Last week we asked readers to rate two hypothetical job candidates for a communications assistant position in a large neuroscience lab. The task seemed to pit education against experience. Everyone saw some version of these two resumes:
Emily was Magna Cum Laude at Harvard, while Suzanne was an average student at a regional state college. But Emily appeared to have never held a paying job, padding her resume with activities like “Botanical Garden Society President” and “Varsity Tennis.” Meanwhile, Suzanne had held an impressive internship and had three years of related job experience.
Most respondents — nearly 80 percent out of over 800 who completed the survey — selected experience over education, preferring Suzanne over Emily.
But that wasn’t the real purpose of our study. We were actually interested in a subtler point: should you put more effort into the overall look of your resume, or into proofreading to fix typographical errors? Respondents actually only saw one of three possible pairs of resumes. Each pair contained the same information, but one pair was full of typos (here’s an example), while another pair was badly formatted, with ugly fonts and inconsistent layout (here’s an example). The final group of respondents saw attractive and accurate resumes. So which resumes were rated highest? Here are the results:
This graph shows how respondents rated Emily’s resume on three dimensions: Overall appeal, Intelligence, and Professionalism. Ratings were significantly lower for the resume with typos compared to both the attractive and ugly resumes. Emily actually received negative Professionalism ratings. Indeed, for the ugly resume, ratings weren’t lower than the attractive resume for any of the ratings except Professionalism (but as you can see, even for this rating, the ugly resume rated much higher than the typo-ridden resume.
One possible explanation for the discrepancy is that readers don’t actually think the ugly resume is that bad, so this morning I asked readers to rate the “ugly” resume and the “attractive” resume for appearance, and the ugly resume was indeed rated significantly lower: 3.6 versus 4.4 on a scale of 1 to 7.
But maybe people with more hiring experience don’t focus so much on these surface issues. These graphs break down the ratings based on the respondent’s personal experience with hiring:
Overall ratings were significantly lower when respondents had hiring experience, both for resumes with typos and for ugly resume. Typos again resulted in the lowest ratings of all. If anything, people with hiring experience were tougher on typos.
The take-home message: If you have a limited amount of time to work on your resume, you should spend it proofreading, not making it look prettier. That said, as many respondents indicated, the resume is just one factor in a hiring decision, and several respondents said they would ask both candidates to an interview before making their decision.