience, and to serve as a leave-behind for an interview–not a definitive first test. Misspelling a word means exactly that: The candidate misspelled a word. They are human and make mistakes, just as you can expect them to do periodically on the job.
The real question for a talent professionals and hiring managers is this: What will the candidate do after making a mistake?