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Monday, September 27, 2010

should you point out a typo when applying for a job?

In a comment on an earlier post, one commenter asked whether it's helpful to point out proofreading errors in a job post:

Should an applicant point out the typo and suggest if they were in the job last week, they would have caught it before the ad went live?

I've seen this done well, and I've seen it go horribly wrong. I've also heard people argue that it presents you as detail-oriented -- and others argue that it presents you as pompous.

I think it's fairly hard to pull off well, and potentially risky, but in the cases where I've seen it work, the applicant was sort of charming about it -- not pompous or know-it-all-ish, but had more of an attitude of "I'm sure this is a mistake no one noticed and I figured you'd want to know," maybe even with a little humor thrown in.

But again, you need to be careful.

I once had an applicant tell me a comma was misplaced when it wasn't. (Serial comma, how I love you.) If you're going to point out a mistake in this context, you really want to make sure that you're right.

What do you think? Would you be impressed or annoyed if an applicant did this?

44 comments:

Class factotum said...

I managed to tick off the HR lady at Macy's when I pointed out a typo on their orientation paperwork:

When answering the phone, be sure to do so in a professional manor…

Ask a Manager said...

Ha! Maybe they meant you need to do it from within a landed estate or plantation.

During an arrest for a civil disobedience thing years ago (don't ask -- but it was work-related!), I made the mistake of correcting the police officer's spelling on the arrest paperwork. It did not go over well.

Update: Just read the post you linked to -- and saw my joke has already been made, by you, and to the HR lady, no less! That's a great story.

StaffingStarr said...

If you're applying for positions that require accuracy and an eye for detail, ie-editing, writing, marketing, etc. I would casually and humbly mention it at the VERY VERY end of the interview. I think in most cases, it would come off like "an unemployed schmuck, trying to tell an employed and obviously more intelligent/valued manager/employee" that you're better for catching the error...

Class factotum said...

My all-time favorite:

You'll receive a call ... to discuss your qualifictions in more detail.

Ha!

Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the company that posted this. It was years ago when I was looking for a job instead of living the gold-digging life I lead now.

Ask a Manager said...

Quali-fictions! Oh, how I wish I had thought of that.

Charles said...

Pointing out "errors" while trying to interview for a job can be very tacky, even if done with humor.

If you don't know who wrote or typed the error how do you know how it will be received?

The only errors that I have mentioned are broken links that I have run across on smaller firms' websites - links that make it hard for an applicant to find info or to even apply for a position.

Otherwise I keep my mouth shut about errors or mistakes since I don't know who made them.

Perhaps, this is a carry over of one of my trainer's habits about writing reviews of learners - always write the review as if the person's mother is going to read it. Be truthful, be polite, and if it doesn't need to be said then don't say it.

Ask an Advisor said...

I've seen "asses client needs" and "bachelor o farts" on resumes before... I think I'd die laughing if I saw these on a job description or paperwork. And if I did, I'd really need to resist my know-it-all impulse to correct it.

Rebecca said...

"The ideal candidate will treat clients in a courteous, professional, and discrete fashion..."

Well, if they're being courteous and professional, I'd sure as hell hope they're not just lumping everyone in together!

Anonymous said...

Never point out a typo unless you are the boss and it's your subordinate's mistake.

Otherwise, you will regret it.

Anonymous said...

I had this happen when interviewing potential editors. (The typo was the HR manager's fault, and she refused to fix it, so it stayed up on the web site even after I pointed it out.) So, of course, every single person I interviewed for that position mentioned it. I'm sure they all thought "I should bring this up so I can prove that I'm detail-oriented!". I didn't mind that each individual did so, but after the fifth or sixth one, I got a little bit annoyed at the trend. :)

Anonymous said...

Depends on the job...

I'm an attorney. If an applicant for a paralegal or associate position found a typo in my ad, and pointed it out in a professional manner, I would be overjoyed. It's hard enough to find an applicant who actually seems to have read the job posting; someone who would also catch a typo would be great.

On the other hand, when I was hiring for waiter/waitress positions, the same attention to detail would come across as rude.

And as a final warning: If you're going to raise the bar and take that risk, the REST of your application package needs to be top notch. Pointing out a typo, but simultaneously missing a "big picture" requirement of the application? Bad news. pointing out a typo, but submitting a resume with a typo? Even worse. And so on.

Anonymous said...

I hate to admit it, but I would be annoyed. I would like to think that I would be impressed but it is more likely that I would be afraid that the interviewer was a "hall monitor" type, which would not fit with my company's culture. The bigger question here is: why take that risk? Yes, there are some people who would appreciate your unsolicited editing advice, but many more would be taken aback by it.

Anonymous said...

I once received a cover letter addressed "Dear Sir or MadMan."

