don’t send poetry as your writing sample, and other suggestions for job applicants

I’m hiring college students for several internships right now, which means that the candidates are a mix of really impressive/prepared and really … not. Lessons from just this past week:

1. Don’t send poetry as your writing sample. It doesn’t matter how good it is; it’s not relevant to the kind of writing I need to see. It’s just one step removed from sending me an audio file of you playing the piano as your writing sample.

2. When you answer the phone and sound surprised to hear from me, which prompts me to ask if you were expecting my call (which was pre-scheduled), don’t say, “I just forgot that it was Thursday.”

3. Don’t tell me when I call for our phone interview (again, pre-scheduled) that you haven’t looked at the job description since you applied and thus can’t remember much about the job.

4. Don’t respond to an email asking if you’re free for a phone interview at 2:00 Wednesday with an email saying “Yes, anytime Thursday is good for me.”

5. Don’t include in your cover letter a link to your blog about your chronic masturbation habit. (Okay, that one was old but I needed a fifth and it’s an all-time best.)

{ 10 comments… read them below }

  1. Karl*

    And if you’ve applied to my job posting in North Carolina, don’t link me to your blog… where the latest article is about how you can’t wait to move to Orlando to be with your girlfriend.

  2. JC*

    I got both a good laugh and a good groan from this post. Yikes! Some people need to use their planners and calendars more.

    Quick question: Are blogs worth putting on your resume/cover letter if they are relevant to the job you are applying for? I know that a poorly written or way-out-there (i.e. chronic masturbation) type of blog won’t impress a potential employer, but I don’t know what employers’ general views on personal blogs are. Impressed? Indifferent? Rolling their eyes?

  3. Kimberlee Stiens*

    I have another that I’ve seen frustratingly often: In the space “How did you come to apply at our company?” Don’t write “Employee Referral” WITHOUT writing the employee’s name! I’m not just gonna ask around like “Who knows this person?” unless you are of significant merit, in which case you didn’t need the referral anyway.

    1. Rana*

      But is that really what you’re asking for with that question? If I saw a question like that, I’d assume it was more like one of those “how did you learn of our company” questions you see on some websites, where the answers are things like “Google” “newspaper” “word of mouth” etc. in which case _who_ mentioned the position is irrelevant. It’s merely getting at whether the company’s advertising process is working, and how, and has nothing to do with the visitor’s “fit” with the company.

      If, on the other hand, you’re wanting to know specifically whether the applicant knows someone at the company, I’d ask that, and not try to get at that information indirectly. Otherwise you’re going to be wasting your time chasing “referrals” that amount to “I saw this job listed on the company bulletin board and thought you might be interested”.

  4. Dennis*

    “Don’t respond to an email asking if you’re free for a phone interview at 2:00 Wednesday with an email saying “Yes, anytime Thursday is good for me.”

    I have to say, the kid is honest to the hiring manager. lol

  5. Yasmine*

    Is poetry always such a big no-no?
    What if you are applying for a job as a poetry editor, and they ask you for a writing sample? Or for a position at a literary magazine. I don’t think poetry is so irrelevant,. I think it might be appropriate in the two above situations. Especially because many people think they can write poetry or think they know what poetry is, yet editors get hundreds and hundreds of pages of unbearable stuff. Personally if someone sent me poetry and it was actually good and well written, that person would have extra credibility in my opinion. It’s a lot harder to write a good poem than to write a good article or essay. You know that someone who can write good poetry, has attention to detail, is observant, and has a sense of the rhythm of language and how to structure writing for the best effect. I don’t see how any of those skills would not be relevant to ANY writing job, or job which requires writing.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Poetry journals are a very small sliver of the overall job market. Their rules may be different. (Although even still, I would never use poetry as a writing sample unless it’s specifically asked for. Someone could be a poor at narrative communication and not have that revealed in a poetry sample, so I’d imagine that even poetry journals would be interested to see your “regular” writing.) But outside the poetry industry, there’s no time it would be appropriate.

  6. Yasmine*

    So I should not send poetry as a one of three writing samples for an application for an internship with a literary poetry magazine? I’m still debating, I’m not one hundred percent convinced. I wouldn’t send it as the only sample, but since I have to send three, and poetry is really what I am interested in more than anything, I want that to come across.

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