Human Resources News & Insights

Should HR care about spelling mistakes?

You hear from an applicant with all the skills and experience the hiring manager wants. But there’s a problem: The resume contains a spelling error. What do you do?

The most common reaction: putting the resume straight in the trash. In fact, 47% of hiring managers won’t consider an applicant who makes a single typo in a resume or cover letter, according to a survey by OfficeTeam. Another 37% would remove the candidate from the running after two mistakes.

The reasoning is that letting errors slip through could be a sign the candidate lacks professionalism or pays no attention to detail. So how are they going to perform a detail-oriented job?

But that’s not the only opinion out there. Lance Haun of YourHRGuy.com says that, unless you’re hiring a writer, the candidate’s job-related skills and experience should take precedence over a small resume typo.

Employers are often afraid one mistake will be indicative of the rest of the person’s work, but there’s no reason to believe that’s true, Haun says. And some companies may have passed on great employees because of one small error.

What do you think? How many typos would you have to find before throwing away a resume? Let us know your opinion in the comments section below.

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Comments

  1. Depending on the position, probably 4+ would be pretty bad.

  2. I’ll openly admit I’m pickier than most when it comes to spelling mistakes on resumes and cover letters. I understand that mistakes happen. However, when you can select the spell check option, there’s no excuse. Weren’t we taught in elementary school the difference between their, there and they’re?

  3. I’m afraid I fall into the 47% who would trash a resume with one typo. To me, if they are really serious about wanting the job, they should take the resume seriously – reread it, and even have someone else read it, before considering it ready to send out. Spell check is not enough – you can have a wrong word, such as “it” instead of “is”, or something similar, that spell check won’t catch, but the person reading the resume certainly will. I know that these days, with texting so popular, there is a tendency to overlook spelling and grammar to a certain extent, but I think that’s a bad trend, and shows a lack of discipline, or at the very least, a lack of concern. One thing the workforce needs is employees who can be disciplined enough to get the job done, and concerned about doing it right.

  4. We rarely consider candidates whose cover letters and resumes contain errors. If they can’t get it right on something where they have time to prepare in advance and is important; they won’t take the time to double check everything that we will expect of them under time pressures on a daily basis. Our employees need to respond to hundreds of e-mails each day and quickly. Care must be taken with all correspondence.

  5. Michelle says:

    It depends on the position that they are applying for. I will be much more lax with an employee applying for a blue collar position, however if they are looking to work in the office, anything more than two and they are in the trash.

  6. I always contact the applicants to pre-screen, if their skillset and background fits what I am looking for. This is where I can truly gauge their level of experience.

    I am one of the best recruiters in my division, and guess what, I make typo’s more often then I would like. I am a very fast paced person, this is what makes me successful, not my typing ability.

    When selecting candidates I have a list for not just skills, but behavioral qualities that make people successful for that specific position. I use this list when selecting candidates.

    I have learned in over nine years of recruiting, that you can teach skills, you cannot teach personality and drive.

    If for instance, it is a sales person, their people skills, verbal communication skills, and ablity to sway are more important then their ability to write an essay. If it is an executive assistant, their writing abilities are extremely important to their everyday tasks.

    Jenna

  7. I agree, I don’t want to see errors. I might let a very small punctiuation error slide. I have over 70% of employees that submit resumes spell HIPAA wrong when they are bragging about how good they are. It goes is the never pile. If it is your area of expertise you need to know how to spell it.

  8. Rachel Harris says:

    I am pretty picky too, but I’m an accountant so I’m trained to be picky! The threshold of rejection would depend on the job you are seeking to fill but since most of our positions are either accounting or word prodessing related (we are a law firm), I take errors in resumes pretty seriously. I once received a resume from a candidate who repeatedly stressed that her strengths were attention to detail and accuracy. Her cover letter averaged 2-4 errors per paragraph. She didn’t get hired.

  9. I am a terrible speller to the point that even spell check sometimes can’t distinguish what I am spelling. Still, there is no excuse for spelling errors on a cover letter or resume. It shows that the person is sloppy, careless, not detailed orientated and indicates the lack of initiative in not having another pair off eyes review the material.

    Cover letters and resumes are good non verbal tools since they represent the person and the value that person brings to the position.

