If you don’t have a job, you want to get a job. In a very bad job market you are looking for anything that will give you an advantage.
Isn’t that what Michael Phelps taught us?
If you have a job, you want to keep it, and you want to get ahead. But if you want to perform at your best, you want to know the difference between good and great performance.
Of all the qualities that matter in a job search the last one you are likely to think of is … good grammar.
Yet, if you want Kyle Wiens, the CEO of a company called iFixit and the founder of a company called Dokuzi, to hire you, you will have to pass a grammar test.
Wiens refuses to hire anyone who does not make a habit of using correct grammar.
In a world where texting and tweeting discourage good grammar—in some cases they discourage anything that resembles grammar-- it feels like a daunting challenge.
Yet, since so much communication, business and personal, takes place online and in writing, good grammar is a necessity. Incorrect grammar will make you look bad. When you are on the job, bad grammar will make your company look bad.
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.
Naturally you will have some objections to this form of judgmentalism.
Wiens anticipates them:
After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?
He responds that people who use good grammar are more likely to have good character. If you are disciplined in your written communications you are more likely to be disciplined on your other tasks.
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.
The principle applies to programmers, because great programmers pay attention to the most minor details. And grammar, you know, is a minor detail.
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….
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 that care about those details. Applicants that 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.
Anyone who did not take the time and attention needed to write a grammatically correct resume, probably won’t care enough to write a grammatically correct business letter or proposal or report.
If your business plan contains grammatical errors you are less likely to attract investors. If your annual report is filled with grammatical errors your investors, actual and potential, will think less of your company.
Of course, the same principle applies to table manners. No one is going to give you a table manners test, but when you are being interviewed at lunch or are pitching some business over dinner, you are being judged by your table manners.
And bad manners will undermine your presentation, no matter how good it is.
If you have bad table manners you will be showing that you do not know how to work with others, that you do not respect your companions, and that you do not value social harmony.
Bad table manners, like bad grammar, bespeak a slothful character.
If you don’t have enough discipline and self-control to chew with your mouth closed you will very likely demonstrate the same slothful habits when working on projects that really matter.