July 25, 2012
Grammar Sticklers Unite!
Posted by Christine Hurt

Trending on my FB this week was an article by Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, called "I Won't Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar.  Here's Why."  The article, from the website of the Harvard Business Review, went on to explain that Wiens gives every applicant a grammar test, regardless of whether writing is a part of the particular job description.  I don't get the sense that the grammar test is unduly hard -- there's probably no testing of the use of the subjunctive ("I wish I was in Paris right now"/"I wish I were in Paris right now") -- but maybe it tests basic punctuation and common mistakes such as "their/they're/there."  Wiens explains that for every job at his company, he wants someone who is detail-oriented and pays attention:  "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."

The responses in the comments were shocking to me.  I would think that if I were reading the HBR, my first response would be "Wow.  I wonder if other people think like that, too.  Let me go check my resume."  But apparently, that was not the modal response. 

You're a pompous [___].   That was the number one response -- the "kill the messenger" response.  I'm not sure why thinking grammar is an important life skill is being pompous.  (I'm not even sure that "pompous" is the word commenters meant.)  Wiens didn't say that he hired only people who learned a foreign language or played a musical instrument, both of which would reflect certain qualities or abilities that might make for better employees but reflect a certain kind of education or upbringing to which not everyone has access.  It's not that expensive to learn when to use the possessive apostrophe.

Your article has errors.  This is the "defense mechanism" response.  From arguing that not all the words in his title should be capitalized (n.b. -- the title is correct according to the Chicago Manual on Style and the MLA) to criticizing his ending a sentence with a preposition, readers were all over him.  Some argued that Wiens used the term "grammar" when his examples were mere mistakes in spelling and punctuation, not syntax.  Others discounted his thesis because one of his colorful examples seemed to use the term "apostle" and "disciple" interchangeably to describe a particular set of folks in the New Testament.  However, none of these quibbles, even the few that were accurate, refutes the proposition that errors on a resume or the inability to pass a "grammar" or "punctuation" test gives information to prospective employers about an applicant's attention to detail.

My take.  If my son or daughter were applying for jobs, I would share this article.  The reader might be persuaded that yes, grammar makes the employee, and be more careful to keep "texting language" separate from "work language."  Or, the reader might disagree, but might accept that those with the power to hire her think likewise.  In that case, the end result should be the same.  Perhaps it's like polishing your shoes.  Does having polished shoes make you a better employee?  No.  Does being the kind of person who ritually polishes his shoes mean that you are a better employee?  Maybe, maybe not.  Does being the kind of person who thinks that a prospective boss might notice the scuffiness of his shoes and think poorly of him, so shines his shoes before an interview mean you will be a better employee?  Yes.

Miscellany | Bookmark

TrackBacks (0)

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8345157d569e2016768be1fb6970b

Links to weblogs that reference Grammar Sticklers Unite!:

Bloggers
Papers
Posts
Recent Comments
Popular Threads
Search The Glom
The Glom on Twitter
Archives by Topic
Archives by Date
October 2014
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  
Miscellaneous Links