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Did You Spell "273" Correctly?

God bless Matt Bud! Matt is Chairman of The Financial Executives Networking Group (The FENG), a largely bootstrapped association of senior financial executives, which since its inception in 1991 has grown to over 50,000 members. In addition to his day job, Matt posts five blogs a week on The FENG’s website. He must change in phone booths! (If you’re too young to appreciate that reference, google “changing in phone booths.”)

In today’s blog, “Can you spel?” (sic), he laments the tendency of our brethren and sistren to send out resumes and other important documents that have typos and inexcusable grammatical errors. He goes on to make a number of practical suggestions to help you avoid such errors.

Matt’s point is spot-on – these little errors do enormous damage to your credibility and professional image. We live in an age where people are so pressed for time that in all communications they look for little clues – like spelling mistakes – to help them form quick judgments about the people they’re dealing with. For example, many employers routinely reject job applicants who have even one typo in their resume.

This point applies to the numbers you present as well as the words. Here are a few quantation faux pas that can be as damaging to you as those typos and grammatical errors:

  • Obvious formula errors. We all make mistakes, and most are forgiveable, but try to avoid ones that even an innumerate will spot.  (e.g., a profit margin of 9000% because your spreadsheet stores profit in $ and revenues in $000)
  • One-page reports that print out on multiple pages. These reports are hard to read and annoying to your audience. (Do a Print Preview and fix before you distribute.)
  • Spreadsheet reports with lots of #DIV/0!, #NAME, #VALUE!, or ######. Sometimes there’s a good reason for these messages, but they still make you look sloppy, or your spreadsheet look buggy.
  • Misspelled words. Report titles, row captions, and column captions consist of words – spell them correctly. And the errors will show up month after month in reports produced every accounting period. 
  • Inaccurate words. Do the row and column captions properly describe the report contents? Are you using jargon or acronyms that not everyone will understand?

Don’t spoil your hard work and thoughtful analysis with silly little mistakes that damage your report’s credibility, and therefore your personal credibility. Errors like the ones above in that spreadsheet you’re sending to the board of directors are like typos in your resume.

“Painting with Numbers” is my effort to get people to focus on making numbers understandable.  I welcome your feedback and your favorite examples.  And see more about my writing and “Painting with Numbers” at www.painting-with-numbers.com

Comments

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

One short comment......although I overall agree on the points (Matt is usually on point) I also believe that there is a danger that this mindset contributes to the GOTCHA mentality and discounting the whole candidate/resume/person.

Randall Bolten
Title: CEO
Company: Lucidity
LinkedIn Profile
(CEO, Lucidity) |

Emerson – yes, you’re correct that many in the audience have a “gotcha” mentality. Some people are just out to nail you. And not everyone agrees on where the dividing line is between expecting professional communications and being unnecessarily picky.

But I’m NOT contributing to that “gotcha” mentality. That mentality is present in plenty of people in your audience, and you have no control over it. I'm just suggesting you should go to a little extra effort to be correct and precise in order to avoid running afoul of your audience, regardless of whether their perceptions are fair or not.

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

Randall, I am NOT saying that YOU are contributing. I said, the mindset. The reverse point of view should also be mentioned (and I acknowledge the point of your post and as I said, I agree with it), and the danger it poses .....as I did.

I am just presenting the other side of the coin and to avoid the..."My resume is perfect and I expect everyone else' to be....damn if they are a great candidate/fit or not." OR the..."the whole report is eye opening, but you had 3 grammatical errors" mentality.

Randall Bolten
Title: CEO
Company: Lucidity
LinkedIn Profile
(CEO, Lucidity) |

Emerson – I agree that some people are just too picky, and that’s worth pointing out to them. Beyond that, I have two reactions:

(1) There is no agreement on where that dividing line is, or to which documents it applies. For example, while perhaps the one-typo-and-your-resume-goes-in-the-trash position may be excessively harsh, I largely side with those who feel there is simply no valid excuse for ANY mistakes in your resume. At least for native English-speakers.

(2) You’re facing a real uphill struggle. Ferreting out and convincing the excessively picky is a is a lot more work, and a lot less effective, than helping presenters understand that erring on the side of care and precision is their best and lowest-risk strategy.

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

Sorry Randall, I do not see it as a choice between one over the other. I can advocate for a clean resume and I can also advice (remind?) people that a mistake does not make the man.

Richard Baikie
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Super King Markets
(Director of Finance, Super King Markets) |

My opinion is based on some points that I try to get across to my kids. When they come back with a lower than expected score on a test, I ask them if the mistakes were because of a lack of studying/preparation, haste and rushing through the exam, or not understanding the question or the topic. Each of these three items gets addressed differently. It becomes a learning process.

Mistakes happen and often understanding why will provide much insight as to what can be expected in the future, both with intervention and training and without.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

I was reviewing the financials to a pitch deck of a potential client. I was told that a) they were an LLC and b) some Harvard MBAs who charged an arm and leg made the financials.

In several minutes I found #VALUE! and #DIV/0 errors as well as a line (and calculation for) Federal Income Tax.

As we all know, LLC's don't pay Federal Income taxes they had it @35%) and when I investigated one of the errors it was an improperly configured IRR statement.

Someone didn't spell check...

Len Green
Title: Performance Improvement Consultant and E..
Company: Haygarth Consulting LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Performance Improvement Consultant and ERP Strategist, Haygarth Consulting LLC) |

There's a famous Dilbert-pointy boss-cartoon: Dilbert tells him he found only 3 errors in his spreadsheet.
"Oh that's great, only 3! What were they?"
Said Dilbert "Your data, your formulas and your formats. That's all."