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Please, Please Learn to Spell!!! (And a bit of good grammar would be a treat too)

By Pete Fellows.

First of all, I am very conscious of the irony of writing an article about bad grammar and spelling which itself may contain mistakes.  I’m being careful to avoid that but I think my key point holds irrespective of this.  That key point is quite simply this – if you are applying to a job, please try and use spelling and grammar correctly.  It will really minimise your chances of success if this is not the case. 

Bad Spelling

Why am I saying this now and isn’t it really obvious?  In respect to that latter point, you might think so yes, but apparently you would be wrong.   On the first point, we are recruiting for someone to work for us at the moment, and I grant you, there is some (deliberate) ambiguity to the way we have advertised the job and therefore the background of the candidate we are looking for.  However, this sentence in the job description, would, one might have thought, made our views quite clear:

“You should also be a pedant – good grammar and spelling are really important to us and we don’t want to be constantly marking your work because you don’t know the difference between ‘its’ and ‘it’s’.”

Given this is the case, why are we receiving applications which include terribly written CVs and covering letters?  A great deal of the mistakes would have been picked up using the spellchecker within MS Word or Open Office or indeed on the Chrome browser.  In some respects, the most worrying thing is that in many cases the mistakes are on the CVs (usually as well as the covering letter, if the candidate has bothered to include one).  If people are applying to a number of jobs then surely they would have checked and double checked their CV before distributing it?  Whilst they might make a mistake on one cover letter to one employer wrecking their chances in a single instance, a badly written CV will wreck their chance in every instance. 

It might surprise you that this surprises us.  We are recruiters after all.  However, we do not frequently recruit at graduate level and certainly amongst applications from patent and trade mark attorneys, errors are rare given the importance of language to each profession.  But all of this is very concerning to me.  What advice are job applicants receiving?  Are job boards making them lazy and actually detrimental to their potential success (once you have set up an account you can apply to roles with a single click, meaning that an application for each position is far less targeted)? 

We are also finding that applicants are not reading job advertisements thus completely wasting their time in applying.  The position to work for us is based in Yorkshire, it clearly states that in the advertisement (including giving directions to our office) and yet we have applicants who are surprised to hear that the job is not in London.  For a recent graduate entry patent attorney position we recruited (a bit of a rarity for us) we clearly stated that applicants needed to have a relevant scientific academic background and yet we had numerous applications from law graduates, who if they had simply done an Internet search for the term ‘patent attorney’ or indeed read our advertisement would have realised that a law degree was not what we were looking for unless they also had a degree in a related scientific discipline.

This is undoubtedly good news for applicants who do take care when applying for positions.  In our case competently written cover letters and well formatted CVs really stood out before we actually even began to focus on their content.  It gave these candidates a massive advantage right out of the gate.   But I simply don’t understand it.  We have had one applicant apply for the same job three times which was advertised on different sources but was clearly the same position (the advertisement contained exactly the same words on each site and is working for us, what are the chances we would be advertising three different roles on three different job boards with exactly the same text?).  What was he hoping to achieve?   Or, more likely, why hasn’t he done any due diligence before wasting his time in applying for positions?

As I said we don’t recruit at this level much and therefore we do not use mainstream job boards too frequently (our candidates come from a combination of proactive sourcing/headhunting, networking and advertising in relevant trade press in print and on line).  As a consequence of our recent experiences, I have a new found respect for the recruiters who work at this level day in and day out.

If anyone is reading this, who is currently applying for jobs and is influenced to at least bother to spell check, or even better, get a friend to proof read their CV before sending it out then I think writing this article/rant has been worthwhile.  The larger point remains though – why is this happening?  Who is letting down graduates or school leavers in respect to the importance of good grammar and spelling?  Are we an anomaly? Does no one else actually care about this and employers across the country are happily hiring people who think the plural of company is “company’s”?  You do hear a great deal about this from various politicians and to be honest I was sceptical that the situation was really as bad as they had suggested.  It looks like I may have been wrong based on recent experience.  This isn’t an entirely sad story, we have had applications from candidates who can write well and we are progressing some of these to second interview so we have been suitably impressed.  But there were quite a few applications that we rejected on the basis of the way they presented themselves on their CVs or in their covering letter. They did in fact meet all of the criteria we had asked for and we would have undoubtedly invited in for an interview if not for the numerous mistakes they had made in their application.

Now for the sake of amusement, here are some examples of the simply wonderful uses of English we have received from applicants.  Punctuation, including not using capital letters, as per the application:

  • “my hobbies are to travel and ride my motorbike out in the country side.  I love to meet new people and photography and editing at home. I make friend with everyone and am a happy outgoing person who loves to make people happy, and meet targets and goals”
  • “What iam looking for currently is a new challenge and that given with my high end contacts in in the business world I wish to envisage a solution to a non-making organization and turn it around to a profit making one.”
  • “I like to spend my spare time with my family and socialising with friends. I also enjoy reading and history perticually 20th century poltical history.”

Pete Fellows is the Managing Director of Fellows and Associates.  He also loves Poltical history – the Polticals were a proud race of people and for Pete in perticular nothing else compares.


Fellows and Associates



Unit F4
BizSpace Business Centre

+44 (0) 207 903 5019
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