is referring to an orgy in my cover letter going to hurt me?

A reader writes:

I was applying to jobs in advertising and I put the following paragraph in my cover letter. I haven’t been contacted by a single agency and, after reviewing my cover letter, I am concerned that putting the word “orgy” in the letter might have been inappropriate:

“Although I enjoy my current role in sales, I am looking for a position that allows me to better utilize my problem solving skills and that both inspires and applauds creativity. (As you can imagine, bringing creativity to a financial software company is like bringing the Pope to an orgy… not so much appreciated by the operations manager or the software developer.) Having performed quite a bit of research on your agency, I feel that I could make a significant contribution as well as learn quite a bit from your organization and would like to explore whether there might be a position that would match a person with my experience and skill set.”

Do you think I may get a response, or have I ruined my chances? Should I call and speak to the hiring manager and apologize for the offensive language?

Yeah, it’s inappropriate. There are some people who wouldn’t care at all (and some who may even like it because they’ll think that it shows personality), but enough who would care that it’s not worth the risk. There are other ways to convey what you were trying to say there, even ones that could show personality without turning anyone off.

In general, avoid sexual and religious references in job applications. (And definitely avoid combining them!)

I would not call to apologize, however. That’s just going to compound the weirdness. At this point, what’s done is done. Just don’t do it again!

Also, as a side note, I’d avoid the type of negativity that you had in that sentence, aside from the orgy reference. Claiming that your last company didn’t appreciate your creativity — or worse, that a whole industry doesn’t — risks making you look difficult or negative … quick to feel unappreciated, slow to realize that there may have been other reasons it didn’t go over well there, etc. Those aren’t good things. Keep it positive.

{ 49 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    “(As you can imagine, bringing creativity to a financial software company is like bringing the Pope to an orgy… not so much appreciated by the operations manager or the software developer.) ”

    I feel like this whole sentence is maybe a bit worrysome. It might be fine to say in an interview when you have a feel for someone but it is like people who just make jabs at acceptable groups to jab at. Someone once made a joke about how horrible auditors are to me. I had to say that if not for an auditor my org would have gone out of business due to a fradulent accountant. Just because you think a group (opersonations managment, software developers, and financial software companies) are unhip or not “creative” doesn’t mean that jabbing at them in your cover letter is a good idea unless you know everyone who might read the letter is 100% with you. I’m all for humor and fun in a cover letter but this just isn’t humorous or fun, it’s coming off as a little mean spirited.

    1. Anonymous

      Is this a real letter? I find it a little hard to believe….it seems a bit staged to me. Probably I am just an old fuddy duddy. I’d toss your letter in the “file” right away though.

  2. HaHa

    WOW!!!! Reminds me of what Lewis Grizzard said, to paraphrase “Darn, Brother, don’t believe I would have told that….”

  3. chris

    Really? you reference an orgy and the Pope in the same sentence, in your cover letter? I know folks don’t really read them too often BUT if you’d say this as an applicant, what would you say if you got the job? Come on people! SMH…

  4. sonyab76

    First of all you are my hero. Second, if I was the recruiting manager and I saw that I’d have already called you by now:-)

    1. Sally

      I agree. If had a business I would hire you! :D However, I’m guessing your resume won’t get past the old bats in HR.

  5. So Many Issues

    So, aside from the already mentioned problems, this person is offering “problem solving skills” but has to write to ask about whether this letter is a problem? Perhaps the letter writer should start back a square one and find a good advisor to help them understand what problem solving and appropriateness actually is. Another obvious issue-the person doesn’t even actually say *what* job they would fulfill but expects the recipient to set aside time to “explore” this. Oh, there is more but really-the best advice for this person is please find a smart and trusted advisor/mentor to help you .

  6. Emily Litella

    What is the big deal about referring to Porgy in a letter? If anything, it shows that you are well-versed in American musical theater. George Gershwin was, after all, a composer who has become almost mythological in American music circles. Is someone accusing you of being sexist for not mentioning Bess, too? Well, at least avoid taking shortcuts, speedy pants. And as far as anybody claiming that referencing Porgy (& Bess) is racist, well that has been debunked long ago.

    Are you worried that someone might think you are talking about the fish? Please! The porgy (calamus bajanoado) has NOTHING NO-THING to do with a job application. That’s just silly.

    I say, good for you, Mr. Music Opera person. Do not be afraid to show your intellectual side! The people who don’t know about this great piece of music are the dim ones!