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 9:02 -- Yeah, but I bet there are just as many hiring managers who deliberately put typos in their ads as "tests" for applicants and automatically reject you if you don't say anything about it.

(but then I'm jaded to the point where I believe interviews are more than half luck -- does it show?)

Anonymous said...

I once came across this brochure from a company I'd been really interested in. I saw they all work hard for 'pubic' something, which I guess they meant 'public' by.

Kat said...

It's a typo that someone else did in error when they printed the ad or posted it on the website. The employer is most likely aware of it and mentioning it would be more eye rolling than impressive.

LK said...

Ahhh I abhor the serial commma (but I used to be a journalist)!

GC {God's Child} said...

yeah, I'd forget about it. I majored in English and often had people come to me for help on their papers and even they would get mad about certain things. This is after they asked me for help. Unsolicited corrections can really piss people off.

Ask a Manager said...

LK, do not trash-talk the clarity-enhancing serial comma! (Although I know you journalists hate it.)

ImpassionedPlatypi said...

In elementary school english classes they taught us that we had to use the serial comma. In high school we were told that you can use serial commas but you don't have to, it's grammatically correct either way. Given the difference in attitudes over just a few years between what was probably my 4th or 5th grade year and my 9th or 10th grade year, is it possible that your applicant had been taught that the serial comma is actually grammatically incorrect, AAM? I agree that they should have double checked before saying anything in that situation, but if some stupid english teacher drilled it into them I think I'd be more forgiving and use it as an opportunity to educate them.

Jamie said...

I, too, love the serial comma and am forever correcting it's absence in stuff that goes up on our website - but I didn't know the name.

(Somewhere along the line I pushed the names for most grammatical elements out of my brain to make room for more math and hairband line-ups from the 80's)

I feel much smarter than I did five minutes ago.

Ask a Manager said...

ImpassionedPlatypi: I do know that it's considered incorrect in the UK, but here it's grammatically correct either way, and I'd be surprised if anyone were learning it was actually wrong (as opposed to optional). Although I suppose nothing should surprise me, really.

And yes, I can go on and on about this for many more paragraphs, believe me.

I *almost* started a blog about grammar years before this one. Seriously, I am that much of a dork.

Anonymous said...

Another vote for the serial comma. I don't think I'd mention an error during a job application process, but I have occasionally pointed out errors at work on things like PowerPoint presentations that will be re-used. But I always couch it as a "typo" even when it's clearly a grammatical error. I figure a typo is a lot less embarrassing--we all make them. But not knowing the difference between their/there? Awkward!

Anonymous said...

Serial comma all the way! I learned that in junior high. I always use it, and when I went through college, I had to use the Chicago style of writing and referencing.

I don't even like to point out mistakes when I'm working. Even though I get that "OMG fix that mistake now!" feeling, I know I might anger someone about finding (and addressing it).

But seriously, there should be a blog on grammar out there if there isn't already one. I have seen and heard too many blunders in the English language that the Queen herself would probably cringe to say the least (I'm in the U.S.A.). The most recent ones I have heard are:

"How are yous today?" Please realize that you is singular and plural!

"I had tooken him to the doctor." Say what? This hurts the ears!

Gene said...

I do know for a fact that pointing out an error in an FAA written test that results in there being no correct answer does not garner one points from the examiner.

Charles said...

Here's a vote FOR the serial comma:

A man leaves in his will that his estate is to be divided amongst his surviving children - Mary, John and Joe. How is the money divided? two ways or three?

A man leaves in his will that his estate is to be divided amongst his surviving children - Mary, John, (note the serial comma!) and Joe. This is clearly divided THREE ways.

Although, either way is correct, the serial comma removes all doubts about the intended meaning.

Although I am clearly a big fan of including the serial comma I would not "correct" anyone as long as they are consistent in its use. And as AAM says - make sure you know what you are talking about before you correct someone.

Class factotum said...

"How are yous today?" Please realize that you is singular and plural!

The proper phrase is "youse guys" or "all of y'all" in the South. "Yous" is acceptable if you're in a hurry.

Lalaith said...

I've seen MANY job postings asking that the applicant be "detailed-oriented", which seems like it's just begging to be pointed out. Never done it, though.

Clare said...

I'm English (and a grammar nerd) and I don't tend to use the serial comma.

Charles, in your example, "A man leaves in his will that his estate is to be divided amongst his surviving children - Mary, John and Joe. How is the money divided? two ways or three?" it would be obvious to Brits (I hope) that the money is divided three ways.

If it were to be divided only two ways, we'd probably change the punctuation to something like this:

"A man leaves in his will that his estate is to be divided amongst his surviving children - Mary; and John and Joe. How is the money divided? two ways or three?"

