Rejecting Job Applicants Because Of Resume Typos Is A Bad Idea

 The job search process is a very time consuming and frustrating process. It feels more like a rigid social play that you simply have to go along with than an efficient process of finding a job. You have to craft a resume and cover letter, then scour job postings on job boards to find work you want to do, then customize your resume and cover letter to each specific job description.

That process is a pathetic waste of valuable time and of precious human talent. I believe that the conventional methods of filling open jobs are poorly designed wastes of time that deliver bad results and are perpetuated by lazy or short-sighted hiring managers and business leaders. I think that if companies get real about what they are looking for in a hiring solution, they would run far away from the conventional resume and resume screening tactics. There is a better way.



Jobs are collections of tasks that an employer/company need accomplished. They would give those tasks to their existing employees if they could to save money, but if they are hiring for a new employee it means they have found they cannot keep those tasks taken care of by their current staff.

A job, then, is a problem that needs solving. The firm needs that job done, and each day that the job goes unfilled, the job goes undone, and the company is not making as much money as it could be making were all the tasks being accomplished.

A company with a job opening, with a problem to be solved, it seems would be looking to solve that problem the best it could. It would not want a bad solution to its problem. It would not want a less-than-optimal solution to its problem. It would want the best solution, or at least a very good solution.

You could interpret the value of the solution at least two possible ways. One way to measure the value of the solution would be how quickly you could hire someone to perform the job. The other way is how well the hired person can do the job and, ideally, expand to do more valuable things over time as their career grows and they are promoted to greater responsibility.

I could see the speediness being valuable if the job being filled were a very low level job of little importance. If you were hiring for a minimum wage position where someone did something that will eventually be replaced by automation anyways, then I could see the desire to simply fill the spot quickly. If the individual doing the job cannot do the job better because of their individual aptitudes and flair, if there is no advantage to increased experience or skill in the position, then you would not much care who the person doing the job was, you would just want someone doing the job as quickly as possible.

While I generally disagree with the idea that a person with more skills or a better attitude couldn't do even the lowest level jobs better than people who don't care or don't have as much experience, I can see why an employer for this sort of position might view the individual employee as being mostly irrelevant. No matter how perfect or enthusiastic the employee, flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant will only be done so well, so quickly.

In this type of situation, a hiring manager or recruiter would achieve the greatest value by randomly choosing a small handful of applications from the stack, inviting those applicants to interview, and then choosing a hire from those interviews. The screening method would be optimized for speed. Done this way, someone could be hired for an open position in a week or less.

It would be unnecessary to read every application or interview every candidate. Since one candidate would be judged as almost exactly as useful as the next, you would simply pick one and hire them.

Prevailing hiring and screening practices seem to be shaped to optimize towards the value of speediness and not towards candidate quality.

The other way to measure the value of a hire is how perfectly the hire can do the job. Given two candidates, surely one is better suited to do the job than the other, even if both are very good. Expand that to the entire list of applicants, and the difference between the most suitable and least suitable potential hires must be pretty extreme. There is clearly a right choice and a wrong choice in this problem.

Hiring managers and recruiters are in place to find the most suitable people to be hired into open jobs. Many, if not most, job postings attract over 100 applications and resumes. Because of the huge number of applications, lots of people in charge of hiring try to screen out a large portion of them to make the process easier. They want to filter out as many as possible using some criteria which might leave them with the cream of the crop. 

They might use an Applicant Tracking System which can quickly read and sort all of the applications they get. Through this system they can show only resumes which include certain keywords or experiences and will discard the rest. For example, if the job requires someone to use Microsoft Excel often in their work, the system might screen for and only show resumes which use the word "Excel".

Another common filter applied by companies is for typos and spelling errors. If, either by automated software or manual review, a person working in hiring finds a resume with an error, they will immediately throw that one out. They won't finish reading it. They won't consider the experience of the applicant. They won't judge the error in proportion to the content of the rest of the resume. As they see it, a resume with an error like that shows that the candidate is sloppy and careless, or even worse, stupid.

To find an error in a written work as important as a resume must indicate some serious defect in the person the document represents. The company doesn't want anything to do with such people. And it seems obvious to them that a person who could let something like a typo happen in their resume wouldn't be capable of doing the posted job well.

This is not some silly, half-baked scheme devised by a hiring manager who was hired for a job they weren't qualified to do. It is not some fringe nonsense you hear about happening in companies held up as being backwards and ineffective. This is mainstream stuff. Not only does it happen in most companies, but this advice is spouted from all sorts of online content aimed at helping job seekers be successful in their job search. Here is an article that explains that typos are a reason a resume will get tossed out.

I do not understand how this sort of behavior stands in any company anywhere. If it were my company trying to hire someone and I found out my hiring managers were using this lazy technique, I would have a serious corrective conversation with them to get them back on track. It seems fully unacceptable.

Outside of the positions which simply need to be filled as quickly as possible (in which case you just randomly pick someone, you don't actually consider the resumes or their content), a company wants the best person for the job. That might describe a few different things. 

