Poor Grammar, Poor Impression
I wrote the column below two years ago, but that’s irrelevant, because the situation continues. I tend to run it every few months, this time because I’m not only seeing it in cover letters, but several of us were discussing it on FB this week. I don’t care about casual communication between friends, but resumes, cover letters, websites...That there’s a plethora of applicants for almost every job is no secret. But a company needs only one reason to jettison you from consideration, and this one can be prevented easily.

I’ve become increasingly concerned about the ignorance of Americans – not those who have learned English as a second language, but native English speakers – regardless of race, income level, schooling or other determining factors.

The number of people who read seems to be decreasing in direct proportion to the number of kids growing up with portable DVDs, and iPods. Television has become the preferred babysitter for children and the most effective way for adults to anesthetize themselves after a day’s work. Teachers, overworked and underpaid, seem to be fighting a losing battle – or are some perpetuating it?

These days I see egregious (horrible, outrageous, astoundingly bad) grammatical errors on resumes and cover letters, web sites, signs, emails to me...regardless of management or income level. Job hunters write asking me for “advise” (it should be “advice.” “Advice” is the noun; “to advise” is a verb).

Some of these are written by people who are in the job market hoping to be invited in for an interview, and their paperwork is full of punctuation and grammatical mistakes. Were they careless? Or do they not know? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the hiring authority doesn’t know the difference either.

The other day I saw the back of a company shirt that said: providing quality service since 10 years. A company shirt? How many were printed and are worn by employees who walk around advertising that that particular company has someone in an upper-level management position who didn’t catch the error or didn’t know the difference?

Here’s a sign I saw in a store a few weeks ago: We do not except credit cards. (It should be “accept”.)

Last week a senior level manager emailed me. He confused “its” and “it’s” in three different places. (”Its” is possessive. “It’s” is the contraction of “it is”.)

Here’s another example: I do product testing for a research panel. The product came with a slip of paper that said: “This commitment covers not discussing this product or it’s usage with others outside your home.” (It should have been “its”)

Here’s what really bugs me: the new rule that seems to have come into effect in the last year – if in doubt, add an apostrophe. So what’s happened is that people all over America have lost the understanding of the difference between plural and possessive (possessive gets an apostrophe, plural does not).

Your resume and your cover letter are not just a synopsis of your background. They are not just an introduction of you when you hope to be considered for an interview. First and foremost they are a brochure, and they are selling a product, and the product is you. If you wouldn’t go to an interview in blue jeans, don’t send your cover letter and resume with mistakes to a prospective employer.

If you were shopping for a new car, what would you think if all the Honda or Lexus or Toyota brochures had apostrophes in the wrong place? Or misspelled words? Or glaring grammatical errors? Would you know?

What about a flyer from your local grocery store? Or a promotional piece from your state representative?

On some level it’s going to make a difference as to what you think of that company or person. If they aren’t careful enough about their literature or sales material, what else don’t they pay attention to? Don’t rely on Microsoft Word’s ABC/Grammar checker. It isn’t able to discern if a word is spelled correctly but used out of context. The grammar checker won’t help you unless you have a fundamental understanding of grammar to begin with. In fact, if you defer to the grammar checker’s advice, you’ll probably increase your number of mistakes.

An excellent reference book – and a funny one – to keep on hand is The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. It’s easy to digest, has clever illustrations full of personality, and the examples make learning fun.

Don’t tell yourself good grammar doesn’t matter. Don’t tell yourself that your skills are more important. Above all, don’t tell yourself that everyone speaks poorly these days and the hiring authority won’t know or care. The ability to communicate, written and spoken, is of paramount importance – certainly in business. And it only becomes more valuable as fewer people are able to demonstrate it.