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Spelling disaster. By Sarah Fletcher


Most employers claim they're frustrated by the many errors littering CVs, so why do almost half admit they treat issues such as chewing gum, flirting and even dress code more seriously than spelling and grammar? The Department for Education and Skills says employers aren't doing enough to tackle the problem; so if companies refuse to address the situation, does this spell disaster for business?

Application forms and CVs often provide evidence of candidates that can't spell and won't spell; and employers aren't happy, the DfES reports. Research released this month by the government skills body reveals that 46 percent of employers think poor spelling and grammar on application documents counts against the candidate. Judging by the reaction of HR Zone members to this study, the figure is much higher – a poorly presented CV was universally criticised, as it proves the applicant isn't particularly bothered about creating a good impression.

"It's such inverse snobbery to say that spelling and grammar don't matter," argues HR Director RoseMarie Loft. "How has this opinion that such a demonstration of poor education, lousy attention to detail and lack of caring in how you present yourself become acceptable?" HR manager Jo Guy agrees: "It definitely affects my decision if I receive a CV which has poor spelling or grammar. It is sloppy and shows lack of care and thought, and if they present themselves to a company in this way, how can you trust them to represent your company to the outside world any differently?"

"If they present themselves to a company in this way, how can you trust them to represent your company to the outside world any differently?"

Jo Guy, HR manager

So who's responsible for such errors? "Dumb Britain is the result of years of trying to make everyone equal and as with all these kinds of initiatives (à la communism, for example), we end up reducing everyone to the same level rather than raising them up," argues training consultant Nik Kellingley. "It's time British employers took some responsibility for training and developing staff, rather than complaining about the lack of qualified and skilled individuals – It's no surprise that when more than 70 percent of employers spend little or no money on training that people are not becoming more skilled," he adds.

Guy, however, disagrees: "It is not the employer's responsibility to teach employees how to spell or write a grammatically correct letter. Everyone leaving school should have been taught these skills," she states. However, expecting the government to fix the problem won't ease the immediate strain upon employers. Even if schools boost their emphasis upon spelling and grammar, it will take a number of years to trickle through to the industry. As such, it's in the employer's interest to take a constructive attitude towards its workers' linguistic skills. "It shouldn't be HR's job to fix school mistakes, but we need to accept that may be the case," says Nikki Brun.

"Dumb Britain is the result of years of trying to make everyone equal and as with all these kinds of initiatives (à la communism, for example), we end up reducing everyone to the same level rather than raising them up"

Nik Kellingley, training consultant

Plus, it's often in the employer's interest to address this issue: "By treating these shortcomings like any other skills gap, employers retain valuable employees and protect themselves from discrimination claims," adds HR manager Lauren Chesney. As poor spelling could indicate a learning disability or that English isn't the employee's first language, why reduce your talent pool because of only one specific skills area? If the CV was free of mistakes (and if it wasn't, you really walked yourself into this one), the issue isn't necessarily one of laziness but of weakness in one particular field.

Finally, if poor spelling and grammar is getting you down, just be glad you didn't have to contend with 'creative' email addresses. During a recent interviewing course, Brun says her peers were faced with quite a shock: "It amazed many [HR managers] that there was a lack of professionalism in some email addresses – [email protected] certainly prejudiced many!"

By Sarah Fletcher

3 Responses

  1. Bad Speling
    I think there is a sociological phenomenon here to be identified – and dealt with.

    Those of us who were ‘taught to spell’ at school (and examined accordingly) tend to value accuracy of the written world very highly. No surprise we may then judge others accordingly!

    Those who (more recently, and increasingly?) have not been so taught, unsurprisingly, do not value this.

    I include almost all ‘older’ generations in the first camp (please don’t ask me to be specific about ages! – let’s just say your age and older?), and almost all of our childrens’ generations in the second.

    It could be that in 20 year’s time or so, accurate spelling will become either optional or unnecessary. (I think it will only be pedants like me who might delay this!)

    But in the meantime, much as I always admire Nick K’s contributions, this is certainly NOT for Employers to address as he suggests, but Educationalists if they may ever be so minded for an age group not yet beyond redemption, driven only by popular demand, economic need or (who knows in today’s climate?) political diktat.

    At the moment, I see none of these three drivers at work in supporting good spelling in our wider community, save only the more specific economic and possibly parental pressures from reactionaries like me and you who may read this – who may well regret the passing of what we found to be essential life-skills when we were starting our own careers.

    But then, when I and my brothers all graduated, not only were we expected to spell perfectly, know the square-root of minus 1 and the difference between ‘infer’ and ‘imply’, we were expected to know that hush-puppies should not be worn at work, nor a jersey under a suit jacket, and everyone more senior than us should only ever be referred to by their surname.

    More recently, I find my younger daughters are all expected to know far more than I ever did about relationships, team dynamics and our much wider social-economy. This dont always need impeccable speling like, wtg, nor whats-is-name grammer thingy yeknow, lol? But they are ever so much more effective in their peer relationships than many I meet much older than them.

    Take your pick, if you feel we may have to?

    Best wishes!


  2. Correct spelling and grammar should also be used by the professi
    I have been involved with the Recruitment industry for many years and one thing that I have noticed is that many of the “newer” generation Recruitment Professionals, particularly graduates, have minimal abilities when tasks require them to use correct spelling and grammar. This is often noticeable in writing advertisements; not just for the ‘hard copy’ press, but also for on-line advertising. I have the old fashioned belief that tests should be given on appointment.

  3. Plees cheque your speling!
    I thought you might like this poem which I found on a website. I use it to highlight to delegates on my training courses that we can’t rely on the computer to correct our mistakes.

    Spell Chequer!!

    Eye halve a spelling chequer
    It came with my pea sea
    It plainly marques four my revue
    Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

    Eye strike a key and type a word
    And weight four it two say
    Weather eye am wrong oar right
    It shows me strait a weigh.

    As soon as a mist ache is maid
    It nose be fore two long
    And eye can put the error rite
    Its rare lea ever wrong.

    Eye have run this poem threw it
    I am shore your pleased two no
    Its perfect all the weigh
    My chequer tolled me sew!

    I never cease to be amazed at the number of people who think that incorrect spelling is OK. They seem to forget that they are representing not only the image of the company but themselves too. As you say, the problem will not go away until educationalists take a stand…..And don’t get me started on the creeping use of text language!

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