Proofreading Tips for Job Seekers
Tips for Proofreading Job Applications, Cover Letters, and Resumes
With so many job seekers applying for jobs today, employers can be very picky during the hiring process. The smallest typo on your resume, cover letter, or other application materials can prevent you from getting an interview.
Therefore, it is important for you to proofread all of your application materials before sending them to an employer. Below are a few tips to help you proofread thoroughly.
8 Tips for Proofing Job Application Materials
1. Don’t Trust Spellcheck
While spellcheck can help you spot obvious typos, it misses a number of common errors.
For example, spellcheck does not notice if you write “your” instead of “you’re” – one of the most common resume and cover letter mistakes. Therefore, be sure to thoroughly edit each document yourself.
2. Take a Break
Do not edit your resume, cover letter, or other application material immediately after writing it. Take some time away from the document; this will allow you to edit with a fresh set of eyes. While a 24-hour break is ideal, you might not have that much time if you’re facing a deadline. Even taking a couple of hours away from the document before editing it will help.
3. Print it Out
Proofread a printed copy of your resume, cover letter, etc., rather than looking at your document on a computer screen. You have likely been looking at the document on a computer screen for a long time, and a printed version will help you see the document with a fresh set of eyes. Printing it out will also help you see the document as the recruiter will see it.
This way, you can see and fix any awkward page breaks.
4. Read out Loud (and Backwards!)
Read your document out loud while you proofread. This will force you to slow down while you’re reading, and pick up on any errors. Many editors also recommend reading backwards (edit the last sentence first, then the second-to-last, etc.).
Not only will this also slow down your reading, but it will break up the logical flow of the document, allowing you to focus on the spelling and grammar.
While you read out loud, you can also follow along with your finger. This will help you focus on each word.
5. Narrow your Editing Criteria
It can be hard to edit for both grammar and spelling at the same time. For more thorough editing, only edit one type of error at a time. For example, do one proofread for spelling, one for punctuation, one for verb tense, one for format, one for factual information, etc. While this might take a bit more time, it will help you catch every type of error.
6. Check for Consistency
Many people simply look for spelling and grammar mistakes when editing, but you should also make sure your layout is consistent.
First, make sure that your font size and style is the same throughout the entire document – if you cut and paste sentences, you might have different fonts within the same document, which looks messy. Of course, in a resume, your font sizes might be different based on whether you are writing a headline or a bullet point. That is fine, but make sure that you are consistent – all your headlines should be the same font and size, as should all your bullet points.
In your resume, also make sure your grammar is consistent. For example, if you capitalize all the words in one headline, make sure you do the same for other headlines. If you use complete sentences in one bullet point, do the same for all the other bullet points.
7. Proofread Personal Information (for you and the Employer)
Many people simply skim over their personal information (name, address, email address, etc.). However, a mistake in this information can prevent an employer from being able to contact you. Therefore, check this information thoroughly.
Also be sure to proofread the information you include about the company for which you are applying. Make sure you spell the employer’s name and company name correctly, and that you get their address correct. Also, make sure you say the correct company name!
If you copy and paste a company name into a cover letter, for example, you run the risk of pasting the wrong name.
Review these guidelines for what to include in your resume so you're sure you have all the information you need in yours.
8. Ask a Friend to Proofread
People who are less familiar with a document can often see errors more clearly. Ask a friend (or better yet, a couple of friends) to edit your document for you. Encourage them to follow these tips listed above for a more thorough editing job.
Related Articles: Resume Proofreading Checklist
Let’s start with the hard truth: No one ever got a job on the strength of a cover letter.
That’s a bold claim, but I can support it from years of engagement with Corporate America in a variety of roles. I’ve moved from freelancing to academia to the private sector, and I’ve worked in many different capacities with the people who do the hiring and firing. I’ve even made those decisions myself.
I’ve learned quite a bit about the function of cover letters and résumés. In this series of columns, I’ll be sharing some of those insights with you.
Let’s begin with your cover letter and its place in your application package. You may have heard about that study suggesting that recruiters look at a résumé for only six seconds before deciding whether to pass on a candidate. I’d wager the time spent on cover letters is even less.
You see, every human resources professional I know has told me the same thing; they use cover letters primarily as a negative indicator, that is, not to identify potential employees but to weed out inappropriate candidates.
That sounds harsh at first, but when you think about it, it’s actually freeing. You don’t have to prove you’re the best choice. You only have to show you’re not an inappropriate candidate. That’s a much lower bar to clear.
Making sure your letter is free of misspellings and grammatical errors will help you avoid disqualification, but you must also determine what your potential employers are looking for and give them the bare minimum to get through the first round of sorting.
I mean that literally. Be as concise as you possibly can. Adding content to your cover letter does the opposite of adding value. Remember, your recruiter only has a few seconds to look at your letter; if she can’t find what she’s looking for—and fast—then your long-winded masterpiece will only land you in the discard pile.
What to Include
Contact information. Be thorough, and keep the recruiter’s perceptions in mind. Incomplete contact information can make it look like you have something to hide. If you use a post office box, include your physical address as well. If you have a landline and a cell phone, include both numbers. And get yourself a respectable e-mail address. It’s too bad the recruiter chopped you just because your e-mail was PartyBoi420@yahoo.com, but perceptions matter.
A proper addressee. Addressing your letter “To Whom It May Concern” looks unprofessional—and worse, lazy. If you really want this job, you’ll put in five minutes for a web search or phone call. Make sure to confirm the spelling of any name you get by phone, no matter how simple it sounds; there’s no surer way to get on Caryl Millar’s bad side than misspelling her name.
The full job title. Sure, if you’re applying for a part-time janitor job, it can feel silly to type out “Maintenance Specialist III (20 hour/nights),” but that’s how the company defines it, so you need to speak their language. If the job description includes a numerical code, list that too.
How you learned about the job. If you’re responding to a newspaper ad, tell them which paper. If you saw the position on a website, tell them which one. If you met a recruiter at a job fair, give them a name and mention the event. Companies monitor their recruitment efforts, and job applications show which methods are effective.
Any prerequisites mentioned in the job listing. This may be anything from certifications and degrees to having a reliable vehicle. Check the job listing for words like “must” and “required.”
Indication of availability. If the job listing mentions a specific start date, confirm that you are available on that date.
What to leave out: Everything else. The anecdotes about your illustrious work history, all your hopes and dreams for a career in custom cabinetry, how you’re a quick learner and a team player, and any instance of the word “passion” need to be saved for the interview. For most jobs, cover letters should top out at four short paragraphs of pure, distilled information.
Here’s how it looks in practice.
Human Resources Director, Barn Owl Custom Cabinetry
235 Mill Hill Way
Dear Ms. Millar:
I am writing to present myself as a candidate for the staff position of Custom Cabinet Installer II, job #1075B. I do so at the recommendation of your colleague Dave McGraw, whom I met last week at the Pike County Chamber of Commerce Job Fair.
I have a decade of experience with cabinet installation and fabrication as a fully bonded contractor. I have a full set of tools and reliable transportation, and I am available for work immediately.
My résumé is enclosed. Please contact me if you have any questions or if you wish to arrange an interview. I look forward to discussing this position with you further.
That’s it. The functional portion is maybe a hundred words, with no laughs, no tears, and not much in the way of stylish prose. But what prose there is has been trimmed of fat; it’s all muscle, sleek and functional. There is no word that does not convey useful information, and it only takes a few seconds to read.
It won’t get you the job, but it will get you through to the next round. We’ll talk more about that in future columns. See you then.