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Would You Work for This Person?

A friend of mine received an invitation to interview at a company. She was interested in the opportunity until she received the error-filled message below from the training manager. I have changed details to protect the guilty.

Thank you for your interested in our Training Design Specialist Position. We would like you to come to the office for a short interview as a first step in our interviewing process. We would like you to bring in two samples of a work product that your produced. The topic should be on an area where you had to use a subject matter expert to learn the content. You then needed create a curriculum and related materials. It should be adult learning; face to face and non-academic in nature.

We would like to review your samples and then have a short interview. You will be meeting with John Baskins and myself. You should plan for 30 to 45 minutes.

If possible, would you be available next Wednesday; Feb 19th at 11. The next window that we have available would be the morning of Wednesday; Feb 26th.

Let me know if you have any questions. Look forward to hearing from you.


Would you work for Penelope, whose writing was riddled with about ten errors (depending on how you count them)? Granted, she included all the necessary information, and her tone was professional.

The message turned off my friend, who already has a job but was interested in exploring options. She decided to decline the interview.

Below is a corrected version of the message, so you can be sure you noted all the errors. Some of the errors were more glaring than others, but they were still errors.

Thank you for your interest in our Training Design Specialist position. We would like you to come to the office for a short interview as a first step in our interviewing process. We would like you to bring in two samples of a work product that you produced. The topic should be on an area where you had to use a subject matter expert to learn the content. You then needed to create a curriculum and related materials. It should be adult learning, face to face and nonacademic in nature.

We would like to review your samples and then have a short interview. You will be meeting with John Baskins and me. You should plan for 30 to 45 minutes.

If possible, would you be available next Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 11? The next window that we have available would be the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 26.

Let me know if you have any questions. I [more professional] look forward to hearing from you.


What is your reaction to this message? Is my friend too fussy, or does she recognize a lack of professionalism when she sees it?

Find out about our online courses, including Proofread Like a Pro and Punctuation for Professionals.


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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.

14 comments on “Would You Work for This Person?”

  • This hypothetical has me torn. On the one hand, if Penelope works for a company in which I’m extremely interested, I might overlook her errors and commit to an interview. I’m basing this on the assumption, however, that Penelope is the recruiter/HR contact–not someone with whom I would directly work. It’s not meant as a swipe against HR or recruiters, but rather, I think it’s just something that happens because of the nature of the position and the likely high volume of similar emails that get sent (e.g., maybe Penelope uses a template with existing errors and no one has ever proofread it, etc.). If the position instead *reported* to Penelope, I would decline–I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a certain level of attention to detail from someone in a supervisory position (also biased because I make a living as an editor).

  • If the environment of the business is international or involves non-native writers, readers have to be tolerant. But writers often underestimate the importance of good writing in the impression they or their company make.

  • You Americans. According to Wikipedia, there were only 360 million native English speakers in 2010 (less than 6% of the world population). I wouldn’t rule out people on account of bad English. It doesn’t really say anything about them.

  • There is no doubt in my mind that the writer’s native tongue is not English.
    Would you have asked the same question if your friend did go to the interview to find out her interviewer had a foreign accent, or maybe even used some foreign word combinations that are wrong in Englihs?
    In a global economy, and with so many non-native speakers around, one should be more cautious judging a company by that.
    Of course, your other comments on the letter are correct, but they are not the reason you have decided to bring it up.
    If there are any grammatical mistakes in my comment here, please note that in my own language they are perfect.

  • What is this about native English writers? Non-native English writers write much better English than native ones. I have seen native English writers make horrible mistakes.

  • I would certainly interview; I may or may not take the job after assessing everything at that point.

    In short, I’m not sure why someone else’s lack of writing skills should directly impact my career. Heck, at the very least, maybe I can have their job before too terribly long!

    Although riddled with errors, I daresay that this is written more clearly than most internal business writing I see. And that’s really the goal: to schedule an interview with specific requirements, not to write poetry.

    That someone may not be a Native English speaker or not doesn’t matter. I would have the same expectations of both. Plus, at least some of these errors are from laziness, not from a lack of knowledge (e.g., “your produced”). What? I should lower my standards because someone was born on the other side of some geopolitical boundary? I think not. This is not to say, of course, that said persons don’t deserve some understanding.

  • Have you written on the correct/incorrect usage of the word ‘myself’? I find misuse of this word on the rise and it is driving myself 🙂 and my colleague nuts. I think people are substituting ‘myself’ for the correct use of ‘me’ out of a fear of using ‘me’ incorrectly and it is backfiring.

