While attending a good friend’s bridal shower, the talk at our table turned to the job search. There were two people with recruiting experience at the table, ready to weigh in. The bridesmaid to my right started to tell a pretty funny story about a big cover letter slip up. It sounded very familiar and we all have probably made similar cover letter mistakes.
In the midst of applying to multiple jobs, she put together what she thought to be a great cover letter. She slightly altered it to fit the three different companies she was applying to and then proceeded to proofread it “about a hundred times.” She sent it off. That was that.
A few weeks later, she hadn’t heard back, but pressed on and decided to apply for a few new jobs she was interested in. When going back to use the same cover letter, she noticed something slightly alarming. Instead of talking about all of her “great work with various public schools” she actually referred to her great work with “pubic schools.”
We all starting cracking up—definitely an unfortunate, but easy to make, mistake. Since she hadn’t heard back from any of those three companies, she posed the question, “is this typo preventing me from getting calls?” In general, will cover letter mistakes be a deal breaker?
The recruiter at the table jumped in.
“It’s probably okay. It’s possible no one even noticed, or read it.” I quickly agreed, “I wouldn’t worry about it too much. It’s an innocent mistake and I think most recruiters care about your experience way more than a typo.” However, I know there are people out there in the opposite camp, who believe grammar, attention to detail, and cover letters in general are a big deal.
My opinion is that minor cover letter mistakes don’t matter all that much.
Many times, cover letters are not even read
If you ask a group of recruiters (and I have), you’ll realize that very few read cover letters at all. There could be many reasons why this is the case, but I believe the biggest reason is probably because recruiters have time constraints and, because of limited time, recruiters prioritize what is most important—the resume. When the recruiter is passing along a candidate’s information to the hiring manager, the person who is actually hiring this person, it is pretty common to only pass along the resume or a resume bundle with many candidates at once and not include the cover letters.
The recruiting process is already long and administrative. The cover letter sometimes gets tossed aside because the resume gives you enough information to make a call without any supplements.
When they are read, cover letters are often skimmed
Now, this is definitely not always the case. Plenty of people definitely still read cover letters. Otherwise, why ask for them? However, back to the issue of time constraints, when cover letters are read, they are likely skimmed. The reader is probably looking for the key points and looking for anything that the resume can’t tell them such as passion for the company or why the candidate chose to take the path they took. They are looking for the “personality” and context behind the resume. Still, they will read a cover letter very quickly, extracting what they need, and moving on.
For this reason, I don’t think minor errors are easily caught. Note: writing the wrong company name in a cover letter is not minor—this is a careless, major mistake, and extremely easy to spot. “Pubic schools” however, could easy be missed.
Your actual skills and past experience outweigh almost everything
This is one of my core beliefs about the the recruiting process and hiring. I can give you all of the advice in the world and it definitely will help you gain a competitive edge, but actual skills and work experience trump almost everything. Most companies have a very specific set of qualifications in mind when they are hiring. If you meet them and not many others do, you’re likely to get a shot at interviewing even if you have made a mistake or typo in your cover letter.
Cover letter mistakes can happen in a second—we’re all busy. Experience and skills take years to build, and trump a piece of paper.
As with many job search topics, this is a really subjective one and you may come across people who adamantly disagree and will easily judge someone on a minor error on a cover letter. I personally don’t believe this is a dealbreaker, but in the spirit of giving yourself every advantage possible, do write a great cover letter and check it 101 times for typos. Ask someone you trust to give it a second look. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes is all you need.
This post was originally published on The Prepary.
What’s your take on the minor typos in the cover letter? Have a horror story or advice for catching tiny mistakes? Share with us in the comments!
Ask Levo Mentor Sallie Krawcheck, Past President of Merrill Lynch, US Trust, and Smith Barney, if she has any horror stories or tips to keep your cover letter clean!
Here’s some career advice I’m sick of reading: “Don’t have typos in your resume.”
If you need to read that advice to know you shouldn’t have typos in your resume then you are unemployable.
My friend Ben pointed out that when Colin Powell resigned, he typed his own letter at his home computer to keep the resignation a secret. But the White House sent the letter back because it had a typo. I wish the lesson here were that you always get a second chance. But no one will give your resume back to you to fix. So instead the lesson is that everyone makes typos. It’s human.
It is near impossible to not have a typo in a resume at some point because we’ve all read our resume five hundred times, and it’s ineffective to proofread something you’ve reread so much. On top of that, job hunting is often a repetitive, boring task, so it’s no surprise that people copy and paste and put the wrong employer name in the salutation all the time.
So there’s nothing you can do to fix a typo if the resume is sent. You look bad resending a resume to a hiring manager and saying “I had a typo in my resume.” Most likely the person won’t notice the typo anyway unless it is in his name. Even if you are applying for a proofreader job, it’s not going to help to resend the resume. The job of a proofreader is to catch the error before he hits send.
A lot of polls say recruiters will dump a resume in the garbage if there’s one typo. I don’t believe it. First, all typos are not equal. But also, a sales person with a typo is different than a technical writer with a typo. While a technical writer should be detail-oriented, the skills that make a good sales person don’t necessarily make a good proofreader.
So if you send a resume with a typo, hope the recruiter doesn’t notice, and try not to do it again. Move on.
But you should consider hiring a resume writing service to write your resume. You can trust a top company to not have a typo. There are a million reasons to hire someone to help you with your resume. It’s a very important document and it’s very hard to write yourself because you’re too close to the information on many levels, not just in terms of spelling.
That said, I hired a top resume writing company and then later made some changes in my resume and, of course, sent it out a couple of times with typos. Maybe it was a good thing, though. Because to be honest, if anyone ever hired me for being detail-oriented, they would be disappointed. It’s important to know your strengths. I know who to hire to compensate for my shortcomings. And now, years later, I know not to mess with what those experts come up with.