Should you proofread your resume backwards? Print out your resume? Give it to a friend to review? Yes, yes and yes — and that’s just a start.
By Lisa Vaas
Lauren Milligan and Julie Reich are two of countless human-resources professionals who regularly receive poorly proofread documents and cover letters.
What Milligan encounters most often: inconsistent use of periods. What Reich encounters most often: bad cut-and-paste jobs that use multiple fonts and font sizes.
Many job seekers, evidently, aren't getting the message: Make sure to proofread your resume and supporting documents - such as cover letters - before sending them out.
Documents with easily avoided mistakes such as the examples above make it easy to weed out sloppy job seekers when it comes to sorting through applications.
But what's the best way to proofread? Below are some tips that can help you avoid common spelling, grammar and formatting errors in your resume.
Print it out
Many editing professionals recommend printing out your resume and supporting documents to proofread it on the page. (It's particularly helpful to print in very large type size, such as 18 points.) The rationale is that we read differently on screen and on paper. Reading aloud helps as well, since the ear often catches mistakes that the eyes miss.
Milligan, founder & CEO of ResuMAYDAY, an outplacement services and support company, is "a big advocate" of reading documents backwards. Reading backwards accomplishes a few things: It breaks the logical flow of language, removing the distinct words from their context and making it hard for our brains automatically to correct spelling or capitalization errors. It also slows reading - an effective technique for those who read too quickly for effective proofreading.
Some editing coaches also recommend moving a finger beneath each word as you proofread, which forces the eyes to proceed at the same, generally slower, speed as the brain as it analyzes each word for correct spelling and capitalization.
Proofreading bulleted lists: Punctuation
Milligan said the most common punctuation error is inconsistent use of periods. When it comes to bulleted lists, she sees job applicants render some items with a period, some without. "This needs to be consistent throughout the document; otherwise, it looks sloppy," she said.
Consistency is the key to punctuation in bulleted lists. The proper way to punctuate, she said, is to use periods when each item is one or more complete sentences, such as in this example:
- This is one item of a bulleted list. As you can see, it contains two sentences, each of which ends with a period.
- This is the second item of that same list.
When a bulleted list contains single words or simple phrases, however, leave periods off of each item.
Leave room for editing
Milligan recommended putting multiple spaces between each bulleted item in a list so that when proofing, you focus on one item at a time as a distinct, small section. This practice encourages you to "proofread in small bites" and concentrate on only one or two sentences at a time, she said.
Once the entire document is proofread and finalized, make sure to remove the extra spaces, Milligan advised, and make sure the formatting is clean and consistent throughout the entire document.
Have a friend look it over
You'll be surprised what mistakes we all miss that a friend or colleague will spot. Beyond typos, friends can also reveal the impact, sense and flow of your resume and/or cover letter. One method of proofreading is to do it in tandem with another person. Print out the documents and read them aloud while your companion reads along, seeking errors and listening for awkward phrasing. Read through once, then switch off; in this second pass, read along while your companion reads aloud.
Pay attention to graphical elements, including headings and fonts
Proofreaders often focus on the body of the text and miss errors in headings. After proofreading the body, focus on the headings. Check for spelling errors as well as graphical errors. Are the headings consistently capitalized? Is each word in initial caps, or are they supposed to be in full capitals? Either way, they should be consistent.
Also, remember to check fonts. Reich is the principal of a graphic design firm, Julia Reich Design. She recently conducted a search for a graphic-design intern and received a cover letter from a student at a nearby state university that was a prime example of poor proofreading. The letter was a Microsoft Word document that used Times as its text font. But where the applicant inserted the name of Reich's business, the font changed to Arial.
Mid-document font changes such as this are common when an author copies and pastes into a document, and they betray the fact that he or she didn't bother to proofread the document.
"In addition, it is addressed ‛To Whom it May Concern' even though the posted job listing clearly lists my name and title," Reich said. "This is so clearly a form letter where the applicant has not bothered to format the letter correctly or personalize it any way, therefore communicating this applicant's complete lack of attention to detail."
Graphic design is a visual industry, making the error even more egregious, but attention to detail is important regardless of the business.
Lisa Vaas covers resume writing techniques and the technology behind the job search for TheLadders.