During the summer months, many graduates enter the job market. A large-scale experiment among recruiters now shows that it is not only the content of the CV that counts, but also the attention paid to language. Those who make spelling mistakes are seen, among other things, as less careful, less thorough and less intelligent. The experiment is the first worldwide to study the effect of spelling mistakes in different professions. Earlier research was always limited to highly skilled jobs.

Researchers from Belgian universities UGent @ Work, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and Odisee University College, Brussels had actual Flemish recruiters evaluate three fictitious candidates (only recent graduates), the institutions reported in a press release. These candidates differed, among other things, in the number of spelling mistakes in their CVs: zero, two or five. Since these spelling mistakes were attributed to different candidates for each recruiter, the researchers could be sure that the effect of spelling mistakes on the chance of a job interview could not be due to other characteristics.

Volunteer work

The chance of being invited for an interview was 65.6 percent for those who made no spelling mistakes, compared to 58.1 percent for those with two spelling mistakes and 46.6 percent for those with five.

“Spelling mistakes are easy to make, but in your CV they can clearly get in the way of an interview and therefore access to your dream job. None of the other CV characteristics that we varied (gender, repeating grades, student work, sports activities, level of education and self-assessed language skills) had an effect of the same order as that of five spelling errors on the CV”, says Philippe Sterkens (University of Ghent), a doctoral researcher.

“Even the effect of two spelling mistakes was as negative in the experiment as the effect of volunteering was positive. Making no spelling mistakes gave the candidates as much benefit (compared to making two mistakes) as volunteering. This is remarkable. An earlier practical test showed that volunteer work is of great value to your CV and, when done by ethnic minorities, allows you to avoid discrimination,” says Professor Stijn Baert (University of Ghent).

It is striking that applicants for low-skilled professions are penalized more severely for making many spelling mistakes. The researchers see as a possible explanation that a higher education diploma (which is required in highly qualified professions) gives a more objective indication of the intellectual capacities of the candidate. Less surprisingly, making a few (or many) spelling mistakes is punished more severely in professions where written communication plays a central role.

The research results are based on 1,335 candidate assessments by 445 Flemish recruiters. Click here for the complete study.

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