Wednesday, August 15, 2012

His litmus test?

Over at the Times is a (now somewhat notorious) discussion (or set of short pieces with comments) about whether kids today are learning - or need to learn - "grammar". It's headed by this quote:
"Grammar is my litmus test," the C.E.O. of iFixit wrote recently in the Harvard Business Review. "If job hopefuls can’t distinguish between 'to' and 'too,' their applications go into the bin."
Set aside whether you'd really want to work for that guy - or if he'd be that picky without 9% unemployment - and ask: do you think he's ever really met anyone - or read any application from anyone - who couldn't tell the difference between "in that direction" and "also"? Of course he hasn't. Just like he's never met anyone who'd say "Is that you are folder on the table?"

No. He's met people who misspell. Or mistype, and then don't notice it when they read over their resume (boy, do I know how easy that can be). Or perhaps have not learned how to spell. People who just need a second set of eyes on what they write (as, it used to be acknowledged, the best of writers do).

But "grammar" is not his litmus test. Spelling is not grammar. Ungrammatical sentences can be spelled correctly - "Is our children learning, and does they needing to?" - just as grammatical ones can have a misspelling or two. And as for the latter category, no one calls them ungrammatical as long as the fortunate writer didn't accidentally cross categories - for instance, who'd say "he didn't know whether to write or phoen" was "ungrammatical"? (Wrong, yes, of course, but ungrammatical?)

Moreover, something can be perfectly spelled and make no sense whatsoever, contribute not one original or creative idea to the discussion, and in fact be utterly without merit.

So not only is his litmus test not grammar, it's worthless to him. It doesn't measure what he thinks it's measuring. It allows him to arbitrarily winnow his stack of applications, but it has no real value as far as winnowing bad candidates out.

But it probably makes him feel smug and pleased whenever he puts an application "hoping too work for your company" into the bin.

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At 10:04 AM, August 26, 2012 Blogger Barry Leiba had this to say...

We can debate until the cows came home whether my use of "came" a few words ago was a typo, a spelling error, or a grammatical error. You might say that I obviously know how to use the proper tense, and that using past tense when I should have used present wasn't a grammatical error. Or you might say that Mr iFixit simply lumped grammar, usage, and spelling together for simplicity and convenience.

The real question, though, is whether errors (whatever kind) on a résumé should be cause for demerits, how much any particular error (or error type) should count, and how many negative points send the paper into the bin (or, today, send the bits into the bucket).

I don't have fixed numbers to put on those, and I doubt that I would bin a CV for a single "to much", but I will say this: Your résumé is your entry ticket into a boss's office. It's the first impression you get to leave with someone who might change your life. It's important. And because of its importance, it's worth spending the time on, checking it and re-checking it, and having it checked and re-checked by others. Errors of any kind on résumés should be rare, because people should be ultra-careful about getting them right.

And so I do find myself wondering, when I see a sloppy résumé, whether the candidate might be as sloppy with work. You've just presented me with your best... and it's not very good. What should I think?


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