ACCORDING TO A REPORT I heard on the radio this morning, the business world has a low threshold of tolerance for typos. That's according to a survey conducted by the staffing agency Accountemps, which found that "three out of four (76 percent) executives interviewed said just one or two typos in a resume would remove applicants from consideration for a job; 40 percent said it takes only one typo to rule candidates out."
My own feeling about this is that it's much too strict a standard -- that is, to disqualify someone for an errant punctuation mark or a dropped letter (about grammar or stylist transgressions or about repeated misspellings that suggest you really don't know the rules of writing, I'm less forgiving). Not that we shouldn't all be careful with everything we write, whether it's for a resume, a memo to a client, a more public document or whatever. I'm all for getting it right, and, as some of my colleagues know, I'm a pretty rigorous copy editor (though I'm less careful than the truly good copy editors).
But I'm not perfect, either when I write or edit others. That's why at work I almost always insist on having others read my stuff before I send it out. (Note to applicants: ask a friend to proofread your resume before you hit send.) Indeed, one of the downsides of having my own blog is that no other eyes but mine see what I write before I post, and, no matter how many times I review my copy before I press "publish," I always seem to have a typo or two (or three). I wouldn't be surprised if I've committed a few errors here in this post. I wish I had a copy editor, but I don't worry about it too much.
The problem I have with the strict one-strike-and-you're-out rule with typos is that a typo is not necessarily a window into the soul of the writer. In fact, I know plenty of people who are fastidious about eradicating typos from their writing, but whose writing is not all that good, sometimes to the point that I don't understand what they're trying to say. And some of the people I've known who were quick to penalize typoists (is that a word?) were far from great guardians of language themselves. They were overly obsessed with style over substance, and I've got a problem with that.
That's because I'm also aware of some supremely talented people who are just not good spellers. I won't mention any names, but a college professor of mine, whom I still regard as the smartest person I've ever met and who has made his living as a writer, was reputed to be a miserable speller (according to someone who had intimate exposure to his manuscripts). So maybe he didn't have the spelling gene. Is that a crime? It surely hasn't gotten in his way.
If Shakespeare applied for a job with your public relations company, and he closed out his cover letter with "your truly," would you throw away his resume? Or if a candidate, not a writer, but someone who is sure to find the definitive cure for cancer and make your pharmaceutical company a lot of money misplaces an apostrophe, would you bump her, too?
Let me be clear: ideally, everyone's writing should be void of typos, but it should also be clear. Being typo free does not confer greatness on anyone, nor do a few mistakes imply bad character, as some seem to presume. As New Age people might say, let's look at the whole person. To err is human and all that.
P.S. Can someone please proofread this for me now?