Why You Should Hire People Who Make Typos

The best people for certain jobs may not have perfect résumés. Oh, sure, they’ll have the skills you need, but you might spot a “their” that should be “there” or vice versa. Many hiring managers reject such people on the spot. Research suggests that this may be a bad idea. 

Typos are made because we’re so busy trying to convey meaning that we don’t always notice when we’ve made an error. We all know that it’s difficult to catch our own typos, but why is that? It’s because we already know what we mean, so our eyes read one thing but our brain translates it into the meaning that it already knows exists.

This, of course, means our readers have to extract our meaning without the benefit of being inside our head. Plus, they can’t see our facial expressions or hear our tone of voice as they can when we speak. This is why some people can give fantastic speeches and yet be awful writers.

So, writing–good writing–is hard to achieve. And résumés and cover letters are writing devoid of any human interaction. All the recruiter or hiring manager sees is what is on the screen and that may have their/there/they’re, your/you’re, and lose/loose errors. (Fortunately, most word processing software will put a nice red line under misspellings, which therefore don’t come up as often.) And when we see this, we reject candidates.

These errors, though, in no way indicate a lack of intelligence or even attention to detail. They do indicate a person who is very interested in getting concepts and ideas down on paper. Wired interviewed psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos, and described it this way:

As with all high level tasks, your brain generalizes simple, component parts (like turning letters into words and words into sentences) so it can focus on more complex tasks (like combining sentences into complex ideas). “We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers or NSA databases,” said Stafford. “Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.” When we’re reading other peoples’ work, this helps us arrive at meaning faster by using less brain power. When we’re proofreading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is that what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.

If you’re hiring a proofreader, a their/there mistake can be a big deal. But if you’re hiring someone who is an idea generator? Such a mistake is just not that important. The question is, was meaning conveyed?

But don’t you want detail-oriented people? Well, of course you do, if you’re hiring a copy editor. If you’re not? This is not a critical skill. Do you want to reject the marketing guy with great ideas that will allow your company to leapfrog over your competitors because he messed up a homophone? What about the computer programmer who is expected to sit back and code? Does it really matter if he knows when to use “affect” versus “effect”? And can you tell if that was a typo or an actual lack of knowledge? Just by reading a résumé or cover letter, you can’t.

So often what we do in hiring is look for any excuse at all not to hire someone. Instead of having a human who can glean meaning from a bunch of words on a page, we run it through a key word search, which doesn’t get meaning, just key words. And, then, we hit “reject!” as often as possible. When the computer spits out 15 résumés with the right key words, we then go through and look to reject as many of those as possible as well. Typo? Rejected. Wrong school? Rejected. Didn’t work for the right company? Rejected. Six months of unemployment? Rejected.

When we’re hiring, we should be focused on the meaning conveyed in the résumé, and not on how we can reject as many people as possible. A typo doesn’t mean someone is going to be a bad employee. In fact, it can mean that he or she is so focused on conveying meaning that you should bring that person on board as soon as possible.

This article originally appeared at Inc.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

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13 thoughts on “Why You Should Hire People Who Make Typos

  1. Agree with this. We are a diverse country, English is not everyone’s first language. Also, can we assume the hiring manager knows the difference between “their” that should be “there”?

  2. Agree with this. We are a diverse country, English is not everyone’s first language, mistakes are inevitable. Also, can we assume the hiring manager knows the difference between “their” that should be “there”?

  3. .. And there are also people who are slightly dyslectic LOL and as you mentioned, do know their grammar but just don’t notice always the errors .. How I wish more HR people would read this and just give it a thought at least .. Oh and btw, I love your blog name – made me giggle :)!!

  4. Unfortunately, Spell Check frequently doesn’t insert the helpful red line under misspellings that correctly spell another — albeit incorrect — word. Hence, the “their/there” problems. I try not to be too much of a spelling/grammar Nazi, but, cannot help but wonder if typos in a resume suggest a general inattention to detail or that the position is just not that important to the person.

  5. Suzanne —

    As you know, I typically agree with your comments, I occasionally kid you, but in this instance, I have to seriously disagree with this article.

    You say, “Typos are made because we’re so busy trying to convey meaning.” Typos also occur because we don’t take the time to check our work. And if we’re so busy trying to convey meaning that we don’t have time to check our work, it probably means we’re applying to every single job advertisement we see, qualified or not.

    You say, “These errors, though, in no way indicate a lack of … attention to detail.” But of course they indicate a lack of attention to detail, which is why hiring managers notice such things. If there’s an absolute, cardinal rule in resume writing, it’s SPELLING COUNTS. And one of the best ways to gauge attention to detail is to look for typos on resumes, arguably and supposedly the most important and critical job search document a person has.

