These days, hiring managers can receive hundreds of applications for one job advertisement. Filling an open position is a lot of work and can take weeks, if not months. The process can involve several staff members, if not several groups of staff members. This is why hiring managers look for anything they can to cull the herd - things like typos or grammar and spelling errors in applications, résumés or cover letters.
I agree with the expectation of perfection that employers hold over job applicants. If you want the job, you need to invest enough time into your application materials to ensure their perfection. But consider this: After six months of job searching, I have found that 25 percent of the openings I have applied for have typos or grammar and spelling errors in their advertised job descriptions. I estimate that the percentage is higher for the hundreds of job advertisements I have read over the same time period. (I do not record job advertisements for which I do not apply.)
I have mentioned in formal interviews that I found errors in an organization’s job description; and I don’t do so lightly or without taking into account the feelings of the interviewer. I am a marketing and branding professional, and I try to use these errors as an example of why all organizational materials need to go through a centralized proofing system to ensure that a company does not look bad by publishing mistakes. (There is a fine line between demonstrating how to operate a communications function and looking like an ass for pointing out another’s mistake.) The responses I get range from blaming HRIS software, to admissions of guilt. I always sympathize with the guilty. If you publish enough in your career, then you will publish errors - big and small.
But the hypocrisy is clear. If I, the job applicant, am expected to be error-free, else risk having my application ignored, what is the expectation of the hiring organization? And what about my sample of the job market? Are there so many job applicants out there that organizations don’t even have to provide an error-free job advertisement? Do they just have to throw up a quick and dirty paragraph in order to get a dozen solid applicants? How should I weigh error-filled job advertisements when evaluating prospective employers?
My experience leads me to believe that the condition of the advertisement can tell me a few things about the organization and its culture. Some questions job seekers should ask themselves when reviewing a job advertisement are:
- Does the job advertisement ask job seekers to submit an application via an HRIS or email?
- Is the job description a few paragraphs, or is it long and over worded, with numerous sections and bullet points?
- Does the description cover legal, operations and administrative bases and include EEOC language?
- Are there grammar, spelling or typographical errors?
- Where is it posted? On Craig’s List or LinkedIn?
Questions like these will help job seekers identify the condition of a job advertisement and the type of application process in order to reveal a few things about the internal workings of an organization. Here are a few examples.
When applying for a job, does the advertisement lead job seekers to submit a formal application through a standardized electronic form? If so, there is most likely an HRIS in place at the organization. The presence of an HRIS application typically means an organization has a robust human resources function. An HRIS, which is also known as a human resource information system or human resource management system (HRMS), is basically an intersection of human resources and information technology through HR software. This allows HR activities and processes to occur electronically. It is supposed to make the HR process more efficient, but like all technology, it needs efficient end users. The presence of an HRIS and HR department can mean a long and formal recruitment process, involving phone screens and multiple interviews with individuals or teams. Not only will you have to navigate possible interrogations from talent management professionals, but also hiring managers that may have different strategies or abilities in relation to their HR co-workers.
HRIS systems, like all IT solutions, are expensive for the organizations that use them and are typically utilized by larger organizations. Size means the possibility for layers of administration. The bureaucratic layers of large administrative networks can have their own benefits and/or pains for job seekers.
Job advertisements of organizations with robust HR functions, in my experience, have fewer errors in them. They also traditionally contain several sections with bullet-pointed lists of job functions, most likely lifted directly from the official job description on file. Traditional job advertisements also contain copied and pasted EEOC language that gives lip service to worker rights and employer ethics.
However, if you are asked to submit your résumé and cover letter to an email address, you are most likely dealing with a smaller or truncated HR function--if one at all. There will be no software algorithm that scrubs your application for the appropriate keywords. A submission to an email most likely means your résumé is going to be read by a living human being. Job seekers need to adjust their strategies accordingly.
One strategy change that is available when submitting to an email is good old-fashioned networking. The absence of an HRIS means a smaller administrative function and a better chance of determining the actual hiring manager, and possibly finding a connection to that person in places like LinkedIn. Anytime job seekers can leverage their networks in the application process, the better chances they have at getting an interview and a job.
Short job advertisements, in my experience, often are the product of smaller or progressive organizations. By progressive, I mean organizations that focus more on hiring the right personality over skill-set - someone that matches an already established culture. Progressive organizations will have clean, error-free job advertisements that ask job seekers to “tell them why” they want to be part of the organization. Small organizations, such as startups, have their own unique issues and personalities.
As you can see, job seekers have excellent INTEL at their fingertips, just from the job advertisement. One strong indicator about an organization still remains the presence of errors in the job advertisement. Job seekers should tread carefully when dealing with organizations that publish errors, especially for management-level positions. Obviously, if you need a job you can’t be as picky as those who are looking for new opportunities and are secure in a current position. It’s not a perfect world and, of course, more is expected from the employee than the company; but a job description is a window into a prospective employer. Comb it for clues that can help you obtain an interview or signal you to avoid the organization altogether.