As a lecturer of business writing, I am often asked about some of the worst mistakes I've seen in writing. The reality is, when a person makes the occasional mistake in an email, it can be forgiven. We've all been typing on the run with the "Sent From my iPhone" at the bottom. And, let's face it: catching your own typos is actually really hard to do. However, what is not so easily forgiven is a mistake on a resume or cover letter. While I mostly see it from the perspective of a writer and a teacher, according to ResumesPlanet, a popular resume writing service, a glaring error truly can overshadow all of your experience, causing an HR manager to discard your resume without a second thought. I can't stress it enough: seek help!
Remember that spellcheck doesn't cut it. In our society, we have been constantly reminded to proofread and spellcheck when submitting documents for a job search, to the point where we roll our eyes as if to say, "I know!" Of course, spellcheck can catch typos and tiny errors, but it can't check everything. For example, the Small Business Chronicle points out that misspelled words with uppercase letters won't be found by Microsoft Word without a settings change. That means that you could, in theory, misspell a company's name (or even your own!), run spellcheck, and have it go unnoticed.
Read your work out loud. If I've learned one thing as a writing consultant for job-seeking professionals, it's that many people overestimate their writing abilities. Spellcheck can't make your resume and cover letter well-written; it can just help you clean up what you've already completed. In particular, cover letters can be tricky. Even if you spellcheck, or have a friend proofread, the general style of the writing can come off as elementary to a reader, which reflects poorly on you. I tell my students all the time: you have to read your work out loud. Try to listen for the sentence rhythm. Do all of your sentences sound exactly the same? Is there a choppiness? Communicating in a juvenile way could make you sound like a novice, no matter what is listed on your resume. While working on your sentences takes practice, It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences: A Writer's Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences is an excellent resource that I've worked through with many of my students.
Utilize a bullet point list on your cover letter. As someone who has hired for my own small business, I can promise you this: very, very few people will read through the entirety of a lengthy cover letter. Instead, introduce yourself in one succinct paragraph. Then, utilize a bulleted list and place some of your best accomplishments and attributes below. This list will likely fall toward the middle of the page, which is right where the reader's eyes are likely to go first. End the letter with a short, polite, effective conclusion.
The savviest professionals know when they need help. For instance, as a teacher and a self-proclaimed "English person," I don't attempt to do my own taxes any longer. I leave it to the professionals. While the resume and cover letter may not be as complex, or at the very least, double and triple checking the documents with a strategy in mind.