  10. Cathy H says:

    My mom always taught me, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.” That would especially apply to a resume. The resume is indicative of how much effort has been exerted to present a person as the best possible candidate for the position. A typo on an application, which is more than likely on-line these days, may be less scrutinized. But a document presented by the candidate to encourage you to speak to them further should be of the highest quality. With the majority of communication being electronic and in written form these days, it’s imperative that people are able to communicate clearly. If they are unable to accomplish that through a document that can be proofed many times, how can we expect them to have that ability when responding quickly to an email? I’m probably in the same “pickier than most” category with Amanda.

  11. It really depends on the position. I only consider typos in the resume for executive and clerical positions. They need to pay attention to those details and would be required of them if hired. I look for the proper credentials, certifications, and relative job experience for all other positions – not their typos.

  12. Angel M says:

    1 or two spelling mistakes on some common words do not bother me, but I do trash resumes/application with grammatical errors or very messy handwriting, more so when I get flooded with apps every day.

  13. Since I am one of the worse spellers in the world and do not have any idea how I past not only college English but even high school English I would suggest a lot more tolerance in the spelling department. I do not send an email out that has not been run against spell check and the same is true about anything that comes out of word. But there are still problems and error.

    That said if I was sending a resume or cover letter I would make sure and have someone else read it over.

    As I type this I wonder what makes most recruiter are managers think they are English teachers. I wonder how many mistakes they make a week in the emails they send.

    Just for the record I have written four books and have owned 3 companies.

    As I told my mother many years ago someone will hire me not because I can spell but because of the fact that I can sell.

    If spelling and English grammar are not a major part of the job. Why are you using that as a major determination if someone is going to be successful in the position.

  14. Hi Mel, you just had 3 mistakes. I have no tolerance, simply because if a resume’ has an error it is a sign that they didn’t go through and double and triple and however many times to check to see that everything was proper and in order. Sure, it’s not how you spell, it’s if you can sell; but can you sell sloppiness/errors? Also, when you receive a resume’ and cover letter with an error from someone that you have never met or heard of, it’s going to give a bad impression right off the bat.

  15. I agree with Amanda.

  16. I, too, have a pet peeve about spelling and grammar. Right on, Amanda – it’s amazing how many people make these errors on common words with the same pronunciation. Are you ready for this? My daughter teaches a split first and second grade class. The other day a student asked her how to spell “gonnew” – she told him it wasn’t a word. He argued that it was and used it in a sentence. She told him what he was trying to say was “going to.” And yes, we all commonly say “gonna” in informal speech and I’ve certainly seen it in print, but we should know the difference for formal written English. On one of these HR blogs I’ve seen someone use “rather” when he meant “whether” – just the way we hear things and get into the habit of repeating what we thought we heard. Another one is “could of” which is how some hear “could’ve” – it’s “could have” – anyway, Mel’s right – I’m not an English teacher. I do think that attention to detail is important and might not consider someone who made several errors. It just seems careless.

  17. Just this week I received a resume from Thersa. As I started reading it, I was thinking “what an unusual name”. Then, I saw that the person’s name was actually Theresa. If they make a mistake on their own name, I’m not going to waste my time reading the resume!

  18. I actually see 7 mistakes in Mel’s email. To me, Mel, submitting a well-written and mistake-free resume and cover letter shows that the person CARES about winning the job against all other contenders, not necessarily whether they can or can’t do the job or possess the correct skills. That should be evident in the content and would be part of the reason I consider them for the position in the first place. Even if you have to hire a professional to edit your resume and letters, they should be FULLY without mistakes in my book.

  19. Mel wasn’t the only one with typographical errors in the previous 18 comments!!! ;o)

  20. Mel – don’t feel bad. This just proves that no one is perfect!

  21. Patricia says:

    I can tolerate a degree of grammar or formatting errors. I cannot tolerate typos in a resume or cover letter.

    Anyone I would be hiring would be filling the position of benefit coordinator or HR coordinator. If someone cannot take the time to proofread their resume or cover letter and have someone else proofread it, I don’t want them inputting employee benefit info or payroll info. There is no room for negligent mistakes with payroll deductions or employee benefit enrollments.

    If one of my people makes an occasional mistake, it is understandable because we all make mistakes. I understand when inputting a large volume of data, occasional mistakes happen. If someone who is applying for a position to work for me makes a foolish typographical mistake on a resume or cover letter, it is shoddy work. They had plenty of time to prepare and review their resume and cover letter before submitting it to me. Therefore I immediately rule out people who send me resumes with spelling mistakes.

