Why Good Grammar (and Teeth) are Important for Getting a Job

Earlier this week, the online dating website released the results of a study on what singles look for in potential dating partners. The results weren’t particularly surprising, but the prioritization was. Number one on the list – nice teeth. Number two – good grammar. It makes sense. A first date is an introduction to what could possibly (and for some, hopefully) be a long-term relationship. And who wants to spend the next several years of their life with someone who sounds uneducated…or who has bad teeth?

It’s not hard to make the analogy to a job interview. Again, we’re talking about an introduction that could potentially lead to a long-term relationship between an employer and employee. Granted, nice teeth will probably not get you the job (though we have established that appearance does play an important role in the workplace). Grammar skills, on the other hand, are essential!

There are a number of reasons why someone may use poor grammar. Whether it be cultural background, educational background or simply not knowing the difference between good or bad grammar, here’s an important piece of advice when interviewing for a job: learn the difference in good and bad grammar, and know when to use it.

Every good performer knows his or her audience, and plays to it. No matter how talented a pop or hip-hop artist may be, they know that their music probably would not be well received by the audience at a Royal Philharmonic Orchestra concert. When interviewing for a job, the interview is your stage, and your potential future employer is your audience. Give them the show they came to see, and if you do well, you’ll be invited back for an encore.

Now, I know there are plenty of exceptions to every rule. If I were interviewing with Citibank, the way I presented myself would be very different than if I were interviewing with Wu-Tang Corp., and grammar would be no exception. But my advice remains the same – know your audience, and play to it.

Keep in mind that grammar isn’t limited to verbal communication. Most of the time, a candidate’s resume is the first contact he or she has with an employer. Obviously, I shouldn’t have to stress how important spelling and grammar are on a resume. One of the most overused descriptors when describing oneself to a prospective employer is “detail-oriented.” What better way to disprove that than applying for a job with a resume full of grammatical errors? I know, some will say that unless you’re applying for a writing or editing position, a lack of grammar skills doesn’t inhibit your ability to do your job. But I beg to differ. EVERY job requires attention to detail in some aspect. Bad grammar shows a lack of it. Lack of attention to detail translates into mistakes, regardless of industry, and no employer wants to hire an employee who requires damage control. So before you ask a potential employer to entrust you with confidential company information or thousands of dollars of company equipment, you should prove you know the difference between “you’re” and “your.”

In addition to screening applicants’ resumes by spelling and grammar, some employers will go as far as issuing a grammar test to prospective employees. Online repair community iFixit and software company Dozuki are two such companies. According to the companies’ CEO Kyle Wiens:

Grammar signifies more than just a person’s ability to remember high school English. 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. In the same vein, programmers who pay attention to how they construct written language also tend to pay a lot more attention to how they code. All applicants say they’re detail-oriented; I just make my employees prove it.

Of course, exceptions can be made for those who are not native English speakers. But for those who are speaking their native tongue, consider the learning curve you’re demonstrating to employers. “You’ve been speaking the language how long? And you still haven’t mastered it? Is this the same learning curve we can expect when taking on a new assignment, or learning our company’s products?”

Make no mistake, if you aren’t detail-oriented, your interviewer will be. With all the preparation that goes into a job interview and all the skills you’ve worked to acquire that led to your being offered the interview, don’t eliminate yourself because of something as fundamental as grammar.

By John Feldmann

John Feldmann is a Senior Communications Specialist for Insperity in Houston, TX. With over a decade of marketing and employment branding experience in the recruiting and human resources industries, John specializes in employment- and HR-related content development for a variety of media types in order to communicate Insperity's brand to both business professionals and job seekers. Follow John on X @John_Feldmann.