Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Trunk-load of bad advice

Penelope Trunk, the self-proclaimed Brazen Careerist, has some advice about typos that goes beyond brazen right into just-plain-bad territory. After making some good points about how typos in blog posts and reader comments aren't a big concern, she has this follow-up in the comments:

I actually think that a few typos in a resume are fine. It’s too hard to not have typos if you’re customizing your resume to every job. And, it takes such insanely careful proofreading to catch typos in your own resume, that maybe an error-free resume is a sign that someone is an obsessive-compulsive and not a good hire. Just a thought.
"Just a thought." But not a very good one.

The problem with Trunk's advice (spelled out more completely in her 2006 post, "You sent your resume with a typo? Get over it") is that it encourages people to be lazy with a key first impression. Her post was likely a response to a 2006 study (or one like it) concluding that 84% of executives won't consider candidates whose resumes have a typo*. Trunk's erudite response?
I don't believe it.
That's great. When the research doesn't agree with your need to say something controversial, just ignore it. More good advice.

I may be more sarcastic than others, but I'm not alone in my criticism of Trunk. One of the best arguments against her advice, for example, comes from
Vigorous Writing:

[I]f Trunk simply argued that commenters on blogs shouldn't worry about correcting the author's grammar, I'd be in her corner. But, she took this legitimate argument and ran with it to an unattractive and dangerous place, namely that it's okay to use incorrect grammar in most kinds of writing because the only thing that really matters is the argument.

As a career advice columnist, Trunk certainly has to know the importance of a job interviewer's appearance and presentation. A candidate may be highly qualified (similar to a strong idea) but if he doesn't present himself very well (similar to a post with several grammar typos), then he's hurt his chances at getting the job (similar to people ignoring your great idea because they're distracted by your typos).
The bottom line is that you can believe Trunk, and take risks with your resume, or you can do the difficult work it takes to get it right, which includes:

Running spell check before you print/send. Sounds obvious, but still worth mentioning.

2. Having someone else proofread it. As mentioned in a previous post, good writers know that they can't catch all their own errors, so they have a trusted proofreader give it a second look. It's a step worth taking, even it means you can't send your resume right away.

Striving for perfection. You may not always get there, but it's an important target to aim for when you're sending a resume. Why? Prospective employers are looking for an excuse to put your resume in the "no" pile. A typo doesn't guarantee that's where it will land, but it sure doesn't help your cause.

4. Or, hiring someone to do it for you. I do agree with Trunk on this one: if you can't write a resume that's error free, you might be better off leaving the details to a professional. In fact, this is one the best arguments against Trunk's claim that details don't matter. If they didn't, why not just wing it yourself?

As Trunk states, "not all typos are created equal"--and that's why it's so important to avoid them on your resume. If you're a blogger, typos won't completely ruin your rep. If you comment on blogs, people probably should cut you some slack if you include a few typos. But remember, in most cases, your resume acts as your surrogate, a first impression designed to get you in the door. As such, there are few pieces of writing that demand a higher sense of urgency with the details. (And as one commenter mentioned on Trunk's blog, Seth Godin's post last week about "scraps" is worth keeping in mind.) After all, if you can't get it right on your resume, why should an employer expect that you'll get things right if he or she gives you the job?

*The post this links to is signed by an "Anthony J.," but it's a guy named Anthony Meany, not me. Why does Anthony Meany go by "Anthony J."? I dunno, but you can ask him.

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