What never gets spoken about, but is always noticed.

From the Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2012, p. A11 (the Notable & Quotable section)


Citing tech industry CEO Kyle Wiens, from a visit to Harvard Business Review on July 20, 2012:

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.

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 …

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 …

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 are doing something completely unrelated to writing–like stocking shelves or labeling parts.

Ignoring the one or two grammatical glitches within the quoted text (they may be the result of a message that was delivered orally, rather than in written form), the message of the quotation is one that should be taken to heart.

If you write poorly, you tell your reader:

  • I haven’t changed. My education hasn’t made me better, it hasn’t touched my core.
  • I really don’t buy into your world. Mine is fine. If I join your world, I’ll do so on my terms, not yours. I’m certainly not looking to have excellence be part of my personal brand – it’s too hard and too time consuming.

Bad grammar is something to excise from your world, starting today. If you bump into someone like Mr. Wiens when you’re job hunting, you’ll be glad you made the effort.



About fromtheprofessor

A strategy professor with a unique perspective.
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One Response to What never gets spoken about, but is always noticed.

  1. Gabe says:

    Your comment raises what I find to be an interesting point. Wiens suggests that seeing grammatical errors in someone’s writing indicates a lack of attention to detail, and it sounds like you agree with that. But when it comes to the errors that Wiens has in his own text, you offer a possible excuse, rather than thinking that he doesn’t pay attention to details.

    That’s what I didn’t like about Wiens’s argument; though grammatical mistakes may be due to some deep personality flaw, like inattention to or disinterest in one’s appearance, they also may be due to nervousness, extenuating circumstances, or even a rational analysis that the time spent checking and re-checking one’s writing isn’t worth it in the given situation. It might even be that the supposed error isn’t an error at all (as with the commenters who complained about Wiens’s ending sentences with prepositions or splitting infinitives).

    As a result, I don’t find Wiens’s stance to be very well justified. He acts as though a grammatical test is an awesomely accurate assessment of one’s personality, but I simply don’t see it.

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