The importance of Spelling, Grammar and Word Usage in Applications
I was speaking to one of my clients the other day about a huge batch of applications they had received from around the world on a recently advertised position. It was remarkable how many of these had errors in spelling, grammar problems, and in general a problem with English. I realize that it's difficult for a non-native English speaker to get things 100%, but the best attempt needs to be made.
In many cases, notably from South Asia, cover letters and CVs use words that are not used in normal conversation. Take the word "Esteemed" for example . . . When was the last time you used that word when talking to a friend or colleague? Not often! Perhaps not ever! But here it is, in dozens and dozens of cover letters, where young scientists are writing cover letters with the stated goal of "working for your esteemed organization." Why not write the way that you talk? That's the key to a good letter or CV.
In the spelling errors department, for some reason the word "Career" gets misspelled all the time by non-native speakers. Or the word "Experience" . . . Or the word "Professional." I started wondering by the 100th CV why so many people were getting these spelled wrong, when I realized that what they are doing is relying on WORD's spell checker, and they have their spellcheck set to pass over any words that are capitalized. Big mistake!
When supplying an application, or worse yet when writing a networking contact about a job opportunity, review your materials carefully. Don't use words that wouldn't be used in normal conversation, and ensure that the absolute best foot is going forward.
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum
A certain amount of leeway can be given to those for whom English is not their mother tongue; English can be odd. (Please note that I do not include our British friends in this group, even though George Bernard Shaw once said that the US and Britain are "two countries separated by a common language" - sorry, couldn't resist 😉 )
However, I am personally inclined to give little leeway to native English-speakers who abuse the language. For those who are unsure about punctuation, I recommend "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" by Lynne Truss - it is the most enjoyable book that I have ever read on the subject of punctuation and will help you to understand when you should or not use various punctuation - and in a way that's much more fun than that boring teacher you had in 5th grade... Absolutely worth reading even for those of you who think you already know all of that.
PS - For those who don't get the title: "Eats Shoots and Leaves" describes the diet of a panda in the wild, while "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" describes the scene in "The Godfather" where Michael Corleone kills a gangster and a crooked cop after breaking bread with them.
Gotta disagree with you on that Dick -- perhaps because I've got so many international clients around the world, and they work with their documents in English. If you're applying for a job in a language you don't know well, use the words you know and not the words you never hear.
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum
Agree with your point, Dave - a lot of times the transliteration is done with a dictionary, or something with Google, which can lead to strange constructions. I also agree completely with your point with some of the silliness, as when I get an email from someone wishing to join my "esteemed" one-man consulting company. As I said before, I will give a bit (a BIT) of leeway to non-native English speakers. My problem is when I get that same construction (without the "esteemed") from a person born and educated here in the USA. I once received a letter that said something like "After much investigation, I have found that the position desired by me is not available, and would therefore like to discuss accepting your offered position." This was from someone educated here and, disregarding the utter idiocy of his assumption that I should hire him, his sentence construction was abysmal! I saved this for years to read in career seminars as an example of how to do everything wrong.
There are cultures where the English used and way of communication is very different compared to us in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, or Australia and I'll include South Africa here havng an Angelo speaking element for discussion. And alot of is in inherent in the way English is taught and used- such that our way of communicating in the above 6 countries is not that in other countries. In other words, beyond the 6 countries noted, they don't know any better to adjust, as it has been what the have been exposed to ever since say birth or when they started learning English. Ex-US most of the English taught is British English and the ways of teaching can often be ...well antiquated and not up to modern times it terms of language teaching and materials..i have heard of English teachers using Shakespear!! aye aye aye. So that's the issue. I'm with you for spelling but when you start going out of say the English 6 - then well ....have high tolerance...if that is...um...tolerable.
I don't know how to explain us natives who have poor communication skills in English...other than ignorance and low self awareness of communication skills - in that situation, i'd rather the non-native English speaker who just doesn't know better.
I work in international environments where we speak "international English" where its English as a second language that dominates even though we have colleagues from the 6 countries noted - that means our syntax is a bit off at times. But irrespective of off syntax there is a bit of harmonization on word usage and grammar where the spoken and writing language is recognizable and most importantly, workable. Some syntax errors you can see on job applications - to Dick's point not sufficient for a rule out. And that's the key point, recognizable and workable. Start going off on language like "join your highly esteemed business" - well that starts the line of going to the area of un recognizable or not workable. Get BS like that from us natives..well..dump that CV in the garbage.
Work environments will certainly influence level of tolerance - so how much communication exposure and essential is that needed in the context of some back-office, low visability ..albeit highly valued...technical jobs vs. front-facing, high-visablity jobs....with questionable value (ahem that's a joke).
No excuse for spelling. I'm terrible at it but on an application ..i'm full on accurate. Only when I'm hired i let my true spelling incompetency or ignorance shine. By then its too late.