  22. Lissette says:

    I admit that I would not consider a resume with more than one typo. This is the way I look at it. We all have only one chance to make a first impression. A resume gives a prospective employer the first impression of the applicant. If you think you are not a good speller, then ask someone to take a look at it (or even more than one person).

    In my nearly 20-year-career, I have gotten many resumes with typos. In two instances, the typos were so egregious that I contacted the individuals. I felt badly for them, and merely wanted to offer them help.

    One said that he had had a friend take a look at it and that his friend knew English “real good” so his friend could not be wrong. The other one hung up on me.

  23. I fall into the 47 percent who will not consider the person, especially in this day when I get so many resumes. I don’t have time to read all of them so that is one way to filter the resumes right off the bat. If you want the job badly enough, reread the resume, have some else read it and, for goodness sakes, do not rely on Spell Check. That program is rife with errors and can not be trusted, especially by people who are not good spellers to begin with. There is something called a dictionary. I suggest you buy one, place it on your desk and rely on it.
    If you’re going to apply for a job the same way you text people, you’re going to have problems. Use proper grammar, correct spelling and usage. There is no excuse for sloppiness.

  24. No Good Answer says:

    I admit I tend to mark down on those resumes/cover letters with typos for all of the same reasons set forth in the other comments. However, the thought goes through my mind that the applicant who can’t spell, write a complete sentence, type, etc., can have someone else proof and fix the cover letter/resume, making it perfect. That does not give you a true picture of the applicant either. You hire that person and every form of correspondence that goes out has a mistake or typo!

  25. I am another manager who automatically throws resumes/cover letters with typos into the rejection stack. All of the roles for my staff require attention to detail and that definitely starts with what a candidate can communicate through their basic written self-introduction to a possible employer.

  26. Sandy Ewen says:

    I HATE seeing typos or misspellings on a hand-written application. I also hate to see my name misspelled. I tend to put those resumes/applications/cover letters aside. My advice to anyone applying for jobs is to take their time with what they are submitting to a potential employer. I want to see that you care about what you are presenting to us. I once had a secretarial applicant spell Secretary incorrectly. If you can’t spell the position you are applying for, you are not qualified!

    I’m known to be very free with red-circling errors!

  27. Unfortunately, the majority of the comments here are indicative of my point about hiring managers and HR people taking a spelling error and drawing far too many conclusions from it. They assume the candidates are sloppy, they won’t do their job well, they are lazy, etc…

    Yet, these are the same people that are posting jobs with major spelling, grammar and formatting issues. If you spend some time looking at job listings on major job boards (that they spent hundreds of dollars on), you’ll see error rates similar to resumes. These people are not just representing themselves poorly but their companies. These people wouldn’t have any applicants if their job candidates followed the same criteria.

    I have to admit that I do get a little bit of joy seeing all of the spelling and grammar errors from the most judgmental people in posts like this.

    Thanks for sharing my post!

  28. I have an employee who had a perfect resume; both in grammar and spelling. She sends e-mails and memos that are terrible in both spelling and grammar. Now before she sends out a memo to employees (she’s the payroll person) I ask to double check it to fix errors. Spell check does not help if you use another word that sounds like it and this happens a lot. First impressions are great, but in the long run it only proves that they had someone else proofread it and you may be stuck with someone who can’t spell or put sentences together correctly.

  29. Carol, you are so right – no guarantees. Years ago my husband had an assistant auditor (he was head auditor for a savings and loan) and her audit notes were terrible. When she later had a complaint, after she had left, the letter was very obviously done by somebody else as it was very well written. However, I don’t like to see spelling and grammar errors for some of the same reasons already mentioned. A person who isn’t a good speller is probably aware of that and really should take the time to get it right, especially on correspondence representing the company. If that means having a good speller check it out, so be it. It doesn’t take that much time, and maybe that person could reciprocate in some other way.

