The "Detial Oriented" Need Not Apply

by Cathy Vandewater | October 19, 2012

All applicants say they're detail-oriented; I just make my employees prove it," says Kyle Wiens. As the CEO of a software company who hires "code monkeys" (programmers), it makes sense that he'd need conscientious workers.

But Wiens has an unusual way of making sure new hires are competent: he gives them a grammar test.

Seem unrelated to coding work? Wiens doesn't think so. He explains this practice in Harvard Business Review:

"I hire people who care about those details. Applicants who 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."

Not all employers are doing grammar tests, but you'd still better make sure yours is on point—here's why Wiens think poor grammar means bad news for new hires:

1. It suggests inadaptability

"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," says Wiens. Most of us learn grammar not necessarily through being taught it in school, but by absorbing the patterns of language and speech in our day to day lives. A poor grasp of "too" vs. "to" signals a slowness to take in information, or appraise new situations.  

2. "Sloppy is as sloppy does"

Grammar is something most of us do without thinking much about it; we have a thought, we construct a sentence. But if we do it in a lazy, slovenly way, well, that's a pretty strong hint as to our natural tendencies. Writes Wiens, "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." Unrelated superficially, yes, but on a deeper level, the way we approach communicating is the way we approach many things.

3. It's a strong sign of incompetence—to customers

Even if Wiens deems an employee competent at, say, coding, grammar is still important for their image of competence when representing the company. "Writing isn't in the official job description of most people in our office," says Wiens. "Still, we give our grammar test to everybody, including our salespeople, our operations staff, and our programmers."

That's because, especially when it comes to the internet, grammar is credibility: "In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have," says Wiens. "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."

--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com

Read More:
I Won't Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here's Why. (Harvard Business Review)
6 Trickiest Interview Questions and How to Nail Them
Tighten Up: 6 Tips to Leaner, Meaner Resume

Filed Under: Interviewing | Job Search | Resumes & Cover Letters


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