Several years ago, I received a resume from a young woman for a position I was trying to fill on my team. She was smart, articulate, mature, and had relevant experience for the role. Since I had been trying unsuccessfully to fill the role for a while, I was looking forward to interviewing her with a view to potentially extending an offer.
Yet, when I read her resume, which was otherwise very impressive, I couldn't help but notice a word that was wrong. And it wasn't just a minor typo or punctuation error, either. The word, while it sounded a bit like what the candidate intended to say, was in fact completely different in meaning. (She did eventually get an interview with us, but she didn't join our firm for reasons unrelated to her resume error.)
You might argue that one or two small errors like a misused or misspelled word should not prevent a company from bringing on board a talented individual. But such mistakes are likely to make some recruiters take pause and wonder about a job applicant's attention to detail and accuracy.
If they had plenty of time to identify and correct such a mistake prior to submitting their resume--yet they still couldn't find and fix it--then what kind of mistakes are they likely to make when they join the company, when time is tight and deadlines are looming?
In this age of tiny touch-sensitive keyboards and auto-correct functions on smartphones that are conspiring to introduce more chaos into our daily writing, usage, spelling, and punctuation do matter.
This is of particular concern for communication roles, which I often hire for. Written communication is a critical skill for these roles, and so whenever a candidate stumbles in any aspect of their writing during the application process (including in their email exchanges, by the way), they're jeopardizing their chances of landing the job.
So before you email or upload your resume to apply for that dream job, make sure you meticulously proofread it. Here are five things you need to watch out for as you scan your resume for mistakes:
In English, many words look and sound similar, but mean very different things, like "compliment" and "complement", or "raise" and "raze." This linguistic phenomenon is not unique to English, either. Correct word usage is a problem in other languages like Chinese, which has an even greater incidence of words that sound exactly the same, and are only differentiated by the distinct character that is used when writing the word, or the tone in which it is pronounced.
Misspelled words may be fine when you're jotting down emails to friends and colleagues, or tapping out messages in your favorite instant messaging application. But spelling errors are not fine on resumes! They're an immediate red flag.
With built-in spell checking functions in word processing software and an abundance of free resources on the internet, there is no excuse for letting spelling errors slip through your fingers and onto the page of your resume.
Punctuation marks--commas, apostrophes, periods, dashes--may sound like a trivial thing, but getting them right matters. Just ask the dairy company in Maine that lost a $10 million class action lawsuit because of a missing comma in a law governing overtime pay. Ouch.
The 19th century American philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson had some unkind words for people who are obsessed with consistency. But when it comes to proofreading your resume to make it look good, ignore Emerson and make sure your usage, spelling, and punctuation are consistent. If you use "BA" as an abbreviation for "Bachelor of Arts" in one part of your resume, and then "B.A." in another, pick one approach and stick to it.
When you've gone through your resume and confirmed it contains no more usage, spelling, punctuation, or consistency errors, then check the formatting. Are your headlines and sub-headlines the same font and weight? Are you using the same spacing between paragraphs? Have you removed any extra spacing between sentences?
Once you've gone through these steps not once, but multiple times, let a few other people read your resume as a final check. Then submit away!
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.