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Sobering Thoughts on First Impressions

Could you lose out on a new job because of an emoticon? Would a potential romantic interest not be interested in you because of your writing errors? It happens–but I hope it doesn’t happen to you.

This week two women told me about rejecting others because of bad first impressions of the other person’s writing.

First, a senior human resources (HR) professional told me she did not invite a job candidate back for a second interview because of the person’s emailed thank you note: it included an animated emoticon. With that emoticon as evidence, the HR professional decided the candidate did not have the good professional judgment the job required. Note: Before receiving the emailed thank you, she had planned to invite the applicant back.

Second, a friend who is using to meet others told me that she does not respond to a man who makes obvious errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Why not? In her words, “I don’t think we would have that much in common.”

Although most people (not even me!) do not fall in love because of semicolons and correct verb forms, we do form an impression of others based on how they “look” in writing. My friend determined that a man who did not write correctly would not share her love of ideas and the arts. The HR professional decided that someone who would include an animated smiley face in a thank you letter for a job interview would not make wise decisions on the job.

If you are thinking these two women may have ruled out excellent candidates, I grant that possibility. But from what I know of both women, I believe the candidates lost out on excellent opportunities because of their errors.

What is your view?


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.