  30. Mel and Lance – you 2 are who I would want to have a company with. I’m afraid the majority of HR professionals who say they toss a resume if there are spelling errors possibly reflect a large portion of HR who are focused on the more traditional role of “rule keeper.” Obviously, if there are horrendous errors, or if the position requires excellent spelling, I look at it carefully. But I want the best TALENT – and I hate the thought that the BEST candidate may be in the trash can. I’m a better than average speller (English was a major), but sometimes spelling errors slip out of me – that does NOT change the content, rigor or knowledge that is behind the material. I work with someone who admittedly is not a great speller – but she is absolutely one of the best HR talent I’ve ever worked with. She has all the strengths I don’t, but also plenty I do have. She is great with human beings, but also can data enter and whip through our HRIS like an accountant. I’d hate to think I missed her because of a spelling typo. I’ve been misjudged in a million ways through my very interesting life; but when I’m in the right place, using the skills I’ve been wired with, my spelling (or math, actually) deficiencies have not kept me from giving my boss his money’s worth. I’ll keep screening for total content. Mel/Lance – let me know if I can provide great candidates to you!

  31. I can’t believe that a hiring manager or recruiter can be that anal about spelling and punctuation. I will be more critical of an applicant who will be producing material for public consumption, but for most other positions I will overlook a few mistakes. Applicants for hourly positions can’t afford to pay someone to compile a professional resume for them and many do not own computers. Their friends probably have the same skill level as the applicant, so having someone assist with editing will not help.
    I am more interested in an applicant’s work history and longevity in previous jobs, not their spelling ability. My ego is not so inflated that I feel justified in passing over a candidate due to an issue completely unrelated to the job they will be performing. If one or two spelling errors are your sole criteria for rejecting a candidate, regardless of their skills and experience, then you are denying your company good workers. We have plenty of dictionaries around the building and all computers have spell check; one thing we do not need is a shop full of English majors who can’t do the job.

  32. I will have to disagree with some, to at least some extent. If you have an error in your resume, that shows a potential flaw in your ability to prepare. If you can’t start off well off the bat, what makes an HR pro think that you will later? As a candidate or potential candidate, you have to make a solid impression that you are professional, organized and prepared. How can you be convinced if there are errors in a resume that the candidate had time to prepare and organize and catch those errors? Now, I could excuse something small like “who” instead of “whom”, or if it were for a very low-level position.

    Janet, you are confusing two different things here. The person you are talking about is a bad speller; however, did she turn in a resume with a mistake in it? You can be a bad speller and still take the steps to get the resume right.

  33. I was once in the 47% group when I began in HR. As I have become more seasoned I learned that the quality of resumes in regard to spelling, grammar and punctuation are not always strong indicators of future performance. There are ghost writers and professional resume writers / career coaches who create slick and polished vitas that can make people look better on paper than what they actually are and those hired because they had spotless resumes and great answers in the interview(s) sometimes turned out to be a bust. If an individual possesses the requisite KSA and experience the organization needs we continue to look at this candidate even if their resume is less than perfect. I am not suggesting a resume littered with errors is acceptable.

    To me, it is really about expectations. What are you looking for? Someone applying for a clerical or white collar position should have written communication skills as a role associated competency and the expectation would be to have a certain skill level in this area which the resume provides a preview. Whereas an assembly line production worker may not have that same role associated competency…or even a resume.

  34. Depends on the position and type of error. I place more weight on errors that would have been picked up by spellcheck. It does annoy me when people misuse their, there, and they’re as well as your and you’re, but I’m willing to overlook that. If someone is applying for a clerical/secretarial/AA position, I may forgive one error, but that’s it. You wouldn’t believe some resumes I’ve seen for these types of positions that come in with 7 or 8 errors one a one-page document.

  35. Jenna R. says:

    I recently saw a large amount of spelling errors when I was going through resumes for a position that dealt with customers and emails. One caught my eye. The applicant meant to say Possess, but instead said Posse’s. Needless to say, Posse didn’t re-read her resume. Re-read AND spellcheck is a must!

  36. Patricia says:

    If I am hiring for myself, I cannot accept anyone with spelling errors. I can tolerate a spelling error for other types of positions but they would most likely not be the first person I called or interviewed.

    Jim said above: “I can’t believe that a hiring manager or recruiter can be that anal about spelling and punctuation. I will be more critical of an applicant who will be producing material for public consumption, but for most other positions I will overlook a few mistakes.”

