requiring a handwritten cover letter

A reader just sent the following letter to me and the Evil HR Lady, and it takes overly demanding employers to a new high (low?):

I just responded to a job ad that included “good handwriting” as a required job skill. To prove that you possess this skill, it also requires a “handwritten cover letter.”

Is this an ingenious solution to the employer’s screening process, or is this employer mad with power and exploiting the “buyer’s market”? My sore hand suspects the latter, but I’ll defer judgment to the experts.

I am dying to know what this job is. Calligrapher? Engraver? Cake decorator?

I don’t want to write my cover letter out by hand, unless it’s one of these three jobs.

{ 41 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Maybe this is their way of getting around the fact they can't say "must be native-born English speaker" outright. They're looking to weed out foreigners?

  2. Sheila*

    Or a fourth: I used to have a job that included writing accession numbers on museum artifacts, and some were valuable and/or irreplaceable items. Good handwriting skills were definitely a plus in that job.

    But even that job didn't ask for a handwriting sample, legitimate as it could have been, let alone the entire cover letter.

    I really hope there's an update sharing what the job is. This is making me so curious!

  3. Unemployed Gal*

    I�m the OP. It�s for a secretarial opening at a doctor�s office.

    That�s right, a doctor wants me to have good handwriting!

    I�m just as fluent while typing as writing by hand, so I doubt it�s screening for foreigners.

  4. Kerry*

    I've seen this before. The reason they wanted it in every instance I've seen is that they do handwriting analysis. I am not making this up.

  5. Anonymous*

    I don't think it's to screen for foreigners either. Whether an applicant is foreign or not, good handwriting is good handwriting. It's the content and style of writing that might expose a foreigner (but even that might not "expose" them – maybe the person is just a bad speller or bad with grammar).
    I digress – maybe the employer used to have an employee with horrible handwriting who confused and mixed up his schedule somehow on a regular basis? And thus, wants to avoid this in the future?

  6. Anonymous*

    To Kerry above:

    I know you are saying you are not kidding, but really? A handwriting analysis? So I'm on the same page as you…do you mean where if your cursive slants to the right it means "abc" whereas if it slants to the left it means "xyz"? That sort of thing?


    And to the OP above: How ironic!

  7. screaminscott*

    perhaps it's for a administrative assistant job, where you are expected to send out handwritten thank you notes, invitations, etc.

  8. Evil HR Lady*

    First of all, AAM is super fast. I was going to write up a response on my blog because I thought this was a bizarre situation. Now, I will just leave a long comment.

    Handwriting is the only class I ever flunked. It was 4th grade and they let me move on the 5th grade anyway. Whew!

    I took type in high school and got up to 95 words a minute on a typewriter, not one of those self correcting word processors. (Not that those existed back then, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and all. At least the typewriters were electric.)

    I can see this as a legitimate job requirement, but I wouldn't want to read cover letters written by hand. I hate handwritten things. I love typing.

    So there. I am not getting this job. Good luck!

  9. Kerry*

    Yes, Anonymous, that's exactly what I mean.

    Shocking, I know…but not so far off from the employers who do personality tests, or credit checks for janitor jobs, or all kinds of other crazy stuff.

  10. Unemployed Gal*

    I agree with AAM and EHRL 100%. Typing good, handwriting bad. But I need a job. If they want it handwritten, I will. If they want it in crayon, in origami, and hidden inside a helium balloon like a Grand Opening prize, I will.

    However, it still sucks.

    @Kerry: Seriously? Handwriting analysis? I thought that required a team of FBI forensic psychologists for accuracy. I hope that they�re not trying to use a library book to figure it out themselves.

    �Is that a 3/4 concave loop on the Y? It says here that she�ll be 17 minutes late every Monday and leave passive-aggressive post-its on the coffee maker. Next!�

    1. Anonymous*

      It just requires someone who read a book and you pay them $100 or something and they tell you all about your future employee. People who use things like this will swear by them because all the good times they remember and all the bad they dismiss. Observation bias really makes situations like this, well make money for the guy who read the book.

  11. Anonymous*

    I'm with Kerry on this – the one time I was ever dumb enough to actually try it, my interviewer admitted it was for analysis. This was also the same interview where I was asked what my sign is.

  12. Anonymous*

    Your hand is sore after writing a few sentences? What if you have to take notes in a meeting that lasts for hours?

    I agree that the request is odd, but I'd much rather give a handwriting sample than reveal a lot of the personal identity details that most employers demand.

