There’s one letter that does more harm in executive job searches than any other. It wreaks havoc in two symbolic ways and it is the letter “I”.
A question posed on one of the Yahoo groups the other day rather surprised me in a couple of ways – the inquirer wanted to know what the phrase “dots the i’s and crosses the t’s” means. Several people leapt to their keyboard and told them that this is a way of saying that someone is making sure that something is correct. In the days of handwritten note making, it meant to make sure that one’s t’s all had a horizontal line through them and that one’s i’s all had a dot on top. Otherwise, of course, they were indistinguishable. I haven’t been able to discover where the phrase comes from, though I suspect it is something to do with the printing industry where such mistakes would be particularly likely to happen.
In the context of job searches, at all levels, but especially at the senior executive level, there is simply no excuse for anyone’s correspondence to contain errors. Not only does a document with typos, grammatical errors and mistaken spelling, suggest that the writer is lazy, ignorant, and incapable of using a PC, but it also shows a lack of attention to detail, and a slight contempt for the reader. That’s certainly the case if we are applying for jobs, and perhaps could be said of most other situations too. If you have such errors in letters, emails, instant messages, forum postings, text messages, and other forms of written media, then you really can’t be surprised when the hiring decision maker simply doesn’t choose to progress any contact with you. The candidate who DID make sure that their material was faultless deservedly makes it to the next stage.
To begin with use the spelling checker and grammar checker that come with your preferred word processor. In Microsoft Word, wrongly spelt words are underlined in red as you type and errors of grammar are underlined in green. Open Office has a similar function and works just as well.
Only you can tell how confident you are in your spelling and use of English. If you have any doubt, why not ask someone else to check them for you?
If you have real problems with your English, for whatever reason – perhaps you’re using it as a second language, or have some kind of disability, then perhaps you would benefit from paying someone to help? It is your choice – recruiters DO bin applications on this basis. Do you want to prove a point or get a job?
However, the letter ‘i’ or, more accurately, ‘I’ causes another problem in the job search process. Most people who are recruiting are doing so because they (or their organisation) has a need and see that the solution to this is to recruit someone. They want to have confidence that you will be able to help them with it. They DON’T want to worry that you are going to be an unmanageable, egotistical, self-centred, power maniac or control freak. Someone who begins every sentence (or even a substantial proportion of them) with the letter ‘I’ is going to raise fears that this might be the case.
Remember too, that most organisations like their staff to be good team players. When describing achievements think carefully before saying “I did” this or that. Most recruiters will be able to tell if you could possibly have achieved it single-handedly and, if you couldn’t they are not going to be impressed by your grandiose claims.
It is always possible to structure a sentence in such a way that the “I” appears in the middle – beginning ANY sentence with “I” simply shows that your use of English is pretty unimaginative.