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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Because Laughter Is Divine

Photon Courier linked to Killian's Cover Letters From Hell page. Killian & Company is in the advertising business.

Mamacita, where are you when we need you? This company is looking for more examples in order to publish a book! (Ask for a percentage.) They write that they often get examples from frustrated teachers:
True story – a number of college teachers tell us variations of this: they red-pencil and downgrade students for glaring errors in grammar, usage, spelling. Students go to the Dean to complain. Dean reprimands teacher for being hard on the tuition-paying future donors. Teacher (not tenured) shuts up, fumes, then collects samples to send to us.

Maybe students send incoherent gibberish to potential employers because nobody ever told them not to. Now, there's a scary thought.
The examples are laugh-out-loud funny, but it also makes for sobering reading. Killian comments:
An error-free letter is now so rare that the minimal care required to send a letter with zero defects, combined with a few crisply written simple declarative sentences, will, alone, guarantee a respectful reading of a résumé.
That should provide a bit of motivation to students, shouldn't it? While you're laughing, these samples demonstrate some cultural problems, such as...

the Dunning Effect:
"Strong writing abilities. Able to analysis data and problem solve."
the culture of self-esteem:
"I need real world experience and after reviewing your web site I get the impressing that your company believes in maintain a lax work environment while efficiently meeting the needs of it's customers (right?)." [We replied to this college senior, on an ill-advised rescue impulse, gently suggesting he get some remedial help with his writing, since he had an error in every single sentence of his three-page letter. His furious four-page reply included some amazing stuff, such as]

"...you should be straight forward and ... simply state that your company is seeking a grammar teacher who lacks creativity but knows how to properly write a letter and knows exactly where to place punctuation. If your company takes such a serious position towards proper grammar then I think you guys are in the wrong profession. I believe even the leader of this country that we live in lacks proper grammar yet he is still our leader. I can assure you that he leaves grammar and punctuation to the proper authorities such as his receptionist or grade school English teacher. ...I am not precisely sure why you choose to take such a stance perhaps because you have nothing better to do, or maybe because you have personal insecurities that seep out and you feel the need to degrade or target others based on stupid little infractions to make yourself feel better, I don't know what the case is ... if I am out of line please let me know but if I recall properly your companies web site is not the most professional site there is. If you guys are trying to project a laid back yet hard working image through your site and request the same from prospective employees then you should not be so prudent about minor infractions such as punctuation and grammar.... (I reread it before sending it and it states my point clearly and unless you lack the mental capacity to make out the meaning without having exact and precisise grammar maybe you should seek a new proffsion, I hear this country lacks alot of grammar school teachers perhaps that would be a better fit for you) In conclusion I have indeed made many mistakes in this e-mail many on purpose and many accidentaly I did not have the time nor the patientce to deal with it I will leave the grammer checking to the professionals such as yourself."
narcissism raised to an art form:
"That I offer my services at all, you may take as a complement, since I am one of the new wave of workers more interested in the quality of my work than the new fangaled fast buck concepts of the past few years."
the 60's, the decade that just won't die:
"... But that's the past. I've given them a year of my life in a minimum security work camp and I'm nearing work release status where I'll be for the next 15 months or so... I need to connect with open-minded people like myself! My crime was a 'non-violent, victimless' one. I'm hoping this letter is reaching people who have or do smoke weed ..."
(Heck, the above applicant just wants a company that isn't going to be "prudent about minor infractions", right?)

Is this a Freudian slip? It does show why an advertising company needs someone who is willing to be "prudent about minor (linguistic) infractions:
"I am getting to my goal, slowly but surly."
I have had to deal with a few of those "slow but surly" employees in my time. A most evocative error!

The writing is appalling, but the clueless mindset displayed in some of these excerpts is even more appalling.

For an example of dam good writing, I refer you to this page containing an exchange of dam letters.

I don't find this funny at all. I find this disturbing.

These are future voters. Good grief!
Given that these are college seniors or post-graduates, they've already voted.

All you can do is laugh.
Guess we're lucky. Where I work (IT dept. in large state university), the resumes we get for entry level hourly positions are surprisingly good. Even ones that aren't good "resumes" i.e. too flashy, too long, have graphics (Yeeeesh!), etc. mostly contain proper grammar.

Yes, there are exceptions. But by and large, we've been lucky. And we're talking techheads here, folks who've been buried in computers while growing up for whom human interaction is a messy necessity between times online. And they still manage to produce proper grammar.

It's possible, even for the most non-social types around.

On the other hand, and moving away from resumes: Some time ago, I had a foreign roomate. One of his responsibilities was actually to help teach remedial english to American students here (we're a state university, so some of our admittees are - to put it gently - not accepted by other places).

Okay... it was remedial english, so I didn't expect Twains, Hemmingways, or Parkers to show up... but still... these were college students! And MY GOD!... the level of writing was atrocious! I wrote better in 6th grade then these people did in college!! And I'm not that good a writer! For a remedial writing class in college, you'd expect what? Possibly barely passing high school levels of ability? But these papers were nowhere near that! Maybe I'm being too harsh, but even my foreign born, english-as-a-second-language roomate who full well knew what "remedial" meant was in shock. Both of us were. We actually got sad reading those papers for a whole semester. It was depressing.
Elmondo- I've spent some time in those trenches. I hardly know what to say. It can be depressing.

My best guess is that most people learn to write decently by reading good writers. Perhaps the techies read manuals?

It should give us all some perspective on what Mamacita goes through.
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