A few weeks ago I received an email from a candidate for a job I recently filled. His grammar, in the email, wasn’t great. The job requires writing, so I asked for a writing sample. The writing sample I received was riddled with spelling and grammar errors.
When I rejected the candidate, because of his bad grammar and spelling, some of my friends defended the candidate saying that spelling didn’t predict how successful someone would be and that poor writing is incredibly common in this country.
Their comments reminded me of the graduate level leadership class I taught a few years ago. Many of my master’s level students’ grammar was so poor, when I handed back my students’ first papers, I gave them a grammar lesson. Some class members were so offended and annoyed by this, they reported me to the dean, telling her that they did not pay $1500 for a grammar lesson. My stand remains the same.
I don’t care how great a leader you are. If you discredit yourself in every email you send by using bad grammar, your career will be limited.
Here are some common examples of bad grammar in both written and spoken communication:
- “A lot” is two words.
- Incentify is not a word. Incent is.
- Too means also. To does not.
- There is no B in supposedly.
- Your crazy aunt can only visit once a year without you wanting to change your address, and this does not mean that you’re a bad person.
- You accept advice. You advise others.
- There is no X in especially.
- You lose your marbles when you don’t get enough sleep. Your jeans become loose when you stop eating Snickers bars.
- You accept advice, except when you think the other person isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.
- Irregardless is not a word. Regardless is.
- “Where you at?” “Where are you,” will do.
- Please put your contact information on the bottom of your initial and reply emails. This is not a grammar thing, it would just be helpful.
Call me picky or old school. But I suspect that when you hear these errors made in conversation or see them in writing, you judge the other person. I know most hiring managers do. Hiring managers want to know employees can write reports and email clients without embarrassing the company.
You will be eliminated as a job candidate if your resume has typos. People will judge you when you use incorrect English. They won’t tell you they’re judging your bad grammar. They’ll do it quietly or talk about you when you’re not there.
I spoke at a conference a few weeks ago where an attendee asked how to tell an employee she was going to be fired because her writing was so poor. She maintained client files and wrote client correspondence. Clients’ names were often wrong, in her written notes, as was spelling and grammar. The typos and grammar errors were a deal breaker. And they may be in your job as well.
Have someone proofread a few of your emails and reports, and ask for feedback on your writing. Ask the coworkers you’re close to to tell you when you make grammar errors in meetings. Of course you want them to tell you privately, after the meeting.
I write a bi-monthly column for the Denver Business Journal. I’m grateful that my editor reads this blog and emails me the typos and errors I make. I am not exempt.
Clean up your bad grammar and your writing, and accelerate your career. I promise it will work.