Your Chances Ain’t Good


A well-placed comma could save the life of an innocent dog.

Kyle Wiens is CEO of iFixit, the largest online repair community, as well as founder of Dozuki, a software company dedicated to helping manufacturers publish amazing documentation. He’s also, to put it mildly, a real stickler for grammar. In a recent post for Harvard Business Review, he proudly states that he won’t hire anyone who uses poor grammar. In fact, he administers a grammar test to everyone who applies for any job in his company, even if they are not writers (which comprise a significant number of his workforce.)

I agree with him, and not just because I make my living with words. Wiens writes, “Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have.” People do judge you by how well you speak your native language, and there is still (believe it or not) a standard for how English is spoken and written. While Wiens is a little harsh in his judgment of people who simply ignore grammar (“If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use “it’s,” then that’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with”) I agree that there are some assumptions people make when you speak or write improperly.

Most people assume that college-educated individuals have mastered the ability to read and write at, well, the college level. Lots of bad spelling examples occur in text and email messages that are typed and sent hastily. For sticklers, and I count myself among them, the only way to ensure that a message is error-free is to type it first in word processing software. Who has time for that? Wiens says, and I agree, that when it counts, you should make sure that you do your best work. When writing a message to a potential employer, for example, it should be triple-checked and mistake-free. Grammar and spelling errors in important messages are, therefore, signs of carelessness or ignorance – pick your poison.

Of the two choices available, many people may decide that you are simply careless. And if you are careless when a great job opportunity is on the line, what will you be like when you’ve settled in?  I wrote a post on that theory: How you do anything is how you do everything. Wiens agrees; “I’ve found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labeling parts.”

You may also reflect badly on your employer. Sharon Eliza Nichols started a Facebook group called “I judge you when you use poor grammar.” She has over 430,000 members in her group, and people have sent her enough cringe-worthy business signs to fill two books. (Her latest is “More Badder Grammar.) Her collection shows that, while hilarious, hand-lettered (and sometimes professionally produced) signs undermine the credibility of the company and lose business every day. Even large corporations are not immune. Starbucks misspelled “vegetable” in a large poster in its new juice bar, and the Rachel Ray magazine cover above will alarm any thinking foodie or animal lover.

As I looked for examples of grammatical misses, I came across this thoughtful question posed in an online forum: “Does bad grammar mean your less intelligent?”

Perhaps not, but your chances of getting hired ain’t good. Word.

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