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The importance of spelling… If a thirteen-year old can do it, why can’t we?

Julian Smith photo 

Julian Smith

Around a month ago, the Scripps National Spelling Bee championship in the United States produced not one, but two winners – declaring a tie for the first time since 1962, after both candidates, aged 13 & 14, had performed head-to-head for five rounds without making a single mistake against the computer (spelling words such as feuilleton). Contrast this with the amount of posts I read on LinkedIn, company websites, marketing emails and even (say it isn’t so!) the BBC, which contain rather obvious spelling and grammatical mistakes. World cup fans might also have noticed ITV advertising games against Columbia rather than Colombia all over their screens – and again, this looks sloppy at best, and uneducated at worst.


Photo- Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

(Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)

Now, before I set myself up for a fall, my syntax may not be the best in the world, but I’m neither a professional marketer nor a writer. The last time I was taught any grammar was when I studied Italian at night school many moons ago – which I can’t even translate into Italian! And yes, I sometimes wonder how to spell certain words, or get a total ‘blank’ at the worst possible moment. Ironically, one of the most challenging words for me is the past participle of misspell (misspelt or misspelled?). No doubt the purists (which I’m not) will find plenty of fodder in this article, despite the fact that I aim to keep it short…


Many people post on LinkedIn as a kind of marketing tool, but surely this fails if all they are really doing is highlighting bad spelling or a lack of attention to detail. I recently read a marketing post with less than 10 words, one of which was wrongly spelled (note how I’ve avoided the above conundrum!). The word was humerus, and since the post was nothing to do with arms, I suspect the author – an international management consultant – meant humorous. A simple spelling mistake completely changed not only the meaning of the sentence, but also how I viewed the blogger! If I wanted somebody with strong attention to detail, I probably wouldn’t be hiring him…


Before this turns into a rant on spelling, lamenting the low standards we put up with these days, let me give you a few examples as to why I believe good spelling is critical:


  • It explains (without ambiguity) exactly what you mean.
  • It impresses people
  • It gets you jobs, contracts or new clients
  • It allows you to compete with others who have learned English as a foreign language


The last point probably seems rather paradoxical, but during my thirteen years’ experience as a recruitment consultant, I have seen the gulf in language skills widen to the point where candidates who have learned English as a foreign language often tend to have better grammatical and spelling skills – and this often shows in both cover letters and CVs, and often leads to native English speakers missing out on interviews.


I have recently run a recruitment campaign on behalf of a professional body, recruiting to eight separate roles, across the organisation. Many of the application forms received were sloppy at best, containing bad spelling, repetition of words, poor syntax or missing prepositions – even for the most senior roles – and when it came to recruiting for an Executive Assistant role, the number of poorly-written personal statements almost doubled! In fact, the shortlist for a Head of Education role contained 50% of candidates who have learned English as a second language – which might seem ironic to some, but not surprising to those of us who have seen a gradual decline in standards over the past decade.


So why exactly does good spelling matter? For me, good spelling inspires trust. Trust that I can delegate work, without having to check the detail, trust that somebody will be able to send high-quality emails or correspondence in my name, and trust that the level of education attained is sufficiently high enough that the person in question can think and act for themselves.


I want to end this blog article on a plea. If you share my frustration in falling spelling standards, and being surrounded by people who can’t spell (and I don’t mean the fabulous team at I Am!), then stand up and be counted! Be proud of the fact that you can spell, or that you know when to use an apostrophe! It is only by reminding people how important good spelling is, that we can stop the gradual decline in standards.


Oh, and by the way, if you have excellent grammar, spelling and a strong command of the English language, send me your CV! Britain needs you – and so does I Am Recruiting!


With a recruitment career spanning 13 years, Julian Smith coaches professionals on their career paths, as well as helping people who by their own definition, find themselves ‘stuck in a rut’. He runs CV workshops and 1-2-1s, as well as working with Life Coach of the Year, Charlotta Hughes, on the popular ‘Find a Job you’ll Love’ workshop. Details of all of the I Am Group’s events can be found here.


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