  7. Anonymous

    What an insult to the financial software industry! That industry is 100% creativity and this reader obviously knows nothing about what it takes to write software or derive new algorithms to do what ever type of financial analysis that company does.

    I can understand why they don’t appreciate this reader’s particular type of creativity. Very generic to say the least too, “your agency”, “your organization (what organization)”, “learn a lot (about what)”. This reader wonders why there have been no responses? Really?

    It sounds like this reader is angry about something and is looking for sympathy, not a job.

    I can’t imagine this to be legitimate, it is probably someone pulling your leg.

  8. A. Nonymous

    If this person had to ask, then they clearly aren’t exactly sensible. When you are hesitant in writing something or doing something, then it’s best to go with the gut and not do it!

    I’m almost thinking this is the moonlighting person looking for a new job!

  9. Wilton Businessman

    Pope AND Orgy? No, definitely not. You might have well just lead of with “A horse, a rabbi, and the Pope walk into a gay bar…”

  10. Anonymous

    Ha! I’m a die-hard atheist with an often perverse sense of humor, and even I would toss a letter like that. It reminds me of the time I was interviewing someone who joked about offering blowjobs to subject matter experts to get them to answer her questions. I laughed, but inside I was thinking “there is no way I can take this woman to meetings with my bosses, who knows what she’ll say…”

    1. class factotum

      I was at a trade show (the poultry show in Atlanta) a few years ago, walking around with one of the VPs of my department. The equipment showcased was poultry slaughtering and processing equipment. In front of one booth, which had machines that transported the eviscerated, headless, plucked chickens across the factory floor for packaging was a trio of scantily clad, buxom young women, dancing.

      Because scantily clad, buxom young women, dancing, has everything to do with the processing of dead poultry.

      I rolled my eyes and commented to the VP that perhaps the next step would be for these companies to hire hookers to give blow jobs to potential customers.

      He did not appreciate my comment.

      Although I heard later that my company paid to entertain customers in ways that would not be classified as family friendly. If you know what I mean.

  11. Mike C.

    I was trying to think of appropriate ways to include that word in my cover letters.

    “I generate an orgy of sales” or “I’m an orgy of productivity”. I’m sure folks will come up with better.

    Also, folks need to remember the company culture. If you’re applying for, ahem, “specific industries”, one’s thoughts on orgies might be quite pertinent to the job! ;)

  12. Anonymous

    While the porgy thing a tad inappropriate, in my industry, it might get you a call.

    What WOULDN’T get you a call is the vague mention of “our agency” and “if there is a role that might fit” your skills.

    I have never hired someone who couldn’t be bothered to apply for an actual role or pitch to me what that role would be. As I’ve said to numerous candidates throughout the years, “I’m not a career counselor. It’s your job to figure out what you want to do and my job to figure out if you’d do it well for our company.”

  13. Zorro for the Common Good

    I was once advised to remove the word “niggling” from a cover letter on the rationale that it wasn’t worth making the reader think, even subconsciously, about the n-word. I didn’t think there was much of a risk of that happening, but I took it out anyway, because there was no real reason to take that chance. What am I going to do, risk my application on the principle of preserving my freedom to use words which sound vaguely like offensive words?

    A cover letter, which serves as your introduction to a potential employer, is not the place to take unnecessary risks (especially not by alluding to hot-button topics such as sex and religion). You don’t know the person, and you’re communicating with them via a medium that doesn’t allow context or explanations. Plus, if they’re swamped with applications, they’re actively looking for reasons to eliminate candidates. That means any potential negative factor can easily be magnified.

  14. clobbered

    Aside from all the aforementioned valid objections, I’d have to strike it down on the basis of historical snobbery- err, inaccuracy (hello, paging Pope Alexander VI). It’s just a terrible expression any way you look at it.

  15. Karl Sakas

    I’d probably do a phone-screen, but mostly just to verify my assumptions about the applicant’s judgment…

    Earlier this year, we had an applicant write eloquently — if questionably — about switching from a current dead-end job. His cover letter was along the lines of, “Journalism was a cruel mistress, and I’m now seeking comfort in the arms of another… that is to say, advertising.”