    You ask, “What about the computer programmer … Does it really matter if he knows when to use “affect” versus “effect”?” Of course it matters, just like it matters if, by not paying attention, or by not checking her work, or by rushing through, the programmer enters a + sign in a program when a – sign is required.

    And finally, I write “You ask” above, but I’ve been following you long enough to believe, based on the content and tone of this article, that this piece was ghost-written. I sincerely hope I’m wrong and would be very happy to find that this is an incorrect assumption on my part.

    In either event, I couldn’t disagree more with the overall tone and conclusions of this article.

    1. I had this long, involved, point-by-point rebuttal, but I realized it boils down to what my last paragraph was.

      What you’re saying is that the company’s QC process is garbage. You’re expecting to rush the product out the door without due diligence. In this day and age that’s simply not acceptable practice in most fields. And no, this isn’t too harsh. Any descent test of the program will show if the sign is wrong, so it would never get out the door. Having a second set of eyes inspect products is basic quality control, for exactly the reasons the blog post describes. Human brains are wired to take shortcuts. Harnessed properly this is a powerful tool (it basically is what gives us art, science, and culture), but it has some nasty side-effects.

      (The other alternative is that you’re not building your projects properly and don’t have budget for editing and QC. I learned a long time ago to build those in, as mini-projects, because any time you save not doing QC will be lost responding to client complaints.)

      You also have to consider what the employee is here for. Writing and editing are two very different things, after all, and being good at one does not imply in any way that you’re good at the other. And in some roles the cost of correcting a few typos is more than made up for by the person’s other abilities. I know a guy that is dyslexic. It took me five years to learn how to read his log books. But he’s a hard worker, extremely observant, willing to watch a site for ten hours without getting bored, and follows procedures to the letter–all of which are far more valuable to me than having someone who can write. I’ve got more writers than I have writing that needs done; what I lack are people I trust to monitor contractors during high-risk activities. I’ll put up with a few garbled words for that!

      It’s also worth pointing out that sometimes B+ work is acceptable. At a certain point you have to get the thing out the door. Having someone who knows where that line is is valuable. It’s not a lack of detail, it’s the ability to put the work into its proper context.

      1. James and Dan — Knowing the difference between their and there may not make any difference when writing computer code (and I never intimated that it did), but things like this are markers (indicators) of how a person approaches a task, of whether or not a person is careful in their work, of whether or not a person is “detail-oriented.” Spelling, grammar, structure on a resume and in an LI profile are very important.

        James, you have an inappropriate word (similar to a their/there error) in your comment here, which you probably didn’t notice, but it makes no substantial difference because you’re writing an on-line comment, the grammar “rules” and standards are fairly loose for such comments, and probably no one except, as Dan said, “people like me” would notice (and I doubt your spell/grammar checker picked it up).

        However, if you had the same error in your resume — which is “arguably and supposedly the most important and critical job search document a person has” — that would be a whole different story. That specific error, on a resume, would not cause me to automatically disqualify you, but it would cause me to be a little more cautious when and if we got to the interview stage of things.

        But if you had a blatant spelling error that a spell checker would have flagged, along with a very noticeable grammar error, ON YOUR RESUME, then yes, I would immediately put you in the NO pile, and would only dig you back out if none of the hundred or so other programmer resumes had the capabilities I was looking for.

        You may not like it, but as with many things in life, that’s just the way it is.

    2. I’m with Chris Hogg on this: Literacy matters. As Chris notes, typos in an online comment or a quick e-mail are one thing. Typos in a business presentation seeking a big contract are unacceptable.

      What’s a resume but a business presentation seeking a big contract (a job and a salary)?

      While I almost always agree with Suzanne, not this time. While a poor speller might still be good at writing clean code or specifying the correct drug, I wouldn’t take the chance.

      The dyslexic worker is an interesting case. I’d have no problem hiring someone with dyslexia, but if they want to distinguish themselves from the general case of illiteracy, they should let me know they’re dyslexic so I can map their actual skills to the job and make sure to avoid the obvious — not put them in a job where their problem will cause problems. I’d also hire a one-armed worker, but not to operate a machine that requires two hands.

      But in general, I don’t buy the argument that idea-generators and people who give great speeches deserve a pass when it comes to writing. The fact remains that writing is a serial process — you put down one word after another. This permits you to go back and check for accuracy. If the document is an important one, there’s no excuse for typos. In this case, typos mean one thing: You didn’t give enough of a rat’s ass about how you portray yourself – or if you’re writing on behalf of my business, how you portray the company. That’s a conscious decision.

