I am a big fan of the stance taken in a recent Harvard Business Review blog that employers should avoid candidates with bad grammar, regardless of how much writing the job involves. The author of the post goes so far as to deliver a grammar test to all applicants. Nobody is perfect, even us English majors. But if you’re careful enough to use proper grammar and spelling, you’re likely to be careful in other areas of your life.
I know grammar isn’t emphasized in our education system. I studied English and creative writing in college and still haven’t had an actual grammar lesson since seventh grade. Yet if you’ve made it this far in life without mastering there/their/they’re, it might concern a potential employer or client. Correctly using its and it’s also shows an attention to detail. Everyone says they pay attention to details, but if your cover letter says “I look forward to learning more about you’re business,” what other details are you likely to miss?
Has this made you paranoid about your current grammar skills? Grammar Girls’ Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty and Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss are two great books on the basics. I think they are actually interesting reads, but I’m a general fan of the topic. Particularly Grammar Girl is a great resource to have on-hand, but she also has a website.
What is perhaps more important than knowing a bunch of grammar laws is being aware of the ones you don’t know. I have to look up capital/capitol every time. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen someone misuse a semicolon when two separate sentences would work perfectly. There’s no shame in not knowing these rules, but you need to know what you don’t know so you can find the right answer.
Even if you picked your career specifically to avoid writing, you can’t really. Sorry. While I’m sure you mom is very forgiving about your poorly punctuated emails, potential employers and coworkers might not be so forgiving. Cover letters, project proposals and emails are often your first impression for potential bosses and clients, so keep a careful eye on your commas and apostrophes.