Each spring, schools from around the U.S. send their best spellers to Washington, D.C., for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. At the Bee, a moderator tosses out words that most of us have never heard before, and these prodigious pupils rattle off a stream of letters as if stromuhr and Laodicean are everyday words. If you saw the film Spellbound, you understand how gripping this display of linguistic skills can be. You’ve got silent Ks and hidden Ms and tricky origins that complicate words. It’s so exciting even ESPN broadcasts the Bee.
We watch in awe as students a fraction of our age spell words we never heard before and probably will never hear again. Yet, judging by the amount of typos I see on a daily basis (including the ones I write), many of us are having trouble with some basic words. Ridiculous doesn’t have an e; too is not the same as to. These misspellings don’t mean we’re not as smart as the youngsters at the Spelling Bee, it just means we’re not as focused on accuracy as they are. Yet, we should be because spelling matters, especially when you’re looking for a job.
Rather than let spelling be something you don’t think about much or a terrifying monster that looms over every cover letter you type, we think you can easily handle it. Here are a few tips for impeccable spelling and why it matters on a job hunt:
1. Check (and check again) the names of companies, references, interviewers
Names are some of the easiest words to spell incorrectly because there are no definitive ways to spell them. Thom or Tom? Stacy or Stacey or Staci? Don’t ever assume you aced the spelling the first time, especially when typing out the name of the hiring manager of people you interviewed with. Check e-mails, business cards and online profiles to ensure you’re spelling their names correctly. Failing to do so will be a glaring error that suggests you have no attention to detail.
Above all else, spell your name correctly. You laugh now, but believe me, it happens.
2. Don’t rely on spell check
Listen, spell check is an amazing invention that has made life easier for everybody. However, it’s not perfect and shouldn’t be used as the authority on all things spelling. For example, a good spell check might catch some grammatical mistakes, but it won’t always know that you meant “through” instead of “threw.” Both words are spelled correctly but they’re not interchangeable in the least. If your résumé boasts of your “righting” abilities, don’t expect a call from the hiring manager.
3. Avoid slang
Thank you, Internet, for making us forget that “want to” is actually the grammatically proper way to say “wanna.” The same goes for “gonna,” “whatcha,” and “srsly.” We’re a world that loves abbreviations, especially in e-mails and texts, but they don’t translate well to the professional world. Using abbreviated netspeak in an informal e-mail is fine, but when you’re trying to impress a potential boss stick to standard English. Employers want to know that you’ll be a strong representative of their brand, so prove you know the difference between “b4” and “before.” For realz.
4. Have a proofreader
The hardest part about making sure you don’t misspell something is knowing what you might be misspelling. Not everybody’s blessed with the spelling gene, and it never occurs to some people that supposedly and supposably are not interchangeable words, and some people won’t even acknowledge “supposably” as a valid word. The easiest way to solve this conundrum is to let someone else look over your résumé and cover letter because they might catch a mistake you didn’t even know you were making. Have your significant other, friend, roommate or even your (hopefully smart) child take a look before you hit send.
5. Stick with the language you’re comfortable with
One surefire way to ruin your writing is to use words that you think make you sound smarter. In reality, they don’t. Not only will your syntax will sound weird because it’s not natural to you, but you are also going to be using words you don’t know how to spell. Suddenly your attempt to sound sophisticated has turned your correspondence into a word jumble that looks like an eye chart. Save yourself the headache and write in a way that makes you feel comfortable while still using proper, traditional grammar.
Another reason you want to display your most honest writing is so that you’ve set an accurate expectation for your writing. Pretending you’re someone else in order to get the job, only to be unable to perform at that level on a daily basis, is not going to be fun for you or your boss. Be honest in your writing style.
Not everyone is a gifted speller, and it’s a skill that’s more important in some occupations than in others. However, in today’s world where many of us spend our days sending e-mails and writing reports, knowing how to communicate with error-free writing is a skill you can’t afford to lack.
How has spelling played a role in your career? Does it not matter or is it one of your most used skills? Have you had a boss who relied on you because he or she couldn’t spell in the least? Let us know.