  • I didn’t need to see Lynn’s post to know that the writer is a native speaker of English. Nothing about the writing indicates that it’s from an ESL person. And no, non-native speakers of English do not write better English than native speakers; they just make different mistakes (and typically, more of them).

    That said, if I were interested in the job, I wouldn’t let a poorly written email message hold me back. Even if the person who wrote it supervises the position in question, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve had managers who told me, “I can’t write. Thank goodness you’re here to edit things before I send them out.” A good manager will hire people whose skills complement (or even exceed) her own.

    And this blog would be more pleasant to read if the people who comment would refrain from insulting other nationalities. I would never even think of starting a comment with something awful like “You Chinese” or “You Indians.”

  • I would have noticed the errors and the apparent carelessness, but I would still have gone to the interview. I don’t believe a single employee’s writing skill (or lack thereof) is necessarily indicative of an entire company’s atmosphere or professionalism, and I would want all available information before making a decision about whether or not to take a job. Your friend could have been passing on a great opportunity based on what amounts to a surface judgement.

    I have seen some examples of business writing that make me shake my head and wonder how the writer has managed to make it so far in his/her career, but I understand that not everyone notices or cares about professional writing as much as I do. I generally conclude that such people must have other valuable skills that make up for the lack of writing ability.

    In any case, would the email have made me cringe? Yes. Would it have caused me to make a decision about my future employment based solely on its merits? Absolutely not.

  • I agree with those comments that say,”It depends on how badly I wanted or needed the job.” I know that it is difficult for me to respect someone who consistently makes errors in writing. However, my respect can be earned by other sterling qualities that may become apparent as I get to know the writer in person. If those other sterling qualities fail to appear, the bad writing serves as a perpetual irritant in my regard for that person.

  • Thank you all for participating in the discussion. I appreciate your many points of view.

    My friend did not accept the interview, as you know. I believe she was ambivalent about interviewing, and the error-filled message helped her decide to decline the meeting. I also believe that an error-free message might have given her a positive impression of the company and have led to her interviewing there.

    Here are my responses to your individual comments:

    Christie, thanks for launching the discussion. I agree with you, and I appreciate your mentioning templates. We should all review our templates to correct errors and make updates.

    George, excellent points! I agree.

    Dudu, thanks for the statistics. As I mentioned in a comment, the writer is a native English speaker. If the job requires good English skills, I might not rule out a person, but I would make sure he or she enrolled in a training course.

    Yudit, thanks for sharing your view and asking that important question. No, if my friend went on the interview and the interviewer spoke with an accent or did not use American English flawlessly, I would not have raised the issue. I believe we need to focus on message rather than perfection in international communications. But this was not a case of English used by a nonnative speaker.

    Renga, I have seen excellent and mediocre writing from both native and nonnative English speakers. Many nonnative English speakers know the rules of English grammar better than their native-English-speaking counterparts. On the other hand, native speakers typically have a good ear for the correct preposition (to, of, on, with, at, for) and natural-sounding language. It is wonderful when team members willingly share their strengths.

    Bill, getting a complete picture by interviewing seems like a good idea if one is very interested in the job and the company. Thanks for making the point that this message is better than many internal emails. In fact, the message does convey very helpful information. But is it an external message, and it does not do a good job of representing the company or the writer.

    Cathy, thanks for asking. I have written about the incorrect use of “myself” here:

    Christina, thanks for your good points. I especially like your pointing out the situations in which managers hire good writers because they themselves do not write well.

    Stephanie, thanks for sharing your comments. I like your conclusion that “such people must have other valuable skills that make up for the lack of writing ability.” Very positive!

    Margaret, thank you for reminding us that bad writing can be a “perpetual irritant.” Many times that irritation is the reason companies call me to teach business writing courses for them.

    Thanks to all for exposing the many sides of this story.


  • I realize I’m late to the conversation, but I would like to put in my remarks (not really worth two cents).

    I might have accepted the interview, as others have suggested, but I would have been looking for signs that Penelope – assuming I would work directly with her – was aware of the need to work on her writing. I’ve had great working relationships with managers who liked to collaborate on communications and appreciated my compulsive behavior, particularly about spelling. Perhaps in the interview there would be an opportunity to discuss collaboration and explore the culture of the business. If there would be an opportunity to raise the bar, it might be fun.

    Most likely, however, the company doesn’t see the problem they have. In that case, I would have no interest in being associated with them.

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