      If you stray a little over the double yellow line on a lonely back road, that’s one thing. Do it on a high-speed highway and I’m sure as hell not going to ride with you. Bottom line: It’s your choice. And it’s mine.

      What I love about Suzanne is that, whether I agree with her or not, she’s not afraid to write about topics like this or to make her case!

      1. First, let me clarify that I’m talking about one or two typos. I’m not saying that (outside dyslexics and others with disabilities that prevent good spelling) we should ignore a resume so badly written it can’t be read. I’m just saying that the occasional transposition of letters shouldn’t be a death-sentence to a candidate’s application.

        You speak of premises. Okay: I don’t buy into the premise that skill in one area (well, two, writing and editing are different things) in any way speaks to skill in other areas. Nor does attention to detail in one area correlate with attention to detail in other areas. I have seen no study that shows a clear negative correlation between typos and worker ability in any field but copy-editing. I have seen some that suggest a positive link in some cases–typos, like stutters, can occur when the brain works faster than the fingers.

        And again, if you’re sending (or even expect to be able to send) out business presentations or big contracts without a thorough QC check the issue isn’t your employee’s abilities; it’s that your policies and procedures are garbage. People are humans, even employees. We occasionally make mistakes. A company that doesn’t take this into account is a company that’s going to fail.

        Also, what about regional variations? Not every English speaker spells the same way.

        Ultimately you’re right, it’s your choice. But frankly if a single typo causes you to read THAT MUCH into a resume–ignoring all the other data–my guess is you and I would not be a good fit in a business relationship.

        1. Hi James — And thanks for responding.

          Normally articles by Suzanne, or comments regarding them, aren’t conducive to long discussions, but I think this thread is an exception, and at least for me has been very informative.

          You say, “I don’t buy into the premise that skill in one area … in any way speaks to skill in other areas.” I generally agree with you.

          But that was not the argument I was making. My argument is simply that a resume is accepted by most people as the most critical and important job-search tool a person has, and that submitting a resume to an advertised job with even one typo is reflective, is a marker, of how the person might approach other, core job tasks.

          I agree that one’s ability to write well and to follow expository grammar rules do not necessarily speak to that person’s ability to “write code” and to follow the grammar rules of computer programming in a particular language.

          But, and this is my whole and only point, if a job seeker is willing to submit a resume that contains typos for a job (regardless of why it contains typos) then that, at least to me, is a “red flag” and an indication that in other job functions (such as writing code) the person would be willing to do the same, would be willing to submit code, for example, that is written correctly (i.e., no “typos”) but has other overlooked errors.

          You’re correct, being able to write well (exposition) has nothing to do with writing code, generally speaking, just like being able to drive a car well has nothing to do, generally speaking, with flying an airplane. But if I were being driven to the airport by the pilot of my airplane, I’d feel a lot more comfortable if she obeyed the speed limit, stopped for school busses, and used her turn signals, than if she ignored those things.

          Writing an email, typing on a phone with your thumbs, sending a tweet, scribbling a message on a notepad, you get a pass on a misspelled word or two (or three).

          Sending me a resume with a misspelled word (or two), not so much.

          You make an important concluding remark.

          You would not like to work in my organization because of my anal attention to spelling.

          Conversely, I would not like to take a chance on turning my code over to you because of your disregard for spelling on your resume.

          And this is the way it should be … and why hiring and getting hired is such a frustrating and painful process.

  6. @Chris

    I work with many “detail oriented” people who can’t see the forest from the trees, and spend all their time with a magnifying glass picking apart various cosmetic issues with the tree, without having any clue as to whether the forest as a whole is healthy or not.

    I suspect you’re that person… because I am a computer programmer, and I can absolutely guarantee that knowing (or not, as the case may be) the difference between “affect” and “effect” has absolutely no bearing on my ability so solve the problems my employer needs me to solve.

    You are most certainly correct that an incorrect sign is going to lead to inaccurate results, no doubt about that. But it really doesn’t matter if I (or any of my colleagues or manager) uses “affect” incorrectly, and you saying it matters just doesn’t make it so.

  7. Applying for a job isn’t the same as writing a comment on a forum. If you are dyslexic or writing in your second or third language, double-check your application materials and get someone to review them before you send them.

    Take your time. You may not notice your own errors right away, but they will be more noticeable a few hours later or the next day.

    Very few people will care about one typo but multiple typos and grammatical errors will make you look bad.

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