    I am a benefits director. My assistant has to be as accurate as possible with spelling in order for someone to be able to use their benefits. The insurance company can refuse coverage or the pharmacy will not run a prescription if something doesn’t match. How would you feel if you had to go to the emergency room on a weekend or pick up a prescription on Friday night and were told you were not covered because your birth date or the spelling of your name in their system is different than what you told them? Employees can and frequently will be denied coverage if there is a mistake. Some doctors and pharmacies are more willing to work with you than others. I have seen people actually turned away at the pharmacy or not able to have tests performed at the hospital, etc… because something didn’t exactly match.

    An accurately spelled resume and cover letter doesn’t guarantee someone won’t make data input mistakes but I owe it to our employees to weed out anyone who will make a careless mistake on something so important as a resume that they had time to prepare and review. If I was hiring for a recruiter or sales person, I might be more forgiving.

  37. Ross, thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt, but I am not confused about anything. I don’t feel the need to throw people under the bus….but since it sounds like you believe I am not clear as to my logic, to answer your question, yes, my great HR administrator had a typo on her cover letter. Yet, this morning, she put together an unbelievable analysis of wages, OT and bonus for 50+ employees with varying compensation components that will allow me to provide the Pres and CFO a compelling argument about an HR strategy. I’m glad I’m lackadaisical enough to have wasted my time to interview her anyway. I just know where the energy for my company will provide the best ROI.

    Jim (Mel & Lance) I’m with you. HR Director, SPHR

  38. Well, every mistake raises some doubt, but isn’t necessarily indicative of how the employee will perform. Typos and grammatical errors are just small first presentation flaws that can set you back. They can be overcome, although it can get harder and harder the bigger and the more mistakes. Does anyone remember the scene in “A Pursuit of Happyness” where he shows up to the interview without a shirt on (just white tank-top) after just getting out of jail? He managed to overcome it and land the internship position, but that was only because he had the incredible wit and the charm to do it. It would be too much for us to overcome and more often than not would land us in a “bad interview” comedy or horror story in newsletters like this.

    Still, though, you have all the time in the world to write and perfect your resume. There are millions of resources out there and billions of good spellers out there willing to help, and you’re telling me you couldn’t take the time? It’s like the take home exam Seriously, it’s not like you’re given a one-hour time frame to write it. I can sympathize with small grammatical errors, we all make those and no one notices them. But it doesn’t necessarily mean the death of a candidacy, it just means they’ll have a lot more to show to make up for it. Two candidates, both with similar experience and achievements, both with similar interview impressions and scores, but one has a flawless resume and one with a mistake(otherwise almost the same), that one error may be the deciding factor. Or it may even be just two similar resumes, one with mistake(s) and one with out, and you have to pick one to interview. What’s on that resume with mistakes has to manage to stand out above other resumes for the candidate to even get the interview, and those mistakes just make it harder for it to do so. Not that it can’t be done though.

  39. Well it looks like even if I will have mistakes in my comments. But still want to add a couple of additional comments.
    1. Most of you out there are doing a great job of hiring great applicants. I wonder what you success rate is in hiring great employees?
    2. The things that make a great applicant in most cases are different than what makes a great employee.
    3. Most of you are hiring people who want the job. I want to hire people who can do the job. (If spelling and grammar are a key competency than go for it.
    4. Resumes and cover letter are just marketing pieces.
    5. One last piece of advice for those of you who like resumes. Never interview with the resume in front of you. If you do you allow the applicant to control the interview.

  40. HR in IL says:

    I try not to be so uptight on screening resumes that I pitch those with grammar or spelling errors in them. However, if it came down to deciding who would make it to the ‘To-Interview’ list, the resumes with errors would no doubt be ranked lower than the error-free resumes. If an employee truly wants to make a good impression they would take the time and effort to catch the errors no matter what is required for the position.

  41. I have come across so many unbelievable cover letters and resumes…some that have made me laugh for 15 minutes and some that have left me thinking “huh”
    You’ll have the too wordy ones where the person tries to sound all smart, or my all time favorite is when they say they pay close attention to detail and yet the details were obviously not tended to.
    Here is a brief example: You will fine in me a hard woker and dependible. I folow instrucion of my supevisor. I am detailed oriented.

  42. BAD SPELLERS OF THE WORLD, UNTIE!!
    Join Here.

  43. Leigh, it’s amazing the amount of spelling errors in the responses alone! They happen.

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