Job candidates with typo-laden resumes jeopardize interview chances

Applicants-to-be should carefully scan their applications for spelling errors.

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A resume review is the first and crucial step in the hiring process. Its major purpose is to screen out applicants who do not fit the job requirements. During this early screening phase, employers infer otherwise unobservable applicant characteristics (e.g., work ethic) from resumes. Hence, it is in applicants’ best interest to positively shape employers’ inferences in the short time employers skim through a resume.

A new study focuses on one instance of unintentional negative signaling in the hiring process: poor linguistic care through spelling errors in resumes. The study argues that in a hiring context, poor language care can be considered both a strong and visible signal of job-relevant characteristics (infra), which affects hiring decisions. First, spelling errors are potentially strong signals as they contain essential information on unobservable characteristics relevant to hiring decisions. Second, spelling errors can be a visible signal. 

That is, signal receivers can easily notice the signaling because of its objective nature–spelling is correct or not–and readers can easily recognize errors.

To understand how spelling errors in job candidates’ resumes drive their hiring chances, scientists conducted a scenario experiment in which genuine recruiters evaluated fictitious applicants with resumes containing a randomized number of spelling errors. More concretely, they considered three resumes for one out of eight job vacancies concerning hireability and 13 statements derived from the dominant theoretical perceptions about applicants associated with poor language care in resumes.

The study makes four contributions to the literature. First, it enhanced the ecological validity of scenario experiments on language care by allowing lower numbers of spelling errors in resumes. Second, it was the first to investigate the effects of spelling errors on blue-collar. Third, through its design, it analyses the effects of spelling errors relative to other applicant characteristics featured in resumes and investigates whether these characteristics moderate the spelling error penalty. Last, it quantitatively broke down hiring penalties into their underlying perceptions of applicants, thereby uncovering the mechanisms underlying the spelling error penalty more comprehensively.

In line with previous research, the study found that graduates with an error-laden resume have an 18.5 percentage points reduced chance of an interview than applicants with an error-free resume. Moreover, it also finds causal evidence for a similar, yet lesser, penalty inflicted on applicants with fewer errors in their resumes. That is, similar in magnitude to the hiring advantage caused by volunteering, scientists calculated that resumes with two errors receive 7.3 percent points lower interview probabilities.

Scientists noted, “Next, through our moderation analyses, we establish substantial heterogeneity in the penalty inflicted for error-laden resumes –but less so for resumes with few errors. In particular, our data evidence that female applicants were penalized more severely than males and that the mention of volunteering had a buffering effect, thus reducing the penalty inflicted.”

“Additional moderation analyses with job and participant characteristics suggest that error-laden resumes are more disapproved of in blue-collar jobs compared to white-collar jobs, in positions with high requirements for written communication and by recruiters perceiving themselves as sensitive to language care.”

“The most obvious implication of this study’s results is that applicants-to-be should carefully scan their applications for spelling errors as these prove to be costly mistakes in the hiring process. Indeed, recruiters disapprove of not only error-laden resumes but also, as we now evidenced, apply penalties for resumes containing relatively fewer errors.”

“Our results raise concerns about the interrater reliability of resume screening. More specifically, as suggested by moderation analyses, recruiters’ self-reported language sensitivity is associated with differential treatment of applicants who leave spelling errors in resumes.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Sterkens P, Caers R, De Couck M, Van Driessche V, Geamanu M, Baert S (2023) Costly mistakes: Why and when spelling errors in resumes jeopardise interview chances. PLoS ONE 18(4): e0283280. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0283280
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