help! my husband submitted an error-filled application to my employer

A reader writes:

I have recently started working at the job of my dreams. The only problem is is that it is in another state at a university in a small regional town. I left my husband behind in the city as he was struggling to find a job here.

A really great position opened up at the university here, which suites his skills perfectly. The application involved a set of online questions which the candidate responds to to justify their application and their skills. I reviewed my husband’s application via the system a few minutes before it closed just to ensure that it was submitted and noticed to my horror that it was full of spelling and grammatical errors (mostly grammatical). He is really bad with grammar and writing (he is a programmer) and I should have checked it first, the application is written so badly.

The application has closed and is no longer accessible so he can’t fix the mistakes. Would it be appropriate to send an email asking for it to be reopened to fix the mistakes or will that just look worse? It’s not just one mistake, the whole thing looks as though it is written by a child. I’m devastated because if he is not invited to an interview just because of a shoddy application there may not be another opportunity soon. Am I overreacting? He has really unique and special skills (and believe it or not is a really intelligent guy) and as it is a small town, there (in his application, for example, he would use “their” here) may not be many applications. Will gramatical errors cost him an interview even if he has the best skill set?

It depends on the job and the uniqueness of his skill set. There are some jobs where writing skills don’t matter at all … although even then, many hiring managers still won’t be thrilled with an application riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, since it can speak to problems with attention to detail and the general care someone takes with presenting their work. (I’m a total schoolmarm about this, in fact.)  It’s also true that most of us believe that people are on their best behavior when applying for a job, and so if they’re not taking a lot of care with an application, they’re not likely to take a lot of care with their work.

Now, there are plenty of really smart people who are just terrible with spelling and grammar, so it’s not a reflection on his intelligence. But it may be a reflection on his judgment, because people who are bad at spelling and grammar should know this about themselves and enlist proofreading help when the stakes are high. So I wish your husband had done that here, and maybe you can encourage him to do that in the future.

As for what to do now … definitely don’t ask for the application to be reopened so he can fix it. That would be interfering and asking for special treatment on his behalf, and that won’t help either of you (and could actually hurt, by making it look like you don’t have appropriate boundaries between work and home).

The absolute most you could do, if you know the hiring manager, is to mention that your husband applied (see this post for tips on the boundaries in doing even that), and hope that the personal connection might give him enough of a boost to get an interview, and that he’s then impressive enough in the interview to negate any worries that were created by the sloppy application.

And of course, if his skill set is indeed unique and impressive, he might be just fine either way. But there’s no reason for him to ever jeopardize his chances by submitting sloppy applications when it can be so easily avoided, so it would be ideal if you could find some way to talk to him about ways to avoid that in the future.

(Do I need to create a category for “advice about your spouse”? Spouse questions come up with an interesting regularity.)

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. Kristin*

    My boyfriend has a master’s degree (in art) and is very intelligent, but I always have to proofread ANYTHING he writes that will be seen by other people (short of… maybe Facebooks statuses.). He’s awesome with editing video, but needs help with cover letters to get gigs. Not every job requires writing/grammar skills. I think since you already have an “in” at the university, if you can contact someone in HR or in that department, that might be the best way to go.

    1. Anonymous*

      Don’t feel bad.. everytime someone claims they need to proofread for somene else/have great editing skills their posts are full of grammar and spelling mistakes – not to mention lack of capital letters and punctuation! Oh, and run on and on and on sentences ..

      Not throwing stones here – I’m just pointing it out. I am guilty of it too – at least in commenting on forums like this. I’m sure my texting/facebook chatting has contributed to that :(

      Even with spell/grammar check programas, keep in mind that if you use the wrong word (their,they’re,there or suites instead of suit) that since you spelled it correctly it won’t red flag it as wrong.

  2. Hannah*

    Personally I think she should have left the application to her husband and stayed out of it. Proofreading your spouse’s resume makes sense but going over a timed questionnaire and fixing his errors seems borderline dishonest. They will assume he completed his own test, and if grammar is important to them, his writing would only lead to disappointment for everyone down the road.

    That said, if I was hiring for a programming job I wouldn’t care about things like their vs.there. I know too many talented developers who either learned English later in life or simply aren’t great writers because their interest has always been in more technical areas. I’m not interested in grammar unless it’s for a client facing document.

    1. Unmana*

      That’s kind of what I was thinking too, unless Becky below is right and this was not a test. In any case, I agree with Alison: they should probably just let it go and hope he’ll get screened in anyway.

  3. Becky*

    @Hannah, this isn’t a timed test. I assume it is like most university jobs, in that the posting is only open for so many days (maybe a week or two), and so if you don’t see it right away you might have only that day to get all of your information submitted. The university where I’ve been applying is like that, and they then save your information for the next time you apply (although you can edit any of it). This would be similar to having someone review your cover letter or resume, unless I’m completely misunderstanding the letter.