    1. Zorro for the Common Good

      Actually, that’s a pretty clever turn of phrase, and given that it was for a (presumably) creative job, I’d probably count that in his favor. I think the key to using humor in the application process is knowing how to use it judiciously and strategically. You want it to help you a) stand out, b) bond with your potential employer and c) display traits that will serve you well in the role, all without raising questions about your fitness for the job.

      1. Karl Sakas

        True, his application did stand out, and my employer is quirkier than most. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a standout candidate during the phone screen and we didn’t move forward to an in-person interview.

        1. Anonymous

          I wouldn’t think you’d even need to be quirky to be fine with that. It’s a pretty standard metaphor, used in family newspapers all the time.

  16. Joey

    Well, that will certainly make you stand out but not for the reasons you want. This goes in the same pile as that new grad who wanted to be hired as an idea guy. I think it’s called the Are You Kidding Me pile.

  17. Effective Delegation

    It is not that the analogy per se is wrong. In fact, it makes the point in a way that catches attention. the problem is that you can not tell what the person receiving it might feel about it. Maybe the word “Orgy” offends them of any religious reference does not sit well. In this situation, you probably needed to tone down your analogy until you were on firmer ground.

  18. JuliB

    As a devout Catholic, I would remember you for a LONG time. How incredibly offensive!

    (Even back when I was an atheist for 25 years, I would have found that to be indicative of incredibly poor judgment. )

      1. Matt

        I’ve personally known a few people who have done that. C. S. Lewis (most famously) was brought up Anglican, became an atheist at 15, and converted back to Anglicanism in his early 30s.

  19. ThomasT

    So, yes, OP: drop the joke in poor taste, and drop the derogatory characterization of your current job & colleagues. Also, if you are “applying for jobs,” by which I presume you mean listed openings, why is your cover letter inquiring “whether there might be a position”? There is a position, you’re applying for it. State what the position is, and what, specifically, you have turned up in your extensive research on Acme Advertising Services (not “your organization”) that leads you to believe that you would be a match. Make your case, don’t offer to explore it. The letter is supposed to be the report on the exploration, which reports having struck gold, to the recruiter.

    Finally, you’ve got a dangling modifier in your first sentence. “a position…that…applauds creativity.” Try replacing “and that both” with “at a firm that”.

  20. RS

    I think in order to show your creativity, it’s fine to keep that simile in there, but reference it to something else besides the orgy thing… something much less controversial.

  21. Sabrina

    Wow. Yeah. That letter is getting forwarded around the HR office so everyone can have a laugh.

  22. Nathan A.

    I understand trying to play the risque card to get some reaction, but “orgy” isn’t a word I would be throwing around to get that sort of reaction. Some people simply can not take their mind to what your intentions are with using that word. The very appearance of it could be a deterrent, let alone the context you wished to convey.

  23. Anonymous

    It’s a shame you have to even answer this. His behavior helps to diminish the competition for others with a modicum of professionalism.

  24. Ken H.

    Although I am not an experienced HR person, I do work with resumes and jobseekers on a daily basis. Has this person never heard of the Applicant Tracking System (ATS)? His/Her resume & cover letter likely never made it to a set of human eyes; the term “orgy” would have flagged the document(s) for rejection immediately.

    1. Gary

      Unfortunately, I have to agree it would be flagged by our system too. Actually, I think it would have been flagged as Spam by our system which scans this stuff. Even if it made through the system, once someone tried to email the materials to the hiring manager, our super-sensitive email system would have flagged it as spam. Even if it made it to the hiring manager, the hiring manager still might find it too odd.

      I like the originality and the personality you want to show, but I hope there is another way to say what you want to say.

  25. Anon in the UK

    Sounds to me like someone mistakenly thinks referring to SEX (shock! horror!) will make him look edgy and cool.

  26. Anonymous

    I’m not surprised the OP hasn’t had any responses to their poorly judged and entirely inappropriate letter. Straight into the “No” pile there.

  27. Jamie

    As a manager I would toss the resume immediately because of the negative tone and poor judgment (it kind of screams high maintenance prima donna who doesn’t have a filter…which is never a good thing.)

    As a practicing Catholic, however, I would remember your name for a very long time.

    How is this even a question?

  28. Jo

    It’s a shame that you didn’t use that phrase about 300 years ago, because it would have been appropriate – the original meaning of orgy was a dinner party or feast. It was then used as a euphemism and metaphor for sex and then (as so many things have) came to be taken literally.
    Anyway, in this day and age, it is inappropriate, as everyone else has pointed out.

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