The best person might be the person who has the most experience doing the thing you need done. They've done it for over a decade and as such will have no trouble getting started doing productive work in your company on day one. That might be all you care to know about them and that would be justified.

You might be looking for someone who has the right attitude (some people say you can teach skills but you cannot teach attitude). You would prefer an overlap in good attitude and good skills, but you prioritize attitude. You find the right person with the right attitude and soft skills, then you know from the jump that there will be some training. The person will start out in the role being not-so-productive, but over a little time they will grow into the role and be well able to do the job.

You could be looking for someone who will grow into future positions that are not yet open. You can be "filling your talent pipeline" or doing some "succession planning". Whatever you call it, the idea is that you are hiring someone for one job (that you want them to be able to do well), but you don't want someone who can only do that one job well. You want someone who will develop into a highly valuable, well rounded asset within the company who can grow into any role they are needed for. Many times this will involve someone being hired for a role subordinate to a manager, but with the hopes that they will one day become a manager themselves.

Whichever way you would describe the "best" person for your open job, it is almost impossible that they will be found by eliminating applicants who have a typo in their resume. Typos in resumes do not correlate with careless or inexperienced workers. They are unrelated things and to try to force a correlation is to try to continue with a lazy filtration system.

An article written by Dr. John Sullivan explains that it is a silly and costly mistake to screen out applicants with a typo in their resume. Over 50% of resumes contain some sort of typo or error (over 50% makes them the majority). He notes that some of the best writers of all time were notoriously bad spellers. He shares that some of the world biggest and most successful entrepreneurs have dyslexia and therefore would often write documents full of errors. 

Would some lowly hiring manager dare argue that these very successful people should not be where they are because they had typos in their resumes? If they were in a different place in time and had the opportunity to review one of their resumes for a position before they were wildly successful, would they have gleefully thrown away their resumes and shared proudly that they had eliminated the chaff to find the really valuable applicants? Situations like that should show how stupid that attitude and system is.

Except in the most egregious sorts of ways, where the resume would be nearly unreadable for the number of errors in it, small errors should be overlooked and forgiven. The resume's intended content should be the priority, not nitpicking some tiny, inconsequential errors.

On the topic of written errors, I get email from people and companies all the time that contain typos and misspellings. Should I completely ignore them and stop doing business with them because of that? Should I seek out alternatives to replace them because they are unfit to serve my needs? Certainly not! I overlook these unintentional flaws and look to see the value I can get. If a business is emailing me with a solution to my problem, I am not going to pretend to be so important that I will discard them and their offer because of a mistake. I will see that the solution is beneficial to me and will take them up on it. Minor errors should, as a general rule, be forgiven.

The hiring process should involve actually reading these resumes - all of them (it is what the company is paying a recruiter for, after all) and choosing people to interview based on their experiences and qualifications. I would also be in favor of a process which would give a brief phone interview to almost every applicant. You can tell a lot more about the suitability of a candidate by adding in that piece than you would with just the resume.

If at some point along the way you find the perfect candidate, you should have no qualms with hiring them and stopping the rest of the process. You shouldn't need to read all of the resumes just to be fair. But you are doing your business a great disservice by throwing out really great people because of some small error. It is kind of unfair to the people looking for work, but it is really costly for your business. You want the best people. Take the time to look for the best people. Lazy screening schemes will leave you with lackluster results.

It is also really hypocritical and lopsided for a recruiter to consider an applicant to be lazy because they couldn't be bothered to proofread their resume while at the same time being incredibly lazy by trying to avoid reading resumes by screening them out for typos.

Businesses should be trying to find the best people so that they can do the best possible work and make the company as successful and profitable as possible. By using shortsighted hiring tactics, companies are only hurting themselves and their own potential.

I think a much better job can be done by something like a hiring agency or a headhunter. Maybe even a non-profit or a government version of these things. Someone whose whole job is connecting people to jobs that make a great fit for both employer and employee. That should absolutely be a service provided on a much larger scale and by people who don't have a commission incentive to just shove people into any role at all, even ones that are a poor fit.

For society to improve and for people to be as satisfied in their lives as is possible, people need to find the right job for them. This should be seen as a very high importance social good that needs to be accomplished. It is something that should not be totally left up to individuals to find. While the freedom to navigate this process alone should always be available, there should be an easy to access option that would help people to find meaningful and well-paying work. Unfortunately, it seems like lots of hiring agencies (private and government) connect people with unpleasant and low paying factory and maintenance jobs. Those jobs might be right for some people, but those should not be the only jobs that agencies help people to find.


Do you see some value in the current hiring process that I have missed? Can you envision a better way to hire and to connect people with jobs? Have I unfairly judged people who work in Human Resources / People Operations and who must do the actual work of finding talent and getting them hired? Do you believe there is some reason why an error in a written document should seriously impact the meaning of that document? Let me know in the comments!



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