    1. Satia*

      I find it ironic that the original poster’s email is so full of grammatical and spelling errors that I cringe at how much worse her husband’s application must be. That she was able to notice any errors under the circumstances suggests that his application goes above and beyond the norm of acceptable mistakes.

      1. fposte*

        The OP’s email really isn’t “so full of grammatical and spelling errors”; that’s a pretty disproportionately severe response, especially since she was writing a query to a blog and not a job application itself. I think you’re losing the forest for a few comma-spliced trees.

        1. Dana*

          “losing the forest for a few comma-spliced trees” – beautiful! I just might have to borrow that in the future :)

        2. Mikey*

          The thing is, when I write something mentioning grammar or spelling, I try my very best to make it error free…..anything less would be quite embarrassing!

              1. Liz in a Library*

                The ellipsis is always three.

                Also, I am an extreme supporter of the Oxford/serial comma. If you take on that battle, AAM, I’ll join your ranks. ;)

  4. Chuck*

    I think that OP may want to consider the state of her marriage. If she knew of his grammatical shortcomings, has she mentioned this to her husband before? And, if so, has she offered to help in the past? If he has refused offers of help, is it b/c of his stubborn attitude or her haughty approach to the topic?

    Does husband agree with her assessment? If so, why wouldn’t he want her to review such things before submitting them – especially if he is applying to the same place where she works?

    Call me old fashioned, but I think the health of her marriage is far more important that finding him any job. Just sayin’…

      1. Gary*

        I agree that it is very odd to read the question posed from the OP and come away with her having problems in her marriage. It is actually very hurtful to even post these types of comments.

      2. Chuck*

        I seem to have been misunderstood; my remarks were NOT written with malice.

        He applied for a job at his wife’s employer and she didn’t know about it until she saw the application. It just seems to me that he should have at least mentioned to her that he was applying there. He could have asked her for insight into the organization and their hiring process. Not doing that strikes me as unwise at best. Is there an underlying reason why he didn’t reveal that to her? I think that is a question that should be asked – and answered.

        Are his spelling/grammatical errors something she had not known of previously? If she did have such knowledge, shouldn’t she have offered to help him with all applications? As others have noted, having a second set of eyes review such things is not uncommon at all.

        I simply suggest that she ask herself why her spouse didn’t tell her ahead of time about applying for a job with her employer. And if his problem with grammar is chronic, the two of them might consider how to work together to address it.

        1. fposte*

          I still think you’re creating your own scenario. I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that she didn’t know he was applying; she just didn’t get involved in this application until this step. That’s perfectly appropriate in any circumstance–it’s not like job applications are traditionally completed by the applicant and partner–and it’s especially likely when you are, as she is, living in a different state than her spouse.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, I think she definitely knew he was applying; he didn’t keep it from her. In fact, she went in to check on his application to make sure it was in the system, so she definitely knew!

          1. Anonymous*

            In the first paragraph OP says they live in seperate states:
            “..The only problem is is that it is in another state at a university in a small regional town. I left my husband behind in the city as he was struggling to find a job here”.

            I agree with AAM that OP knew he applied.
            But being in another state.. she couldn’t spell/grammar/content check to help him.

            Why there is an assumption of of marital problems or that the husbands lack spelling skills is a problem or even we’re even discussing that (as it wasn’t OP’s question at all) is beyond me. Let’s please just stick to the question and stop speculating on the state of their marriage!

  5. Anonymous*

    (Do I need to create a category for “advice about your spouse”? Spouse questions come up with an interesting regularity.)

    YES. It’s a good idea, imo. Easily found by those helping spouses/SO’s too in your archives.

    I’d also suggest not including those questions in the days you have multiple questions as the comments all get mushed together.

    p.s. I read all your posts and comments even if they don’t apply to me and always find something that I find useful! :)

  6. Katie*

    Assuming your husband was aware you checked up on his application, I’d let him know what you saw and kindly offer to proofread for his job applications in the future. If he didn’t know, then just be sure you’re around to proofread anything else in the future. I have excellent spelling/grammar skills, and I still always have someone proofread any kind of professional writing I do. Typos and mistakes happen, even to the most school marm-y among us, but not having a plan in place to catch your errors shows a lack of attention to detail and a lack of concern about how you present yourself, which is the primary reason it’s a turn-off to prospective employers.

    Regardless, asking for an opportunity to correct anything on an application you’ve already submitted is rarely ever a good idea. I wouldn’t ask for a do-over, and I’d say lesson learned on not proofreading job applications before sending them in.

  7. Gary*

    I wouldn’t interfere with the already-submitted application as I don’t think it would be a good signal to management. I know it sucks to hear that. Sorry.

    However, you can ask your husband to try to contact the hiring manager and have HIM follow-up on his application early in the interviewing process. Make sure he practices what he says and is prepared so that he comes across sounding very professional and polished. If the hiring manager brushes him off, he may even respond by indicating that he regrets rushing through the online application as it did not represent his best work. He can even say he rushed the submission because he was so excited to find an opportunity that met his skill set so well.

