Like it or Not, Grammar Matters When the Stakes Are High

By Geo Lucas | Career Tips

Mar 02
Woman Writing Multiple Times

By: Heidi Scott Giusto, Career Path Writing Solutions

Some people love grammar, some people hate grammar. Some people love serving dutifully as the “grammar police,” while others enjoy ridiculing grammar fanatics.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret most people don’t know: grammar can be arbitrary. Really. In English, some of our most rigid “rules” have no basis historically. They became rules because someone decided they should be. Take, for instance, split infinitives (which is when an infinitive is interrupted by another word). In actuality, it is not improper to split infinitives. The same can be said of ending a sentence with a preposition, depending on the context. Nevertheless, even if you and I know the world will continue spinning if I write “to quickly walk” rather than “to walk quickly,” the perceptions that people have about what constitutes proper grammar matter. (And the fact remains that not all grammar is arbitrary.)
If we accept that many people have strong beliefs about good grammar, then we must take grammar seriously, especially in professional settings.

So don’t be afraid of the red pen! If you are applying for a job, graduate school, an internship, or college, you must submit documents that have been edited and proofread meticulously. People will judge you based on your ability to write your application materials well, including your resumes, CVs, cover letters, statements of purpose, and your college essays. Especially when writing “high stakes” documents that will be judged among many other—possibly even thousands of—applicants, bad grammar can be your kiss of death. Moreover, Millennials are facing scrutiny for being too informal. This bias can result in a person judging a younger applicant’s grammatical error more negatively than an older applicant’s mistake.
Businesses must not overlook the importance of impeccable grammar either. Once I saw a business card that had the following tagline: “Reliable. Qualty. Professional.” Whoops! Granted, misspelling “quality” is more of a typo than a grammatical error, but the conclusion is the same. The reader will doubt the quality of the business (pun intended).

To illustrate the need for good grammar for a job seeker, read the following sentences, which could appear at the end of an exceptionally well-crafted cover letter:

“Thank you for you’re consideration. Its been a pleasure corresponding with you about this opportunity, and I look forward to hearing from you in the future.”

A reader would likely toss the application to Pile B (the “No” pile) because of those sentences, even if everything else in the application seemed perfect. Why? If a person makes a careless mistake once (“you’re” instead or “your”), she can hope the reader will not catch it or will understand that proofreading mistakes happen to all of us now and again.

But two errors (also “Its” instead of “It’s”) will probably be considered inexcusable. Why? Those two errors reflect on the applicant’s attention to detail, ability to write well, and general attitude. Is that unfair? Perhaps. But it is reality.

Most schools, employers, and selection committees are overwhelmed with applicants, and they need to look for ways to weed people out. Of course, some people may get accepted even with a grammatical error or two. But that’s not a risk I recommend taking.

Note: This article was originally published in Resources, Career Path Writing Solutions.

About Heidi Scott Giusto, PhD, CPRW, CEIP
Career Path Writing Solutions LLC

Heidi delights in empowering job seekers to present their best selves to potential employers—on paper and in person. Heidi holds a Ph.D. from Duke University and is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, a Certified Employment Interview Professional, a member of the Professional Association of Résumé Writers & Career Coaches, and a Career Thought Leaders Associate. She is a frequent public speaker and leads workshops in the RTP area on resumes, cover letters, interview preparation, and LinkedIn.

At Lucas Select, based in Raleigh, NC, we are passionate about technology startups and about sales and marketing as professions and have built extensive national networks of top-performing executives and managers. Unlike typical staffing agencies and headhunters, our recruiting services ensure that your company maintains a sustained growth model that is supported by strong sales management, talent recruitment at scale balanced by on-going people development while aligning with your Company’s core values.

About the Author

Geo Lucas has 20+ years experience in sales, staffing and consulting with B2B technology-based companies.

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