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When Profanity And Professionalism Don’t Mix

When Profanity And Professionalism Don’t Mix

Say-WhatAbout 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?”

  • My article is not meant to bash the company; therefore, I will not be naming it. For reference, and to provide authenticity, I’ve provided a link to their site. I applaud anyone who starts a business, and I admire them more when they correct their problems and show improvement, as this company has already done.

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.

  1. name
  2. email
  3. phone
  4. cover letter
  5. resume

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.

  • Link to Published Writing Sample (1 of 3)
  • Link to Published Writing Sample (2 of 3)
  • Link to Published Writing Sample (3 of 3)

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:

  • What else you got?

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:

  • Why yes. Yes, I am.
  • Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.
  • What kind of question is this, asshole?
  • No. But what about you?
  • No. But you are for asking.
  • Only idiots would generate an application like this.

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.

Who knows?

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.

About the author

Sheri Rose administrator

Writing a book? Need someone to edit the content? I can help. My specialty is substantive and developmental editing. Substantive/Developmental editing is like collaborative gardening, and I help cultivate manuscripts. I work with writers to design plots and organizational structures that develop thematic elements; dig through content and weed out the excess that interrupts narrative flow; plant suggestions and additions that enhance narrative action; feed meaning with grammatical structures that detail intent, and nurture book writing processes to fruition with tools that maintain style and voice.

6 comments so far

Sheri RosePosted on2:16 pm - Apr 23, 2017

LOL. I love the weird uncle visual, Kathleen. When I started freelancing, I learned as much as I could about the freelance writing and editing profession. In my search, I ran into the job application I describe in my blog. It added angst to my emerging realization that many who don’t work in the profession have a deep lack of respect for the art of language. Companies emerged offering low, insulting fees — or none at all. Arguments justifying low rates demean the craft. More bothersome are the number of writers who were, and still are, willing to work for less than minimum wage. I’ve always held writers and editors in high esteem, and I don’t understand why so many of them are willing to work for next to nothing. But that’s another topic.

KathleenPosted on2:05 pm - Apr 23, 2017

I have seen these types of applications so many times. It irks me to no end. I want a company that respects me and I want a company I can respect. These types of questions make me think of that weird uncle that tries so hard to be cool that he is just embarrassing. (Cue the shoe polish black hair and corny jokes.)

Sheri RosePosted on1:39 pm - Apr 23, 2017

Thanks for the compliment and comments, Sally. I’ve started my list and comma use is on it. I prefer a “get-to-the-point” writing approach, so I’m happy to find there is a readership for it. Best. 😎

Sally (Flying Food Ninja)Posted on1:31 pm - Apr 23, 2017

I really like how you write! I think incorporating some blog posts with dos and donts is also a good idea. Grammar and sentence structure are really things I struggle with, especially where to put a comma. I will definitely be following this blog if you can give do and don’t tips on things like that. 😄

Betsy KentPosted on1:57 pm - Apr 22, 2017

Fascinating article, Sheri. Maybe someone at the company, for fun, created a dummy version and it was published instead of the “real” application. What I want to know is: did you hear back from them??

    Sheri RosePosted on12:52 pm - Apr 23, 2017

    Thanks, Betsy. I agree that this company might have posted their first application as a joke, except they waited so long to change it. I really think they were trying to be “hip.” As for getting a response – none. But I didn’t expect it. I hadn’t put in any information, so there was no way for the company to respond.

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