June 24, 2018

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Poor Grammar, Poor Impression

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.

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. 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 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 S, 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 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 the number of mistakes.

An excellent reference book to keep on hand is The Elements of Grammar by Margaret Shertzer. In "Words Often Confused" it clarifies the differences between pairs of words such as "well" and "good".

Don't tell yourself it 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.

- Judi Perkins

Judi Perkins, owner of Bethel-based VisionQuest, has been a search consultant for 25 years. She operates the web site

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