Am I Screwed Because of My Typo?
August 18, 2009 by Sweet Hot Counsel
Q: I’m about to go in for a summer associate interview with a firm from Big Law. I was excited to get it, and quickly reviewed my cover letter so I could keep my story straight. That’s when it hit me: I had a glaring typo in my cover letter. It wasn’t in the boiler-plate portion that I used in all of them, thank goodness, but I checked my cover letters to other firms, just to be sure (they were all fine). Still, I’m dreading going in to this interview, KNOWING that I have this terrible, gaping, glaring typo in my cover letter.
How do I deal? Is it possible they just didn’t notice, and I should not acknowledge it? I have visions of myself sweating bullets in the interview chair, that internal typo staring at me from the letter in the interviewer’s hand as I slowly lose my mind like the protagonist of a Poe story. How do I keep from outing myself as an idiot who can’t even type a simple cover letter? Even if they haven’t seen it, won’t SOMEONE notice, eventually, if they call me back for a second-round interview? Should I mea culpa right away, and risk drawing attention to an error that might kill my chances? I’m dreading answering a question about my “attention to detail,” and getting a follow-up: “So, then, how do you explain this typo in your cover letter?”
Could it all be a cruel hoax? Am I the victim of a Big Law hazing? Help!
—Victim of a Tell-Tale Typo
A: OK, first: Calm down. It’s not like you accidentally included a picture of your genitals along with your cover letter. It’s just a typo. That said, short of…including a picture of your genitals along with your cover letter, sending off a cover letter with a glaring typo is probably the worst thing you could have done. Melodramatic? Probably. True? Unfortunately.
See, as you’ve already noticed, law firms are obsessed with the infamous “attention to detail” rap, including, yes, typos. Why are law firms so aggro about this? Are they just full of über-perfectionist, Law-Review-worshipping grammar Nazis looking to crucify those with less than razor-sharp proofreading skills? Well, yes—but more to the point, it’s because as a junior associate, the only things you’ll ever be expected to do with any sort of accuracy are hunt through data-rooms full of 400-page credit agreements for the words “change of control,” put semi-colons in the right places, and make sure the client’s name is spelled correctly on your time sheets. So, when your supervisor (or interviewer) sees that you can’t even manage to grab this low-hanging fruit, you’re pretty much written off from that point forward.
Here’s the good news, though: Big Law lawyers don’t read recruiting cover letters. The recruiting folks do—and barely, at that. The only thing anyone actually cares about is your resume. The first—and only—thing that Big Law firms look at when they first get your resume is your GPA. If it meets their cut off, they read the rest of the resume. No one really cares about the cover letter and there’s a 99.99% chance that your interviewing attorney hasn’t even seen it, much less read the damn thing.
In other words, please, for the love of God, DO NOT CALL OUT THE TYPO to your interviewer. Aside from making you look completely insane, it’ll just draw attention to something they probably would never have had a chance to notice. Now, if by some ridiculous chance someone does notice and call it out to you, own up to it without any fuss…and then run. If an interviewer is enough of a douchebag to ask you to explain a typo during an interview—instead of just asking you meaningless questions while silently writing you off like any true Big Law pro would do—you can be sure you’re dealing with a bush-league firm and you don’t want to work there anyway.
So, take a deep breath, cleanse this minor discretion from your mind, put on your best interview smile—and for Chrissakes’, make sure to hit “spell check” before you hit “print” next time, ‘k?
Need advice? Email our Sweet Hot Counsel at firstname.lastname@example.org.