If you were given a dollar for every candidate in your rejection pile, you’d probably not need to work anymore. Some candidates are in the rejection pile for a good reason — they’re far too under-qualified. Others have experience and education that are far from plausible. While still others failed to submit a pristine resume and cover letter — free of typos, bad grammar, and short, easy-to-read text. 

In fact, 77% of recruiters say that typos or bad grammar is an instant — instant! — dealbreaker, according to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey. (Another 35% say an unprofessional email address lands candidates in the “no” pile.)

On the other side of the spectrum, some recruiters look past small errors. Their goal is to give candidates grace during the application period to lower the risk of losing skilled workers in an already challenging job market. 

So, where do you draw the line? 

The first step is acknowledging the gray areas. This isn’t a black-and-white issue that you can resolve overnight. Like everything in recruitment, it’s a process. It’s the intentional action of analyzing where to draw your line to keep ill-fitting candidates out, but not overlook highly-qualified individuals who made small errors.

Here’s when you should overlook a candidate application error: 

1. When It’s a Common Spelling Error

We all have those few words that we always end up misspelling. For example, the “i” in “compliment” is often misplaced with an “e,” resulting in “complement.” Such a typo would be an immediate dealbreaker for more than three-fourths of recruiters. 

Some deem typos as inexcusable errors because of the accessibility everyone has to spellcheck technology. Unfortunately, the example above isn’t an error spellcheck would catch. It’s also one a candidate isn’t likely to notice during a diligent proofreading session. [Editor’s note: Unless you are the editor of ERE.net!] Now, had someone typed “complaint,” it may be a sign the person wasn’t paying close attention to details.

Everyone is capable of a slight typo or grammatical error. Making such a mistake does not necessarily translate into an inability to excel in a given role. Likewise, a spotless resume does not automatically indicate a high-quality candidate. Throwing resumes out based on miniscule errors could result in candidates with the right technical experience, soft skills, and traits to succeed in a role disappearing from your talent pipeline forever.   

Instead, create a standardized guide to keep yourself in check while reviewing resumes. Set your expectations before looking at resumes to ensure a fair and smooth process. What type of typos and grammatical errors are you willing to overlook? Does it depend on the type or level of role? For example, if someone is applying for a writing position, you might have a low tolerance for mistakes. If a candidate is looking to be a truck driver, you may be more lenient.

2. When It’s Your Own Personal Preference

In the CareerBuilder survey, 25% of recruiters view resumes with long paragraphs of text as instant dealbreakers, while 17% say the same about resumes that run over two pages.

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The question is: Is this about mistakes or personal preferences? Candidates with long paragraphs of text may need resume-writing guidance, sure. But they could also have the technical and soft skills to succeed in the role. 

The preference of white space is one to which we’ve become accustomed in the business world. Our need to speed-read because of an overabundance of information makes such space seem necessary. To a candidate, a lack of white space or a multiple-page resume is an attempt to catch your attention with qualifications. 

Is white-space or length of resume really important to certain roles? Are they qualifications or are they your personal preferences? (Your ATS likely couldn’t care less anyway!)

For example, if candidates are applying for a marketing role, they probably should know the importance of short, spaced-out text. However, entry-level IT employees may not be familiar with business-writing preferences, and that might be OK. 

3. When There’s an Unclear Job Description

Most job-seekers apply to multiple positions at a time. They’re applying via pre-set fill-in-the-blank applications, editing resumes, and writing cover letters for each role. As a result, some leave key details out of their application materials, making it challenging to evaluate their qualifications fully.  

According to CareerBuilder’s survey, 34% of recruiters said resumes without quantifiable results were nonstarters, while 18% said the same about resumes that seemed generic and lacked customization. Of course, candidates who miss critical details because they copy and paste job descriptions into their resumes should be cast aside. Their unwillingness to put time and effort into your application process means they’re not motivated or dedicated enough to the role.  

However, it’s important to remember that some job descriptions offer more specific details in requirements and application expectations. If you ask candidates to fill out an application, are you also clear on whether a resume and cover letter are required? Are you making a clear distinction between must-haves and nice-to-haves when it comes to experience and skills? Does your company page offer enough specific details on the company culture, values, and mission? 

When an applicant blatantly ignores your directions, such as sending a resume without a cover letter when you specifically requested both, you might similarly ignore that candidate. However, if someone leaves out work experience that wasn’t clearly listed as a “must-have,” it may be worth digging deeper to see if the person’s qualifications align with the role.

Karyn Mullins

Karyn Mullins is the president at MedReps, a job board that gives members access to the most sought-after medical sales jobs and pharmaceutical sales jobs on the web. Connect with Karyn on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

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