I was working with a law firm last year on a hiring process. Lots and lots of CVs, cover letters and application forms coming in from some very smart young people. I ended up sitting in a conference room with the HR person and the Hiring Partner screening the applications. One of the ground-rules we laid down was that any application with a spelling error should be dumped on the first pass.

“That kind of carelessness simply isn’t acceptable for a job of this nature,” intoned the partner. That sounded just fine to me and we proceeded. We had about 500 applications to whizz through on the first pass. We hit a snag. A big snag.

With the first pass completed, we had no applications left. None. Count ’em again – not one.

Then I saw this on Damien Mulleys’s blog (Evil HR Lady has it too)

They’re not stupid – to the best of my knowledge, we’re not breeding a lower IQ into the gene-pool. But boy are they careless, lazy and, in many cases, ignorant. For that hire, we had to relax our rule to no more than three – three! – errors on any one application. If time had allowed, I would like to have emailed a blanket mail back to every applicant and told them to cop a hold of themselves; that this was the opportunity of a lifetime and that they had to understand the 99% accurate was worth precisely nothing at this level.

But we didn’t have time. I did make a point of handing a copy of the application to each candidate in the interview with the errors highlighted. I doubt it made any difference. The most common errors were:

Your – You’re
Quite – Quiet
Heard – Head
Form – From
Too – To
It’s – Its

It seems to me that the kids coming through the system at the moment are being let away with this kind of sloppiness. Not a good thing in my opinion.

Case in point. Some years back, I was involved with an e-learning company. We had a prototype that we were showing to some of the big players in the tech market and so we needed the (marginal at best) protection of a Non Disclosure Agreement to circulate in advance of meetings. A top law firm provided us with a 9-page monster of an NDA and charged us more than a pretty penny for it too. Pedant that I am, I checked the document minutely.

Six errors.

Now, the partner who was liaising with us on this project had emailed this document through from his account – the implication being that the document was a result of his efforts, and therefore worth the large-number-divisible-by-a-thousand price tag that came with it. The reality was that this was a boilerplate document with the search-and-replace activity it had taken to generate it made obvious by the double space after each mention of our company’s product along with the non-sequential numbering of some of the clauses. Plus the six errors.

I can only presume that the apprentices taken on in that firm had spelling or formatting errors in their applications and that they had been hired despite that. The next time I am involved on the hiring line with a legal firm, I am going to propose an additional paragraph in the job advert:


Please remember that this application is all we have to go on – if it is careless or sloppy, we can only presume that you are careless and sloppy. Here at XXXX, we pride ourselves on providing 100% accurate service to our clients. One misplaced word or comma in a contract could leave a client vulnerable to litigation. Therefore, spelling, punctuation, grammatical or formatting errors in your application will not be tolerated. One error and you are in the bin. Don’t say we didn’t warn you …

[Oh Lord, please let there not be any spelling errors in this post, please let there not be any spelling errors in this post, please …]

Screening & Selection – the process from a hirer perspective
Wooing them with your writing
Shortlist good. Bin bad.