Tuesday, July 24, 2012

CEO Won't Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar

Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, the largest online repair community, and founder of Dozuki, a software company dedicated to helping manufacturers publish amazing documentation, explains on the Harvard Business Review blog why "I Wont' Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here's Why":

"I am a grammar "stickler." I have a "zero tolerance approach" to grammar mistakes that make people look stupid.

Everyone who applies for a position at either of my companies, iFixit or Dozuki, takes a mandatory grammar test. If job hopefuls can't distinguish between "to" and "too," their applications go into the bin.

Yes, language is constantly changing, but that doesn't make grammar unimportant. 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 makes good business sense — and not just when it comes to hiring writers. Writing isn't in the official job description of most people in our office. Still, we give our grammar test to everybody, including our salespeople, our operations staff, and our programmers.

On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair. After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?

Wrong. 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. So, even in this hyper-competitive market, I will pass on a great programmer who cannot write.

Grammar signifies more than just a person's ability to remember high school English. 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.

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.

That's why I grammar test people who walk in the door looking for a job. Grammar is my litmus test. All applicants say they're detail-oriented; I just make my employees prove it."

HT: Chris Matheson

12 Comments:

At 7/24/2012 11:25 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Hmmm, you some minority/quota type hasn't brought down the wrath of the EEOC on this Mr Wiens?!?!

Well good for Mr. Wiens!

 
At 7/25/2012 12:31 AM, Blogger Highgamma said...

Anything can be a litmus test. The question is whether you sort people as you'd like. Will you throw out good employees more than you would with a standard approach? Will you hire more bad employees who happen to have good grammar? Given the state of our secondary school system, I suspect that you will get few false positives, though you will probably get a lot of false negatives. Given that false positives (hiring bad employees) is so incredibly expensive, I suspect that this is a good litmus test, as long as you are in a weak economy.

 
At 7/25/2012 1:27 AM, Blogger Don Culo said...

Kyle Wiens, may be a "stickler" for grammar but he should also be a "stickler" for useful information on his web-sites.

The iFixit site has luseless information about the repair of laptop computers. You can find laptop repair manuals on any of the major manufactures web-sites which render his web-site manuals to junk.

I want "too" warn users "too" avoid iFixit.

 
At 7/25/2012 7:45 AM, Blogger J Storrs Hall said...

" how to properly use "it's," " ????

That's a split infinitive!

 
At 7/25/2012 7:59 AM, Blogger polskababe said...

I like this guy!

 
At 7/25/2012 8:04 AM, Blogger Jon Murphy said...

It's not just about the grammar issue (although I do see its importance). This is also about attention to detail. I once had a boss who said he would never hire anyone who did not polish the back of his shoes. He said any fool can polish the front, but a dedicated person will polish the back.

 
At 7/25/2012 9:06 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/25/2012 9:11 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

the funny part is that his grammar is not very good.

who starts a sentence with "and" in a formal communication?

his sentence structure is simplistic, boring, and monotonous.

"Writing isn't in the official job description of most people in our office. Still, we give our grammar test to everybody, including our salespeople, our operations staff, and our programmers. "

you think this should be two sentences? really?

"On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair. After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?"

ditto.

kyle writes horribly. if your words are all you have online, then kyle himself would never be allowed to work at any online venture i was running. he would have been laughed out of my high school english class writing like this.

oh, and ending sentences with a preposition in a rant about grammar? come on kyle. it's like you are trying to make fun of yourself.

grammar is important to be sure, but so is flow, meter, and contextual structure. kyle's writing is stupefyingly boring to read as it is repetitive and invariant in structure. (though at least he does avoid overuse of the verb "to be") it reads like a 2nd grader discussing how he spent his summer break.

we went to a zoo. it was fun. we saw a lion and a bear. and i got peanuts! they made my tummy hurt. still, it was fun!

alas, i fear that the real takeaway here is that you would never want to work for kyle. he is obsessed with your grammar and writing, but has poor grammar and writing of his own.

bosses like that tend to be impossible.

 
At 7/25/2012 9:23 AM, Blogger Linda Seebach said...

Split infinitives are not ungrammatical, though many people believe they are. I wonder whether his grammar test is itself free of reliance on commonly held but incorrect beliefs about the subject. If he thinks that the distinction between "to" and "two" is a matter of grammar, it may well not be.

 
At 7/25/2012 1:49 PM, Blogger misterjosh said...

Thankfully, there is no official authority as to whether something is ungrammatical or not. Split infinitives used to be completely verboten, but now are generally allowed.

Maybe someday "its" will disappear entirely and "it's" will have two meanings.

I'm afraid that I would have to stand fast on there/their/they're and loose/lose, but I may be in the minority.

Just as split infinitives have gone from bad to OK, the word grammar is itself is being reinterpreted. Linguists may pedantically insist on the older more restrictive meaning, but it has come to be understood as Wiens used it by many if not most people.

That said, while I might be able to pass Wiens' test, he sounds like a bit of a jackass - I'm not sure I'd want to work for him. Hasn't he heard that in this day and age, ending a sentence with a preposition is where it's at?

 
At 7/25/2012 11:05 PM, Blogger zaqxsw said...

The name of the company is "iFixit" and they think grammar is really important?

Apparently grammar is more important than creativity or originality and does not include capitalization.

 
At 7/26/2012 7:54 AM, Blogger JakeW said...

I've always wondered why more employers don't make applicants take tests like this. Why no make applicants prove to you that they know how to use Excel, Access, Word, etc. and possess the skills they claim.

 

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