If you use poor grammar, don’t look for a job at online repair community iFixit. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, CEO and founder Kyle Wiens describes his no apologies approach to hiring. “If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me,” he writes. “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 job at Wiens’ companies takes a mandatory grammar test. “If job hopefuls can’t distinguish between ‘to’ and ‘too,’ their applications go into the bin,” he writes. Too harsh? Too bad. Grammar, he notes, 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 posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, 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.”
But grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right? Wiens is having none of it. “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.” he writes.
“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.”
It’s a nice reminder that the real world has its own stubborn metrics for judging how well we prepare our students and how they will be perceived. Mark Bauerlein made a similar point not long ago about the real world value of cultural literacy. “It counts a lot more in professional spheres than academics and educators realize,” he wrote.
Wiens’ piece has struck a nerve. (Wait. Should that be “Wiens’ piece?” Or “Wiens’s piece?” I’m suddenly self-conscious) An astonishing 1800 reader comments have been posted since it went up a week ago. Many have taken delight in spotting errors made by Wiens himself. “Could I politely point out that ‘to properly use it’s’ is a split infinitive and incorrect?” chides one. “Why is your company called ‘iFixit’ and not ‘I fix it’ then?” says another. No small number take issue with Wiens dismissing creativity, leadership, and people skills in favor of mere pedantry.
Maybe so. But he’s the boss.