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Old 11-10-2012, 12:38 PM
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Wink I Won't Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here's Why.

I came across this while looking at something else. It is written quite funnily. Did you know you might not get hired if your, (not you're) grammar is sloppy? A lot (not alot) of people these days don't think it's (now, is that its or it's?) too (to, two, too) important. But according to this guy, it signifies more than meets the eye.

I bet I'm guilty of some of the things he talks about. I think I tend to use commas like shells scattered from a shot gun. I stick them any place I think I'd pause a little bit if speaking. That's not correct, I guess.


I Won't Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here's Why.

by Kyle Wiens | 8:02 AM July 20, 2012
Comments (3183)

If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me. If you think a semicolon is a regular colon with an identity crisis, I will not hire you. If you scatter commas into a sentence with all the discrimination of a shotgun, you might make it to the foyer before we politely escort you from the building.

Some might call my approach to grammar extreme, but I prefer Lynne Truss's more cuddly phraseology: I am a grammar "stickler." And, like Truss — author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves — I have a "zero tolerance approach" to grammar mistakes that make people look stupid.

Now, Truss and I disagree on what it means to have "zero tolerance." She thinks that people who mix up their itses "deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave," while I just think they deserve to be passed over for a job — even if they are otherwise qualified for the position.

Everyone who applies for a position at either of my companies, iFixit or Dozuki, takes a mandatory grammar test. Extenuating circumstances aside (dyslexia, English language learners, etc.), if job hopefuls can't distinguish between "to" and "too," their applications go into the bin.

Of course, we write for a living. is the world's largest online repair manual, and Dozuki helps companies write their own technical documentation, like paperless work instructions and step-by-step user manuals. So, it makes sense that we've made a preemptive strike against groan-worthy grammar errors.

But grammar is relevant for all companies. Yes, language is constantly changing, but that doesn't make grammar unimportant. 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. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can't tell the difference between their, there, and they're.

Good grammar makes good business sense — and not just when it comes to hiring writers. Writing isn't in the official job description of most people in our office. Still, we give our grammar test to everybody, including our salespeople, our operations staff, and our programmers.

On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair. After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?

Wrong. 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. So, even in this hyper-competitive market, I will pass on a great programmer who cannot write.

Grammar signifies more than just a person's ability to remember high school English. 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.

In the same vein, programmers who pay attention to how they construct written language also tend to pay a lot more attention to how they code. You see, at its core, code is prose. Great programmers are more than just code monkeys; according to Stanford programming legend Donald Knuth they are "essayists who work with traditional aesthetic and literary forms." The point: programming should be easily understood by real human beings — not just computers.

And just like good writing and good grammar, when it comes to programming, the devil's in the details. In fact, when it comes to my whole business, details are everything.

I hire people who care about those details. Applicants who don't think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren't important. And I guarantee that even if other companies aren't issuing grammar tests, they pay attention to sloppy mistakes on résumés. After all, sloppy is as sloppy does.

That's why I grammar test people who walk in the door looking for a job. Grammar is my litmus test. All applicants say they're detail-oriented; I just make my employees prove it.

[[Editors' note: If you're interested in improving your writing skills, please consider our Guide to Better Business Writing book]]

Read the summary of the #HBRchat on Twitter based on this blog post.

More blog posts by Kyle Wiens
More on: Business writing, Communication, Personal effectiveness
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Old 11-10-2012, 12:46 PM
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I agree with him!

Unfortunately, around here there aren't many people hiring who have an appreciation for -- or acquaintance with -- decent writing skills.
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Old 11-10-2012, 12:50 PM
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Agree 100%
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Old 11-10-2012, 01:08 PM
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I agree. I work with a few people..both technician as well as receptionist wise..who cannot spell simple words. Once in awhile might be chalked up to a simple mistake. But these are repeated things. Of words we use frequently.

These are records that can be sent to other hospitals, and words like "bowl" and "testicle" are spelled incorrectly. Embarrassing.

ETA: it's even sadder when the person just shrugs it off, saying "I'm a bad speller". At least learn from it...
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Old 11-10-2012, 01:24 PM
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I think it depends on what your hiring them for. I know of one person who has a heart bigger than anyone else I have ever met that doesn't write well. I know another, that will have your back and do the job when everyone else drops the ball who cannot spell worth a darn. Neither have jobs working where the written word is all that important. WE all have strengths and weaknesses which make us better at some things and not good at others. If I was to dismiss these two people I am thinking of, I would be devastated. One is my hero of all time, the other, my pride and joy. Both are intelligent, hard working, loving people that I trust with all my heart.

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Old 11-10-2012, 02:00 PM
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I think it depends. Everyone slips up every now and again.

I will admit I get annoyed very easily by spelling that is just consistently bad. I usually won't say anything but I wince every time. Some of it is just so bad that it is hardly legible at all.

But I don't see why an employer would care if your spelling and grammar is a little bit off on a non-formal site (like facebook or a forum). It's an informal setting so who cares if they mess up a colon and a semicolon?

If it's professional then at least send it through a spell checker. But if it's some obscure rule or error, then I would let it slide. The important thing (imo) is having someone that can communicate efficiently. And that can mean good spelling but it can also mean just being concise.

There was a girl I used to work with who would type out these long, arduous emails that no one could follow. Her sentences were in such random order and she would try to use huge words she didn't know the meaning of. She could spell though. That's just as bad as bad spelling.

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Old 11-10-2012, 04:56 PM
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Old 11-10-2012, 04:57 PM
Fran27 Fran27 is offline
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I totally agree with the guy too. English grammar is very easy, I don't understand how people mess it up.
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Old 11-10-2012, 05:37 PM
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Lyzelle Lyzelle is offline
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I agree.

And I really, really hate it when someone says, "Oh, everyone makes mistakes!" or "Oh, sorry we aren't just perfect!" or "Who cares? Why do we all have to have perfect grammar all the time?"

It drives me absolutely nuts. Mistakes happen, yes. But BASIC things? Spelling that you can just as easily look up? Seriously?

It's laziness. And when someone calls you out on it saying it's laziness and ignorance, it's stupidity when the person gets angry about it.
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Old 11-10-2012, 06:47 PM
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The Hokey Pokey. That's what it's all about.
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