  13. Henning Makholm*

    Employers have been known to use horoscopes, numerology, MMPI, (and by this time probably also dowsing and/or ouija boards) to screen applicants, so why not handwriting analysis? It doesn't have to actually work (hence no FBI �berteam required), it just needs to fool the decision-maker.

  14. Evil HR Lady*

    Unemployed Gal–The next time I hire someone I'm totally making them put their application inside a helium balloon.

    What an awesome idea. I'll fill my whole office with the balloon applications and make my hiring decision in one of two ways.

    Option 1: Let them all stay until the helium runs out. The last balloon floating gets the job.

    Option 2: Start throwing darts at the balloons. Again, last one left gets the job.

    Seriously, these methods don't run the risk of any racial/ethnic/gender discrimination claims. (I better tell everyone to use the same color balloon for their application, though, so people don't say I've used color as a surrogate for one of those things.)

    Brilliant, I say.

  15. Anonymous*

    I have tendon damage following a smashed wrist, and consequent arthritis. *I* can't read my handwriting.

  16. Unemployed Gal*

    @Anon 10:35 PM: Not a few sentences. I transcribed my entire typed cover letter. (Are your cover letters only a few sentences?) It was a full page, printed carefully and neatly so that they can actually read it. And yes, that hurt my hand. I�ve been typing almost everything for 17 years now. Handwriting is foreign.

    As for meeting notes, I can scrawl a few bullet points by hand if needed. If a meeting actually requires pages of notes, I�ll bring my laptop or request the plethora of information in advance.

  17. Anonymous*

    I think Kerry is right. I think it's for handwriting analysis, which might make this a forensics-related, law-enforcement-related, or some job of that type, IMO.


  18. Anonymous*

    @unemployed gal: Yes. Seriously, and you don't need some crack FBI team to use handwriting analysis. There are some very basic impressions you can get from someone based on their handwriting. (The more in-depth stuff would be used for forensic investigations, like to track down a criminal-type stuff.)

    Heck, I have books on handwriting analysis at home.

    You can get an idea of what kind of a communicator someone is, how organized they are, whether they are sloppy or make hasty decisions, whether they are secretive.

    Frankly, the idea that employers would use this outside of certain fields creeps me out and offends me. All I can say is the job for which the letter writer is applying had BETTER be a really interesting one! LOL!

  19. Jane*

    Oh, my God, Anon 5:27, I was going to joke that they might as well use a horoscope. It never occurred to me that anybody actually would.

  20. Anonymous*

    Willing to bet it is for handwriting analysis. I know for a fact that a really, really large coffee company uses it.

  21. Gemsa*

    I think this is bizarre – I've only ever come across one job that asked for this within the UK (a lab tech role where labels needed to be written for chemicals), but apparently graphology is still quite popular in France.

    I've never been asked for my sign but have heard of people asking for it. Again, completely and utterly weird and one way to guarantee that I won't want the job!

  22. Anonymous*

    Okay I have to admit…I love writing so this would not be hard for me. However, this seems like the company is looking to see if you are relying too heavily (when typing) on spell check and other corrective resources. Not to mention trying to get a pass based on template formatting instead of content.

    Maybe this is a way to see if you really "pay attention to detail" or some other key phrase in the announcement (be sure to check it again to see if there was anything like that in there).

    BTW the comment about hand written notes was spot on. I have seen many a manager request their Admin send hand-written notes to clients.

  23. Anonymous*

    Wow…why didn't I think of that?!

    We have a lot of forms that we fill out by hand and it's nice to be able to actually read them. We could have weeded out the "chicken scratchers" at the start!

    I wonder if I could suggest that applicants also take a spelling test?

  24. Suzanne*

    This is kind of off topic but this post reminds me of a former coworker. We had the same handwriting. I would find notes in the lab that looked like I had written them but I didn't remember writing them. The only way to tell them apart was to look at the back of the paper. He pressed harder with the pen than I did.

    Maybe the employer only wants to hire people with the same handwriting. :)

  25. Unemployed Gal*

    This is for a doctor�s office, so I understand that they�d want their messages and notes in patient charts to be legible. However, an entire cover letter is excessive. I would�ve happily included a brief handwriting sample if they had asked.

    I transcribed my original cover letter word-for-word, so writing it out wouldn�t have any more errors than the typed version (which I hope is zero!). I suppose if someone just wrote it from scratch, errors are possible. And I�m sure that anyone who didn�t thoroughly read the ad and sent a typed letter would be disqualified. (Attention to detail!)

