There is no question of the prevalence of social media and technology in society today, particularly with the millennial generation. I am never reminded of how great an impact this has on so many people’s ability to express themselves through the written word as of when I am recruiting and hiring.
Several years ago I thought I had found the ideal candidate for an inside sales position. Joe flew through the interview process effortlessly. His resume was well put together as was his cover letter. He was bright, articulate and able to think quickly on his feet. Joe brought an exceptional skill set, experience and academic record to the table and seemed like he’d fit in well with our company culture. I extended an offer and promptly patted myself on the on the back for finding an employee that I believed would rise through the ranks.
My assessment of this candidate in those areas actually wasn’t far off. So why was I so surprised to discover barely a month into his employment that without the aid of outside help common with developing a resume/cover letter or spell check, that this potential star performer couldn’t string a sentence together on paper to save his life? Simply put, I had neglected to specifically assess this area as part of the interview process.
Joe was not unintelligent, however, he had become lazy – a product of his generation where texting seems to involve leveraging an entirely different lexicon laden with time and character-saving shortcuts. Young adults today grew up with the luxury of being able to rely on spell and grammar checks and communicate largely through these electronic mediums at mind-blowing volumes. I’m still not clear as to how one can send over 3,000 texts in a single month which is the average for the American teen reported by the Nielsen Company.
Now, you might think that I am about to launch into a long, convoluted story about how I used to walk 10 miles to school in the snow across hilly fields, but the truth is that I am a Gen X’er who somehow made it through college in the late 1980’s with a typewriter, a dictionary and lots of Wite-Out. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t tremendous value in the tools and technology available to us today, but the reality is that as a society, we communicate very differently today than we did even 10 years ago. Unfortunately, some of these changes aren’t welcome in the workplace where clear, concise communication is critical in both oral and written form.
It became evident that I needed to incorporate a writing sample into the recruiting process. It was easy enough to implement. When a candidate passed the preliminary telephone interviews and came in for an in-person interview, in addition to completing the standard application for employment, we began to administer a simple writing assessment. This was nothing more than a sheet of paper outlining a sales support-related scenario which warranted a written response to a customer highlighting the key issues and hypothetical proposed solution. The candidate was given the time they needed to complete the assessment which typically resulted in a one-page hand-written response. No outside help. No computer. No spell check.
Generally speaking, what we found was alarming. Not only were there serious spelling errors in many candidate’s assessments, but some actually used “text language” throughout their written response – ‘u’ instead of ‘you’, ‘r’ instead of ‘r’, ‘cos’ instead of ‘because’ all with some ‘prollys’ peppered in. These problems were compounded by the general inability to properly distinguish between ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’, issues with fragmented sentences, inappropriate capitalization, and the list goes on …
The bad news is that I don’t see this unsettling trend changing. The good news is that that this small added step in the hiring process provides a fairly accurate representation of the candidate’s ability in this area exposing issues before the person is a part of your staff. Further, I am happy to report that we find great candidates all the time! While poor writing skills are frankly all too common, it’s not the rule. This upcoming generation has many bright, ambitious young men and women who have not fallen into this trap. You just have to find them.