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Grammar—It Could Cost You Your Career

By Z.S. Roe

Most of us hate Grammar Nazis.  You know the type:  he’s that guy who interrupts your conversation to explain how you used “whom” improperly; she’s the gal who just chuckled because you referred to you and your friends instead of your friends and you.  Sure, basic grammar is essential for day-to-day communication, but do we really need to adhere to the more complex or arcane rules?  At the end of the day, who really cares if it’s “awhile” or “a while?”

Well, that’s just it.  Apparently, poor grammar skills could cost you your career … or at least a job working for CEO Kyle Wiens.  In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Wiens explained that he has all job applicants take a grammar test.  Should the applicants fail, their application is terminated, their interview is over, and they’re kindly shown to the door.

MC Hammer knows where it’s at. Do you?

“We do very technical work,” Wiens explained of his two technology companies, iFixit and Dozuki. “The sorts of people who are interested in really paying attention to detail really carries through to all parts of their life. And people that have poor grammar tend to be people who have made the choice not to pay attention to that.”  (For more on Wiens and his story, click here.)

At the very least, it is a unique approach.  Still, I’m not entirely sold on the idea that a person’s grammar skills are indicative of his or her abilities in other areas.  And even Wiens admits that he’s not especially picky:  you don’t need a perfect score on his test; a sold C will see you through to the next level.

At the same time, I do appreciate his respect and (some might say) defence of the English language.  These days, we need it now more than ever.  To my mind, one of the worst assaults on good ol’ English is the proliferation of text speak:  It’s everywhere, and it is an abomination of Jersey Shore stature.  I realize I’m getting older and slowly becoming a “Back in my day …” kind of guy.  All the same, I’ve yet to find any defendable argument for “u” instead of “you,” “r” instead of “are,” or “h8tr” instead of “hater.”  Yes, I know—this isn’t so much a problem with grammar as it is with spelling.  But correct spelling is the gas that makes the grammar car go.  Why bother teaching “to” vs. “too” when most people prefer to text it as “2” no matter the grammatical situation?

Perhaps Wiens’ grammar centric approach to hiring is a bit misplaced.  Then again, if his methods weed out the grammatically handicapped and his companies prosper as a result, then other companies might take up the cause in turn.  In time, the English language may flourish and prosper instead of devolving into monosyllabic grunts and fist pumps.

And so, yes, Grammar Nazis can be a pain, but at least they can carry an understandable if not meaningful conversation.

Opinion is a bi-monthly column of just that, my opinion. While opinions are like noses and everyone has one, mine are especially snotty. Please leave a comment or question—all opinions are welcome, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. If you like what you read here, please subscribe.


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