If you’ve been reading my blog posts, you know I have no shortage of thoughts about resumes. Which would make sense, after all, for someone who puts herself out into the world as a… writer of resumes. I share guidance on what content belongs in your resume – what to include and what to leave out. I have thoughts on which words to use and which ones to avoid when describing yourself in writing. And boy oh boy, do I ever have suggestions about formatting and fonts.
Of course, my ultimate hope in sharing my ideas here is that those who read them will find me credible and capable and choose to engage me to transform their resume, create a companion cover letter, and review their LinkedIn profile.
But there’s another reason I write, and it’s this: You might discover a nugget of wisdom here that helps you to improve your own resume. Or even your other business or professional writing. And if that’s what happens, it’s still worth my effort.
Which brings me to the one suggestion I believe is paramount, above all the rest:
YOUR RESUME MUST BE ERROR-FREE.
You have one job: To confirm that your resume is free of typographical errors, grammatical errors, and punctuation errors.
Errors undermine your credibility. If a hiring manager sees a misplaced apostrophe, or you use the wrong their/they’re/there, or there’s a random typo, they’ll wonder whether your careless approach to business writing will make their company look bad. And that translates into whether they should take a chance on you.
Recruiters have to sort through dozens of applicants for each job opening. Their goal is to present the hiring manager with a selection of promising candidates culled from the initial applicant pool. They screen each candidate against a checklist of primary job requirements. If your resume checks all the boxes, then either you’ll be asked to schedule an initial screening call with HR, or your resume will go to the hiring manager for further consideration.
At the same time, the recruiter is looking for reasons to rule out applicants. To increase the odds of your resume making the first cut, make sure it’s error-free. Don’t give them a reason to toss your resume aside without reading it carefully. More often than not, errors mean an automatic “no.”
Here are three steps to ensure your resume is error-free:
ONE: Adjust the setting in Microsoft Word’s Editor to make it more sensitive to all kinds of errors. Then run the editor to review and address every area it flags. Even if you’re confident in your writing – don’t skip this step. If you make a small change, run the editor again, just to be sure you didn’t accidentally make another mistake.
TWO: After you’ve proofread your resume yourself, ask a trusted friend to proofread your resume. Then, ask a different friend to proofread it. The more eyes you have on your resume, the better.
THREE: When you’re ready to finalize your resume, save it in Word, then save it as PDF, then open and review the PDF. Make sure nothing wonky has happened with the formatting. This is unlikely, but stranger things have happened.
(Quick story: I once knew a business owner who refused to meet an applicant who had traveled to her office for an interview because when I gave her the printout of the resume, there was an errant character at the top of the document. It was not a typo – it was caused by the PDF conversion or some compatibility issue with the printer – but she insisted that one error was reason enough to immediately eliminate the candidate from consideration. An extreme example, but I offer it to illustrate how seriously some people take typos.)
In recent years, I have observed our collective threshold for errors going down on social media and in text messages. I see more and more of them. I have a really hard time not correcting my own such errors, but sometimes you make a “fat thumb” typo, and you decide to let it go. Most people will forgive these, especially when they already know you to be a competent writer, and especially in a quick text or social media post.
But whatever you do, do not lower the bar when you’re writing for business, and especially don’t lower it when you’re preparing your resume and cover letter (and any emails you send in the process). Your resume is your primary piece of marketing collateral. It has to be error-free. You have one shot; don’t give them a reason to stop reading.