CEO: I won’t hire grammar slobs

If you don’t got no good grammar, you won’t get hired at IFixit or Dozuki, writes CEO Kyle Wiens in the Harvard Business Review. He gives all applicants a grammar test, regardless of whether they’re applying for a job as a writer, programmer or parts clerk.

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, we write for a living. is the world’s largest online repair manual, and Dozuki helps companies write their own technical documentation, like paperless work instructions and step-by-step user manuals. So, it makes sense that we’ve made a preemptive strike against groan-worthy grammar errors.

But grammar is relevant for all companies. . . . 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.

Good grammar predicts good job performance, Wiens believes.

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’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.

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.

. . . 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.

“Applicants who don’t think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren’t important,” Wiens writes.

Via Ed Week Teacher.

About Joanne


  1. Finally. At least there’s one. Of course, sadly, too many CEOs themselves have poor grammar skills. It’s not really professional – but, then again, if they can do the business side of the job, perhaps they are refuting the necessity of grammar skills. Emotional intelligence seems to be as significant in success.

  2. Sigivald says:

    I absolutely concur.

    Makes me not at all afraid of the vast majority of the current generation in terms of job competition, either.

  3. About seven years ago, my DD was one of 16 summer interns at a Manhattan PR firm and was the only one allowed to write anything. Even though many of the others were from Ivies and other elite schools, their writing skills were weak enough to keep them running errands and filing. (They weren’t very happy to see her writing press releases, either) I wouldn’t be surprised if the firm changed its application process for the next year’s interns; to require “live” writing samples with no outside editing.

  4. I know that I’ve passed on more than one resume because it was full of grammar and spelling errors. I might be able to look the other way for someone who doesn’t speak English as their native tongue, but not for people who have spent their whole lives speaking English.

    It probably means their education is deficient in other areas too.

  5. I had a principal a few years ago who had two errors on her resume. She was one of the best principals I’ve had, and there have been plenty.

    There is far to much, er, too much, emphasis on grammar.

  6. Obi-Wandreas says:

    I have loved iFixit since the days when they were They publish free, step-by-step guides that have helped me to strip every PowerBook, iBook, or MacBook I’ve ever owned (as well as a few iPhones) down to their motherboards.

    This is only possible because their instructions are clear, concise, and logical. That doesn’t happen by accident – you have to be able to draw up a plan, and pay attention to details.

    Everyone has the occasional slip up; likewise, we all have our nitpicks and pet peeves (personally, hearing someone say ‘different than’ is akin to fingernails on a chalkboard). I agree with Wiens, however. If you can speak a language for your entire life without learning how to do it properly, it is only natural for others to wonder what else you merely think you can do.

    Just as those who struggle with the basic handling of numbers and operations will be at a significant disadvantage with more complicated mathematics, those who lack mastery of the basics of language will have extreme difficulty in basic communication. How can you expect someone to logically analyze a statement if they don’t comprehend the basics of how grammar works?

    • I had a college English professor who would give a maximum grade of “C” to a paper containing a split infinitive. Over 40 years later, I still cringe when I read,
      “to better prepare, serve etc.”

      I’ve also read, in several different places, that college kids (even law and med students!) have difficulty with academic writing (textbooks and journal articles) because they can’t decipher the meaning of complex sentences. The presence of several clauses or modifiers separated from the words to which they refer is beyond them.

      Grammar simply isn’t taught often, either in k-12 or in college. Only one of my kids’ MS teachers taught grammar seriously, including diagramming, and she was about 70 years old. When I was in college, English majors in the College of Arts and Sciences had to take “Structure of the English Language” and “Stylistics”, in that order, from a professor who didn’t know the meaning of grading on a curve. A “B” in both classes was a requirement for English majors (I can’t remember about minors). English majors in the College of Education didn’t have to take either, more’s the pity.

      • Sorry about the format error in the first paragraph; I obviously hit “enter” without meaning to do it.

  7. That’s funny, because Strunk and White say that some infinitives improve with splitting, and Fowler says — at much greater length — that it is sometimes better to split infinitives to avoid ambiguity or “patent artificiality”.

  8. The rule against split infinitives comes from over-reliance on Latin. It has no place in English.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    As the author of “Eats Shoots and Leaves” or “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves” tells us so delightfully, grammar is structure and structure affects meaning.

    “No dogs please.”
    “Actually, they do. They rather make a point of it.”

  10. Roger Sweeny says:

    In many languages (including Latin), it is impossible to split infinitives because they are one word. English infinitives are two words, giving us the possibility of splitting them when it makes the meaning clearer or the words flow better. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

    As Winston Churchill said of another unreasonably strict grammatical rule, “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I cannot put.”

  11. Barry Garelick says:

    Since there is rebellion evinced here against the rule prohibiting split infinitives, let’s give the passive voice a fair hearing as well and stop avoiding it. No one writes “A cigarette was smoked by him” so let’s get real and see where the passive is useful. And it is.