About a year ago, I read a list of criteria for a freelance writing job where one of the questions asked, “Are you an asshole?”
It stopped me cold in my reading, and I found myself thinking, “What the … ?” (Feel free to add any word you like to fill in the blank.)
So—is this funny, or is it something else? Can the use of profanity and professionalism in a job application attract serious job seekers? I say, “No,” and “Just say ‘No’ to the mix.”
Here’s how one company blended the two.
The first online application presented by the company shows they thought their idea worked well. To their credit, the new application excludes the sarcastic question meant to summarize character and adds a more professional one asking, “Do you have a degree?”
I’m using an unedited version of their first job application to illustrate how easily the misuse of language affects credibility. A graphic is provided below for reference.
A Professional Start
The progression of questions at the beginning of the application is like any other.
Information requests like this are typical in job applications and what you’d expect from a professional organization looking to hire quality employees to add to their team.
Even better, the company asks for three links to published work, indicating they are serious about hiring skilled writers. Text boxes make the input of website addresses easy for applicants, suggesting they are more interested in hiring writers who have experience publishing work in online publications. They even describe in plain language what to put into each text box.
But then—a curious decision to use incorrect grammar in the fourth question causes an abrupt change in tone and style, throwing a kink into the flow of information:
There is nothing wrong with asking a question in this style if there’s a purpose to it; however, mixing tones suddenly, in this manner, within such a short presentation of text, makes applicants wonder if the company is serious about hiring writers who care about their work.
Unfortunately, their effort to be “cool” by using slang in this style mixes their message and creates an awkward request for information. It also makes questionable their credibility as a viable company of professional writers. They would have come across as more authentic if they had maintained one style and tone throughout the application.
The Final Question: Fun or Flop?
The last question in the application—”Are you an asshole?”—is humorously unexpected, but it comes across as foolish. It also smacks of disrespect.
In combining the abrupt change in tone and style with unexpected profanity, it appears as if the company is trying to attract the kind of writer who throws out expletives like the members of New Orleans’ Krewes throw out trinkets from their Mardi Gras floats—and there’s nothing wrong with that, either. There is a large audience for this type of prose. With certain age groups, it’s seen as the best way to create content that becomes popular—or viral.
But it’s a matter of taste.
It’s also a failed attempt to entice a particular type of writer who takes her/his work seriously as it doesn’t connect with the initial request for a professional response.
My Response to the Application
When I filled out the application, there were so many different ways I wanted to answer that final question.
Here are some that went through my mind:
And so on. My only choices, however, were two checkbox options of “yes” or “no.” The plus was they both could be checked if I felt each applied.
Then, I remembered I had noticed something even more careless than any of the style and language problems in the application. The directions at the top say to fill out all the information marked with an asterisk (*).
Here’s a screenshot—No asterisks (*):
As none of the text boxes had an asterisk, I submitted the application empty just to see what would happen. Maybe I was an asshole for doing this. Maybe they were for asking such an insulting question.
Based on what I read in the original application, I didn’t think the company cared if their directions fit their application. Now that they’ve changed it, it’s clear they do.
I will say, though, that being asked on a job application whether or not I’m an asshole is a first for me.