how to proofread your resume like a professional editor

You only get one chance to make a first impression. According to conventional wisdom, recruiters spend an average of about 6 seconds reading your resume on the first pass, if you can even call that ‘reading.’ 6 seconds isn’t very long. You have a very short window to make a good first impression.

You want the focus of those very short 6 seconds to be all the relevant, important details that speak to your skills, capabilities, and experience. You know… the stuff that positions you as the obvious choice for the job at hand. But as talented and capable as you are, if your resume is misspelled, poorly written, or grammatically incorrect (or worse, all of the above!) you may find it ends up in the ‘no’ pile before you’ve had that chance. Hence the crucial step of proofreading!

how to proofread your resume

proofreading isn’t the same as editing

Don’t mix up editing and proofreading. Proofreading is the process whereby you carefully check your resume for spelling, grammar, and consistency after you’ve completed all your edits. During the editing phase you may still be making a change here or there that significantly alters the text to achieve the tone or flow you’re looking for. During the proofreading phase, you’re done editing and merely double and triple checking for errors. You’ll only make changes if something is incorrect.

Here are a few general suggestions for proofreading your resume like a professional.

1. take a break first

If time permits, don’t edit or proofread your resume and cover letter immediately after writing them. Your brain needs a break in order to zero in on errors you missed during the editing phase. Remember, your brain is programmed to fill in the blanks and make sense of what it sees, which isn’t always exactly what you’ve written. Fun fact: did you know our brains are programmed to decipher words based on the first and last letter, so it’s more common to miss typos in the middle of a word than at either end?
 
You want to proofread with fresh eyes. Many professionals suggest you print out your document and proofread it in hard copy as it provides a different way of viewing the document, which may help highlight errors you might miss on screen. And our brains don’t seem to digest information on the screen as thoroughly as they do on a page. That’s why many people still prefer to read a real book as opposed to using eReaders.

2. never rely on spellcheck

Your word processing program will provide a basic spell check, but you should never rely on it, as spellcheck often misses contextual errors. Don’t rely on autocorrect, either. Autocorrect can be even worse, in truth. Technology has a way of assuming what we meant to say, even if it’s completely incorrect, inappropriate and out of context.

There’s so much information available on proofreading and how to do it that there’s no excuse for avoiding it, especially when you have so much at steak. Did you catch the error in the last sentence? Because spellcheck didn’t. Instead of ‘steak’ it should have been ‘stake.’ These are the kinds of errors you need to proofread to catch.

Besides not providing the correct word in context, spellcheck is also unreliable when checking words like its/it’s, their/there/they’re, or your/you’re – always make sure to check the correct versions are used.

3. check all criteria individually

What we mean by this is that you should make separate passes over the document, each time checking for different things. Make one pass for spelling, another grammar, and yet another to fact check. Focusing on a single task ensures that you don’t miss anything. It’s more time consuming, but it'll be well worth it when you have an A+ professional resume that’ll land you your dream job.

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4. ensure consistency

Make sure your font and spellings are consistent throughout the document. From time to time, Word has a mind of its own and for reasons known only to its creator, switches things up. If you’ve copied and pasted parts of your resume from other versions, you may inadvertently include a different font type or size.

If you’ve grabbed sections of your resume or cover letter from previous versions, make sure you’re using the appropriate company name and date every. single. time. Check for consistency in formatting, spacing, bullet points – anything that might pull a reader away from focusing on the information at hand and instead be distracted by bullet arrows that become dots that become boxes. Check for consistency in your use of punctuation, capital letters, hyphens and use of bold or italics.

5. verify your contact information

What could be more unfortunate than not having correct contact information available on your resume? It’s like misplacing a winning lottery ticket. No matter how perfect your resume, it’s meaningless if the recruiter who reads it can’t reach you to tell you that you’ve secured an interview! Make sure it’s up-to-date and typed correctly. At the very least, you should include an email address and phone number where you can be reached. You can skip including your address or any other contact info, unless you want to include it.

It’s also fine to avoid including your work number if you don’t want your current employer to know you’re job hunting. Instead, use your cell number. It’s easier to slip into a boardroom to take a call than to have a whispered conversation in the middle of your work bullpen. And while you’re at it, make sure all the information about the organization you’re applying to is correct and that you’ve spelled the recruiter’s name correctly. People are vain, and seeing their name misspelled leads to an instant negative association.

6. change your perspective 

When you’re ready to proofread, change the setting a little to ensure you catch the errors you missed during your editing process.

  • print it out. Instead of reading it on the same screen you wrote it, print it out. When you print it out, mark it up, circle errors and use coloured ink, not black.
  • read it aloud. When you hear the words, it’s easier to catch errors and understand how it will ‘sound’ to a recruiter. Will you feel silly doing it? Most likely. But this process is designed to find specific errors that have less to do with content and more to do with asking your brain to consider the content in a different way.
  • read it backwards. This is another old proofreading technique. Sentence by sentence, read your resume from the bottom up. This forces your brain to perceive the document with fresh eyes, especially when you’ve been labouring over it for hours and could recite it by heart. Reading backwards stops you from automatically filling in a word where one is missing or making other similar corrections that aren’t actually reflected in the text.

7. invite a friend to proofread

Who has time to ask a friend to proofread their document every single time, right? While this tip is one of the most likely to be skipped… the truth is nothing beats a fresh pair of eyes for pointing out errors you’ve missed. Think about it: someone who isn’t you and who hasn’t created the document is reviewing it in much the same way a hiring manager or HR person might.

 

The key to proofreading is putting yourself in another mindset to catch errors and corrections your brain might pass over due to familiarity with the text. Yes, proofreading will be more work. But it’s worth expending a little extra effort and brainpower. Both you and your brain really want this job, right?