Job Application Typo Deserves a Prudent Response

I knew the strategy the friendly Volvo salesman had in view when he suggested I take the car home overnight one afternoon in 1984. He hoped I would become so emotionally attached to this nice Volvo 240 sedan that I couldn’t resist the purchase. That wasn’t a risk, I thought. This wasn’t an emotional purchase, like the Monte Carlo was. Anyway, I was fickle with cars. I could, if necessary, purge those passions the Volvo had aroused by test driving a 5 litre Mustang GT in the morning.

So I took the car home and did the usual. Calmed down my son who feared I had lost my mind and reassured my wife that I hadn’t promised to buy anything. The sensible Volvo did have a certain appeal so we set out for a drive in the country. The fuel gauge showed empty so I stopped in at the gas bar near our home. To my astonishment, the car refused to start after I added $10 worth. It turned over but it just would not start so we pushed the immobilized new Volvo to a safe corner.

The next morning I dropped off the key with directions for the tow truck driver. After work I waited for the salesman to finish talking to someone else. He wondered if I was ready to make an offer. “What was wrong with the car that it wouldn’t start?” I asked. “I have no idea” was his markedly inadequate response. I was astonished. Could he not see that I needed reassurance that a stranded Volvo surprised him more than me? I mean, you didn’t buy a Volvo 240 in those days for its pretty face. If it wasn’t safe, reliable and sensible, there wasn’t much left. Kind of like a medicine that tastes like crap and doesn’t do anything for you. When he called a few days later hoping I was ready to buy, he still didn’t care what had left me stranded.

I thought about this story this week when I was researching (OK, Googling) for my last post about how much a typo matters. A senior executive said that he would still interview a candidate whose application contained a typo but would ask about it in the interview. Her response at that moment would carry far more weight than the fact that the typo wasn’t caught.

Things will happen in the course of your jobsearch. You will forget someone’s name. You will arrive late. In the interview, you will be asked a question that everyone in the room knows you didn’t prepare for but should have. Those things shouldn’t happen but inevitably they will. Pay attention to the reactions of those who are interviewing you. If they seem surprised by something, address their concerns directly. Follow up later.

When the salesman under responded to the breakdown of a car that purports to be reliable, it seemed to me that it must not be particularly unusual. The Volvo had a great reputation, but he had first-hand knowledge of Volvo reliability, so I accepted his assessment. I needed to hear that the breakdown was more surprising to him than it was to me. When you are a jobseeker, the interviewer needs to know certain things. Like you do get that spelling Frank’s name as “Frnak” on your cover letter somehow contradicts your claim to have outstanding writing skills. Don’t wait for Frnak to bring it up in the interview. If Frnak was ticked off, you wouldn’t be having the interview. So take the lemon and make some lemonade. Tell Frnak that your sister-in-law has a Volvo with 350,000 miles that has never let her down once. Or whatever story seems relevant.

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