There's a lot to be said for the semi-colon...

Anonymous said...

I know someone who is an executive in a 500 Fortune company, who can't spell. She constantly confuses 'there' with 'their' and many other words, including volkswagan. My favorite was, her resume read: Empolyment history.
Last week, I was critized by her for not correcting the word 'reproducible'. She said that wasn't even a word.
English is my second language, but she came from an english spoken country.

Ask a Manager said...

Here's an example of how the serial comma promotes clarity -- in this example I am NOT using it:

I have several new cookie recipes: macadamia, cinnamon and chocolate chip and peanut butter.

With no serial comma there, you don't know whether one of the recipes is a combination of cinnamon and chocolate chip, or a combination of chocolate chip and peanut butter. But look at it with the serial comma:

I have several new cookie recipes: macadamia, cinnamon and chocolate chip, and peanut butter.

Clarity. That's why the serial comma is awesome.

Anonymous said...

Is it me or have the posts bordered on boring lately?

Liz Harter said...

I just have to weigh in on this serial comma debate. I'm someone who is as anti-serial comma as they come - seriously, I consistently lost points on papers in a college class because my prof refused to recognize AP style and I refused to adapt to her need for unnecessary commas.

However, in the instance that AAM just used:

I have several new cookie recipes: macadamia, cinnamon and chocolate chip and peanut butter.

Every newspaper I've ever worked at adheres to the rule that if the next item in a series uses the word 'and,' then the comma needs to be used.

So the sentence should read:

I have several new cookie recipes: macadamia, cinnamon, and chocolate chip and peanut butter.

If, however, the chocolate chip and peanut butter recipes are separate, then the first and is completely unnecessary, should be removed and a comma should not be used (in AP style, of course).

Ask a Manager said...

Anonymous, is it possible you're being bored to death by this comma debate, which would be entirely understandable?

Newspapers traditionally haven't used serial commas because of a desire to save all the space they can (dating back to older typesetting, when every character used the same amount of space). So I get them not using it. But I will promote them vigorously for all other uses!

kristinyc said...

Person with a journalism degree here-

In AP style (which is what most journalists use), the serial comma is only used when it specifically adds clarity (such as your cookie example). It's not used when it doesn't add any value to it. That's how I usually use it.

Also, I'm surprised no one's mentioned "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" yet... :)

Sarah G said...

Ok, I have to weigh in on my fondness for the serial comma!! Other than in journalism, where they are indeed trying to save space, why sacrifice the clarity the serial comma provides? My friend's band was naming their new album and it incited a heated debate about the merits of the serial comma, among band members and friends alike. In the end they just printed the album with no punctuation at all in the title.

Jennifer said...

I am a big grammar nerd, but in general I bite my tongue when it comes to correcting people. This is because my grandmother corrects my mother's grammar all the time (to the point of interrupting her to correct something), and I know how much it upsets her. So, unless prompted, I try to avoid it.

StaffingStarr said...

Okay, back to the original topic! I'm on the job boards all recruiting, and I can't tell you how many typos I see on job postings. I always see postings for Mangers, Costumer Service, Finace and Human Resouces...

Anonymous said...

Why would you point out the typo? Does it involve inaccurate information about you - if not just leave it alone.

The Gold Digger said...

I bite my tongue when it comes to correcting people.

That is because you are kind and polite. My husband's father thinks it is his role in life to correct everyone around him and why wouldn't people want to be corrected, in public, disdainfully?

Phyr said...

My dad has successfully pulled this off twice. It even landed him the job. However he is in advertising and needs to be able to see such things. I have never tried this, my spelling is poor so I look for miss-spelling. Unfortunately this doesn't let me correct them with out a dictionary.

But with the internet jokes about crazy grammar people I think it might make people think of it as more nit-picky then helpful.

Cosmic Noodles said...

Do NOT point it out!

If you're fortunate to get the job, then build the relationship with whomever had made the typo, and if appropriate, ask to assist.

Ugh, I am making a yucky face at the thought of someone a correction in an interview.

That sound you hear? It's your application being shredded.

Anonymous said...

What if there could be legal or PR ramifications to the typo? For example, waiting for an interview, I came across a typo on the company's home page, where three letters of a movie title were incorrect, and made the title into something somewhat explicit. The company was doing cross promotions with the movie studio, and the overall web page was aimed at children.
In a case like this, would your advice change, or would you still recommend being conservative and not mentioning it, at least during the interview itself?

Anonymous said...

I'd say don't point it out BUT I really don't agree with the idea that applicants shouldn't point out typos.

Seriously, why can't people just take a typo correction for what it is? Who cares who made the error. Just CORRECT it and MOVE ON.

It really sucks that people's egos play such a huge part in the hiring process.