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August 11, 2012

Why tech industry CEO Kyle Wiens gives a grammar test to all prospective employees


From the July 20 Harvard Business Review via yesterday's Wall Street Journal "Notable & Quotable" feature:

If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me. If you think a semicolon is a regular colon with an identity crisis, I will not hire you. If you scatter commas into a sentence with all the discrimination of a shotgun, you might make it to the foyer before we politely escort you from the building.

Everyone who applies for a position at either of my companies, iFixit or Dozuki, takes a mandatory grammar test. Extenuating circumstances aside (dyslexia, English language learners, etc.), if job hopefuls can't distinguish between "to" and "too," their applications go into the bin.

Grammar is relevant for all companies. Yes, language is constantly changing, but that doesn't make grammar unimportant. Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog post, on Facebook statuses, in emails, 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.

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.

August 11, 2012 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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warning - stay away from that dude - far away

Posted by: sherlock | Aug 12, 2012 1:57:34 AM

It is a given that grammar, punctuation, and spelling are important skills to master. Strange thing, most engineers can't communicate their ideas in proper, written English. They do communicate their ideas in a language that is both beautiful and subject to very strict rules of construction: mathematics.

Do I want a literate engineer that suffers from innumeracy, or do I want an illiterate engineer who can do the math? In the best of all worlds the choice would not exist. In the world that we live in, illiteracy and innumeracy are rife.

For every problem there is an answer that is simple, easy to apply, and wrong. Cutting a candidate because of their English skills where the essential job duties do not turn on that skill set is the height of folly.

Posted by: 6.02*10^23 | Aug 11, 2012 6:29:30 PM

Thanks, this is going on the wall.

Posted by: tamra | Aug 11, 2012 6:13:45 PM

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