It’s or its? Too or to? Why it Matters to Your Career

Accountability Contribution Growth mindset


Key Point:

The following is a hilarious comment on the importance of grammar when getting a job by Kyle Wiens, as published in an HBR blog.

“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.

Some might call my approach to grammar extreme, but I prefer Lynne Truss‘s more cuddly phraseology: I am a grammar “stickler.” And, like Truss — author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves — I have a “zero tolerance approach” to grammar mistakes that make people look stupid.

Now, Truss and I disagree on what it means to have “zero tolerance.” She thinks that people who mix up their itses, “deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave,” while I just think they deserve to be passed over for a job — even if they are otherwise qualified.”

How do you feel about using grammar as a screening filter for recruitment?

Have you heard some of the well-informed commentary by experts during the 2012 London Olympics? Whether swimming, gymnastics, or any event for that matter, people who really understand a sport can describe how executing, based on minute details, is most often the difference between gold and silver. Learning and practicing a skill based on putting together specific best practice details is the key to excellence in almost anything. This means we have to have a willingness to learn and a tenacity to really improve. Hence the argument that if someone hasn’t learned basic grammar and is not able to attend to detail in a resume, why would one assume they would be able to learn and attend to detail in a job? Is this too harsh? I’m not so sure. When you have experienced anything of extraordinary excellence, how much of it came down to an obsessive attention to detail?

Character Moves:

  1. How much of a stickler are you for details in your work?
  2. If you outlined the key processes of the elements in your role at work, what would be the differentiating details? How can you practice delivering and improving on them?
  3. Do you have the will power and tenacity to be excellent? Is being mediocre good enough? Perhaps your customers are just too fussy and demanding.
  4. Why not create your own personal Olympics? What are the specifics that would earn you a gold medal? Is it more important for you to be good or to constantly improve?

Details in the Triangle,


P.S. If you want to find out if you’re truly a “grammar geek,” take this quick quiz