    Frankly, I�d prefer that they ask for astrology over amateur handwriting analysis. What little they could infer about my personality (presuming that their analysis is accurate), they could�ve easily surmised from the content of my cover letter and resume. As we all know from our online experiences, it�s still pretty easy to spot �sloppy,� �rude,� and �crazy� even when it�s typed.

    Employers could also try this weird new technique for determining a candidate�s personality. I hear that they call it an �intar-viu� or some such thing. They actually have a conversation with you. Bizarre. ;)

  26. Anonymous*

    Back years ago, I think it was 1985 or '86, I interviewed at an answering service. On my application, I was asked for my astrological sign, birth date and *time* of birth. I asked why in heaven's name they wanted (what I thought) such strange information. I was told that the owner was into numerology or some sort of strange mumbo-jumbo. Reluctantly, I gave the information (I was 18 and needed the job).

    I got a call a couple of days later letting me know the owner was "very impressed" with me (I had never met the owner) and I was offered the job. Unfortunately, everyone there was crazy and I left after a week.

    And by the way, I have lovely handwriting. So lovely, in fact, that in fourth grade, my teacher (Mr Williams from Ponderosa Forest Elementary School in Houston) would have me write the letters on the chalkboard while he taught the handwriting lesson.

  27. Anonymous*

    Apparently, a hand written cover letter is not as uncommon as one would think. I too was applying for a job – a Program Assistant for Social Services – where it was required… Yes, I've written it all over again 3 times or more.. The margins were wrong, the lines would crawl up or down, the gaps between letters were disturbinly uneven, etc. I never learned the reason why it was required in the first place, but I can see how such a document can be used for a character analysis. Don't you still love it when you get an exceptionally nice hand written note which looks almost like an art? It's rare these days, I must admit.

  28. Mneiae*

    Honestly, a letter that is handwritten is not an uncommon requirement for applying for jobs in Europe. Apparently that practice has jumped over the pond.

    I had to do this when I applied to my college prep high school. I don't see why this would give anyone significant pause in a job search, although I admit that it's unusual in America.

  29. meghan*

    I just saw a job posting for Budget Rental Truck and Car, and they want a handwritten cover letter… go figure. I can't for the life of my figure out why they would want it…. its renting out cars and trucks!

  30. Anonymous*

    Hi Meghan- I am a recruiter at Avis Budget Group / Budget Truck and we do not require handwritten cover letters to apply for positions. I'm sorry for any confusion. Feel free to apply online with just your updated resume. Good luck with your job search.


  31. Human Resource Agent*

    It is to make sure that the people applying are not printing out and submitting the same cover letter to 100's of places at once. If you want to apply for the specific position it forces you to sit down and take 5-15 minutes to write it out and send it in. Since only someone who actually wants that job will do it, it narrows the field greatly.

    It is worth while to do if you are actually intersted in the job as the initial competition wont be as fierce. Usually a practice employed by smaller/boutiqe firms, VERY rare to find a fortune 500 doing this. Hope this helps.

  32. Anonymous*

    In France you are expected to hand write all your cover letters. Whether it is just to follow old protocol/habits, out of respect or because they sometimes do handwritting analysis I do not know.

  33. Anonymous*

    As a hiring manager in the past this was my first check as to whether applicants actually did as they were told. If someone cannot pay attention and follow a simple request there is no hope for them with anything complicated!

  34. Anonymous*

    I’m in the middle of applying for a Legal Secretary position that requires a hand written cover letter…
    I don’t mind doing this because I have nice hand writting but I cant imagine how many people won’t apply because of it…

  35. OhYouKnow*

    What if someone has arthritis or some other medical condition that affects their handwriting to some extent? The company could weed out someone whose handwriting is challenged and would otherwise benefit from and be legally entitled to a “reasonable accommodation” that would normally allow them to type out lengthy writing, unless handwritten letters and such are a requirement for the job. This seems to be a little sketchy legally in this sense to ask every single applicant to do this as a screening tool.
    I have always had “distinct” handwriting since I was a child. If you compare it to both my parents’, it’s clearly a blend of both of their disparate styles. Nothing I can do about that except write “I will try to be neat” 1000 times. I also have arthritis. I would not want these to disqualify me for a position that I’m otherwise clearly a suitable candidate for.

  36. Kim*

    Part of the reason a handwritten cover letter is asked for is to see if the perspective employee will follow instructions, many will apply with a type written one anyways. It weeds out those who cannot follow basic instructions. Also it’s to see what your handwritten script is legible.

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