    In the future, I think approaching him and asking him to have you proofread applications is definitely acceptable. I review my wife’s professional writing to avoid grammar issues but also just to provide perspective and give feedback on word choice. In no way should your husband take offense to this request, in my opinion.

  8. Elissa Jane Mastel*

    Everyone makes mistakes. How bad were the errors? I am not saying that an employer is going to ignore typos but this isn’t the ultimate tragedy. I hate to say it but I would think an employer would be less likely to hire the spouse of another employee more than fault him for spelling errors. I know I couldn’t work with a husband and wife on the same team. Probably best to see it as a sign and move on to other opportunities with a cleaned up resume and cover letter. This was a fun read, I am reposting on our Twitter feed @jpatrickjobs

    1. Anonymous*

      It didn’t sound like the OP’s husband was applying for a job on the same team as the OP. I got the impression that it was the husband was applying for a position in a different department entirely. In a university setting, based on the 3 universities I’ve worked at, having couples in different departments is fairly common…

  9. anon*

    Oh! I have a semi-related question. My husband is a wonderful, smart, motivated, hard worker. (I know this about him because we met at the office!) But he didn’t learn to speak and read English until his mid-20s, and I’m also pretty sure that he’s dyslexic, as he has difficulty reading even in his native language. I’m sure you can imagine what a cover letter from a dyslexic, non-native English speaker would look like.

    So to what extent is it ethical for me to edit that stuff? I know that really basic grammar/spelling edits are OK. His problem is that he has a really hard time with English sentence structure and frequently he ends up writing English words in the syntax of his native language, which happens to be 100% the opposite of English — subjects and objects reversed, cause/effect clauses out of order, subjects left out entirely, general chaos. Is it ethical for me to fix these more complex mistakes, knowing full well that the resulting cover letter is not the kind of writing an employer can expect from him on the job? He is, of course, in a technical/quantitative field and no part of his job description involves high-quality written communication.

    AAM, what are your thoughts??

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh gosh, I could argue this either way, but ultimately I’m coming down on the side of you proofreading for him, for the same reason that I said the OP should. If writing is a key component of the job, any savvy employer is going to test it in ways other than the cover letter anyway. (Of course, people should NOT edit writing samples for others; those are different than a cover letter.)

  10. Anonymous*

    Thanks for all your comments. To clarify a few misunderstandings, he sent me the password to check his application from his side, I did not go in through any uni door to do so, I have no sway or relationship with HR that would allow me to impact his application in that way. I was referring to whether he should send an email asking if the mistakes could be fixed, see reference to a previous query from someone asking if she should send a letter mentioning her spelling mistake in an application letter and correcting it. I was wondering what the difference would be for one mistake versus a number. He has never before asked me to check an application because he has not struggled to find work and never before needed to submit such a detailed application. It is an electronic application form not a timed questionnaire that you provide information in response to questions and you are able to edit it up until the application closes after a period of say two to three weeks. He never refused an offer of help, he just didn’t think of it. He sent me the password shortly before the application closed so that I could see if he had completed the application correctly as I had completed the same one and the questions are sometimes not self-explanatory, it was only on doing this that I saw the mistakes, upon which I contacted him about them so that I could indicate where they are and he could fixed them and as we were doing this it closed and the application disappeared into the digital black hole. I find the comments about my marriage hurtful and unnecessary. As to my own spelling and grammar I consider the fact that I did manage to obtain an academic position at this uni a strong indication that my application was at worst fine and at best marginally better than the mountain of other applicants for the same role. Having a relationship from two different states in two different time zones is really difficult and I’m trying as hard as possible to help him find a job here so he can move over as well. The uni is the only major employer in the town and there are a number of husband and wife teams working here, for example the head of HR is married to the Dean of Management. Thank you very much to Alison and others for the helpful feedback, for the rest maybe you should consider whether your walls may be glass, your perceptions a greater reflection of your own issues and whether you need to take a few classes in reading comprehension?

  11. Anonymous*

    Anonymous (OP),

    Thanks for your response! It made me smile and was on point. I especially liked your closing “maybe you should consider whether your walls may be glass, your perceptions a greater reflection of your own issues and whether you need to take a few classes in reading comprehension”. I was thinking the exact same thing and could not have put it so eloquently. Best of luck to you and your hubby! Please post an update on the situation when you have one. :)

  12. Anonymous*

    I used to work at a state university as a manager. For every position that opened, there would be well over a hundred applicants. In order to prune them a bit, one of the first things I did was get rid of all the applications that had noticeable errors. These were not technical positions, and pretty much the only requirement was that one have a high school diploma.
    Still, I was very picky about my hires because I could be. People who can’t be bothered to proofread such an important document prove that the job is not important to them.

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