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Take it from HR: One Typo Can Kill Your Chances

Typos"I can't wait to here from you!"

That's what the last line on the cover letter said.

I was helping an executive hire an administrative assistant. I had screened the resumes and sent her a stack to review. I noticed the "here" instead of "hear," but aside from that, this candidate's qualifications were excellent. I attached a sticky note pointing out that she was the most qualified in the bunch, and asked whether the executive wanted to interview her.

The executive's response? "No way." That one typo eliminated this otherwise-great candidate from consideration.

Is that fair? The executive thought so. She was concerned that if the candidate would send out a cover letter like this, she might send out imperfect correspondence to customers as well. She was far from alone in seeing this as a deal breaker; I know many hiring managers who won't stand for a single error in a resume or other job hunting correspondence. Some hiring managers and HR people have a sliding scale  in which errors on a resume or cover letter matter more in a job that involves typing or writing than for one that doesn't. Other hiring managers and HR people aren't exactly Shakespeare themselves, so they might not notice whether your grammar strays from what they were taught in seventh-grade English class.

The problem is this: You can't know whether the person you're emailing will or won't dump you because of a typo. But you can be sure that most job openings are going to attract a lot of applicants, and the folks on the receiving end are going to need some way to make the pool smaller. Even hiring managers who aren't prone to being overly persnickety might be tempted when they have to get 500 resumes down to a manageable number. That's why you have to make sure the resume and cover letter are perfect every time.
 
Avoid the temptation to fiddle unnecessarily with your resume. Make sure you proofread, and then proofread again, and then have a couple of other people proofread as well. Never prepare resumes or cover letters while you're watching TV, eating, tweeting, or doing anything else. Never rely on spell check (which is famous in hiring circles for letting public relations candidates send resumes that tout their experience in "pubic relations"). In a competitive market, the smallest error could cost you the job.

Kerry Sandberg Scott is author of the blog Clue Wagon, and a human resources professional with 14 years' experience. Kerry began her career in recruiting before serving as the head of HR for different companies. She has also advised several companies and recruiters on finding and hiring the best candidates.

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