Vol. 40 No. 9
ByBryan A. Garner
Bryan A. Garner is the president of LawProse, Inc. He is the author of many widely used books, including Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (with Justice Antonin Scalia) and Garner’s Modern American Usage. He is the editor in chief of all current editions of Black’s Law Dictionary.
“It’s not what you said,” as your parents warned you. “It’s the way you said it.” We learn at an early age that our manner of speech—not just its substance—can be objectionable. When it comes to job interviews, it can be fatal.
The point can be subtler than you might think. Unrefined speech can torpedo your chances without your even knowing what you’ve done wrong. The good news in this, if there is any, is that you’ll never feel embarrassed about your gaffes—because you won’t even know you’re making them. Life is kind to the clueless in this regard. Most people would no sooner tell you that your language stinks than that your breath does. As they say, that’s what true friends are for.
So let me demonstrate some common examples of linguistic halitosis: statements that, in an interview, would likely make the interviewer question your employability. If you say two or more of these things, the interview may well be over in the interviewer’s mind, whatever else has taken place in the interview:
Interviewer: How are you?
You: I’m good.
[That’s more and more common today, but it’s unrefined. Better: “I’m fine” or “I’m doing well, thanks.”]
Interviewer: So you’ve done pretty well in your law-school career. How are you enjoying it?
You: It’s going good! I [etc.] . . . .
[Going good? No, it’s going well. Well is the adverb, good the adjective. It’s nonstandard English to usegood adverbially.]
Interviewer: And you’ve been happy with your choice of law school?
You: Well just between you and I, my reason for coming here was to be near my grandmother—whose health is failing. I turned down two more highly ranked schools.
[That’s admirable to care for your grandmother, but between is a preposition, and an object of a preposition is in the objective case. It’s just between you and me, properly speaking. What you just said is considered ill-educated English.]
Interviewer: Do you regret that decision not to attend a school with a higher ranking?
You: No, I could care less. I [etc.] . . . .
[You could care less? That means you do care. In educated English, it’s couldn’t care less, as in “I couldn’t possibly care less.” Plus, the snarky phrasing suggests an unpleasant attitude.]
Interviewer: In your letter enclosing your résumé, you misspelled our
You: I did? Believe me, I did that on accident.
[Standard English: by accident, not on accident. You’ve also suggested, by your accident, that your work habits might be sloppy.]
Interviewer: You’re aware that our firm has several offices around the state?
You: Yes. Where is your office at?
[Where . . . at typifies uneducated English. Where is a locative: it subsumes the idea of at. Sorry, but you’re sounding unhirable.]
Interviewer: What has been your biggest surprise about law school?
You: It’s so much funner than I thought it would be.
[In standard English, fun is a noun—not an adjective. More fun is standard; funner is nonstandard.]
Interviewer: Why do you say that?
You: There’s lots of reasons.
[There are lots of reasons, not There is lots. Now you’re having subject-verb agreement problems.]
Interviewer: Who’s your favorite professor?
You: Professor Kingsfield is awesome. Cool dude. He’s taught me, like, so, so much. Just loads of things. Like jurisdiction. International Shoe and stuff.
[You’re sounding less qualified by the moment. This is how you’ll represent the law firm, “dude”?]
Interviewer: What’s your biggest shortcoming?
You: I wish I wasn’t so much of a perfectionist. But anyways, . . . .
[I wish I were, not was. It’s the subjunctive mood of the verb. And standard English requires anyway, never anyways.]
Interviewer: But you’ve acquitted yourself well as a law student.
You: No, I was never even officially charged, much less tried. The prosecutors dropped it both times I was caught.
[What? The phrase acquitted yourself means “conducted yourself.” You’ve just confessed wrongdoing in a really weird way—because of your limited vocabulary!]
Interviewer: Good for you. You’re a survivor.
You: Yes, I’ve carried on, irregardless.
[Standard English: regardless. Major blunder: irregardless is a famous “nonword”—mistaken form that has no legitimate existence.]
Interviewer: Congratulations on all that you’ve accomplished.
You: Undoubtably, if I had have started law school earlier, I wouldn’t of succeeded in regards to legal studies as good as I have. I feel well about my record. Only a small amount of people I know could say that.
[Whoa. Where to start? Undoubtedly, not undoubtably. If I had started, not if I had have started. I wouldn’t have, not I wouldn’t of (although you might, if we interpret it generously, have been saying I wouldn’t’ve). In regard to, not in regards to. Succeeded as well as I have, not succeeded as good as I have. I feel good, not I feel well (= not sick). Small number of people, not small amount of people.]
Interviewer: We’ll be notifying students of call-backs next week.
You: Cool. That would be, like, awesome. Just awesome. Awesomeness!
[Enough already! Stop this. You’ve long since sealed your rejection letter.]
One reason to work on your writing is that doing so will improve your speech. You’ll need to speak well if you want to be taken seriously. Aspiring lawyers must care about being taken seriously. Recruiters, interviewers, partners, judges, and clients certainly do.
But if you, like, don’t care to, like, heighten your speech—and you think people should just chill and realize your awesomeness—then try some other line of work. Please.