When TechRepublic runs a blog about grammar issues that can cost you a job interview or that make you look stupid, we get a lot of feedback. Usually the feedback is from people who want to point out other grammar mistakes that we may have failed to mention. Some of the feedback is from people who take the position that a good command of grammar does not indicate a more competent employee.
I'm not a grammar Nazi, but I have to admit that I think less of a person's ability if they don't know the correct usage of "they're," "there," and "their." I don't care so much about split infinitives or ending a sentence with a preposition. Those may be strictly forbidden but modern usage has made them more accepted.
I came across a piece in the Harvard Business Review written by Kyle Wiens that I like a lot. He explains why he won't hire a person who uses poor grammar. Not only does he toss resumes if they have any kind of grammatical mistake, he says,
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, one of the reasons he's so fervent is the nature of his business — he owns iFixit.com, the world's largest online repair manual. But even those who don't write for the manual, like programmers, are tested. He says that programmers who pay attention to how they construct written language also pay more attention to how they code.
He's also 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.
He says, and this is the best way I've ever heard it put, "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'd like to get a reading on the managers out there on this topic. Please take the poll below and give us your feelings on the importance of good grammar in a job candidate.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.