Tuesday, May 21, 2019

How Unintentional Bad Grammar Can Cost You A Job

We all know that a poorly worded cover letter or thank you note can cost someone a job.  The sad part is that no one will tell you that this is why you were rejected.  Years ago, I sent out a candidate for an interview and received a copy of the thank you note he sent.  In it, the writer made a common error, writing “you're” instead of “your”. In the context of the letter ("I want to join you're team"), this small error stuck out in a huge way.  Until the letter, the candidate had been doing well, but eventually I found out that this caused him to be rejected.

Poor use of language while speaking can also cause rejection.  Sadly, most people don't even know that they are using poor grammar.  I cannot tell you how many people do not realize that media is plural and medium is singular. I hear people say that they work, “in different mediums” or that they are "knowledgeable in all mediums". You never heard of a mediums agency.  It is actually a common error which drives me crazy.  But so many people say this that it has become commonly acceptable. I wrote about this in 2011.

People often misuse that and which in cover letters.  Ditto who and whom. In written communication, errors tend to stand out – unless the reader doesn’t know the difference either. I get many letters and emails addressed, "To who it may concern."

In speaking, people often use nonexistent words.  Irregardless, misunderestimated and anyways are commonly used words that many consider nonexistent.  Or when people misuse among and between when speaking (may be the most common error).  

Would use of these words prevent me from sending a candidate on an interview?  Probably not.  But could use of these words prevent someone from being hired?  Possibly, especially for senior executives.  Managers want their executives to be articulate.  It is shocking to me how educated people can misspeak.  

I would urge everyone to buy and own a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.  It has been on my desk since I first read it in high school. I have given it to dozens of people who have worked for me. And everyone thanks me for it. In my opinion, there has never been a better reference book on language and usage.  The Fourth Edition, updated and published this year, remains a best seller and is in every book store or, of course, Amazon.


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  2. My friends and colleagues know that I'm a fanatic about proper grammar and spelling, probably to the point of being obnoxious. I just like the precision of correct language. Pet peeve: saying "you and I" when the correct use is "you and me" (as in, "they'll give you and I our tickets tomorrow.") Ugh. I've heard network news anchors get this wrong.

    1. My pet peeve is between and among. And everyone gets them wrong.

  3. As I understand it, 'between' is for two people/items and 'among' is for three or more, right?

  4. I really geek out on this stuff. I've researched how'flammable' and 'inflammable' came to mean the same thing, but I won't bore your readers.

  5. My biggest grammar gripe about people (anybody) with a purported “education” is their fundamental ignorance of the nominative and objective case, especially regarding prepositions, e.g., to, from, on, off, between, among, around, by, et al. Words that denote position to the object following the subject and verb. As if nobody ever learned how to diagram a sentence. Which makes me wonder about the quality of their schools or their ability to learn. In any case, I thank the nuns at New York’s St. Joseph’s Elementary and the brothers at Archbishop Molloy High School for holding my feet to the fire on grades for grammar, sentence and paragraph structure, and punctuation. And then came Hofstra University when submitting my MBA thesis. Absolutely brutal, and just when I thought I knew everything. But I made it and I thank them all (even the nuns who slapped me around for violating the “other” rules.). LOL …

  6. Me and Paul sure agree on this. Inarguably, grammer and spellning can reck a Resum. So awfel if youse dont pay atention to good righting habets.


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