should I let a fellow alum and rejected job applicant know what she’s doing wrong?

A reader writes:

I’ve been managing my office’s recruiting and hiring process. During our last round of hiring, a young woman who had about a year of experience and a bachelor’s degree was under consideration for an account executive position. At most firms in my industry, this is slightly above entry-level. I did a phone interview and liked her, so I offered to put her on the schedule for an in-person interview with our team the next week. After asking for a few times that might work, I received the following emailed response:

“Before I head out there I wanted a little clarification on the position. How long is the training role become becoming [sic] full time? As you can see from my experience I am no longer entry level so I want to make sure all is productive before making any trips.”

I think it should be obvious that I politely withdrew my offer for an interview, if for no other reason than the typo in such a short email. For context, the “training period” she’s referencing is the three-month probationary period my company has, which I think is standard practice for many companies, and I happened to mention in our phone conversation that we would provide training during that period if needed. Also, I think she lived about an hour away. We have people who drive further than that every day to the office.

Because she’s an alum of my school, I really wanted to follow up with her and explain that even though her experience is great, she is still entry-level. Moreover, I wanted to point out that no one in our office is “entry-level” if resumes are the litmus test, but we all do entry-level work every day, and we certainly don’t accept the attitude that because a person has done x and y for clients in a past position, they don’t have to do z for our clients.

Is it okay to follow up with this sort of advice? I’m certain it could result in an unpleasant response, but I’m not bothered by that if it helps her down the road.

Do it. Since you’re willing to tolerate the possibility of an unpleasant response, you’d be doing her a favor by letting her know how her email came across.

The key, though, will be to give feedback in a constructive way. Make sure that your email reads as polite and friendly, not just “let me tell you all the things you did wrong” (even though she’s certainly given you plenty of fodder for that). For an example of what not to do, see yesterday’s post about rudely worded feedback to a candidate.

You could also include that it’s absolutely fine to ask questions like how long the training period is — the point isn’t that she can’t ask; it’s that wording and tone really matter, and she got them all wrong. That’s an important distinction, because you don’t want her to misinterpret and think you’re objecting to her asking at all.

She may disregard you, or lash out (see the lashing out hall of fame here, here, and here), but as long as you don’t care, it would be a favor to her to tip her off. (And she may listen to you and get something out it.)

{ 127 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie the Fed*

    I got together with old college friends recently, several of whom are involved in hiring, and they were appalled by the candidates they’ve been seeing, particularly recent grads. They said there is a total disconnect between experience and expectations, and some candidates can’t even do the most basic things, like write a proper sentence or spell check a resume.

    How sad.

    1. Joey*

      What’s really sad is that they probably forgot that some of them were probably in the same boat when they were fresh out of school.

      1. Esra*

        When it comes to a disconnect between experience/expectations, sure. But basic spelling and grammar?

        1. Cat*

          Given what I see from experienced professionals with impressive educational backgrounds decades of experience, I can promise that some of them were also bad at spelling and grammar when they were straight out of school, and it seems likely that some were bad then but have improved. (At least, I hope so or what are we accomplishing, really.)

          1. Ed*

            In my experience, spelling and grammar are two skills that rarely get better as you get older (without additional education).

        2. Anonymous*

          I have plenty of experienced co-workers who have serious trouble with spelling and grammar. I think I read somewhere that the average professional American reads and writes at a 5th-8th grade level. Certainly doesn’t surprise me.

          1. bearing*

            Kind of makes you wonder what is the meaning of calling that level “5th-8th grade.”

            1. fposte*

              I think that’s a little misleading, though–what’s really being assessed is office communication in use, not people’s communication abilities. Most office communication isn’t nuanced consideration of philosophical issues–they’re mostly notes that people are going to be out next week and instructions about water-cooler changing.

              1. Emily*

                I don’t know, I think most of my written communication bears some nuance, either intended or inferred. And there’s potential for misinterpretation even in notes about rudimentary things, which is perhaps what the candidate in the OP’s letter needs to know.

                1. fposte*

                  Sure, but that’s not because it’s being written at a fifth to eighth grade level. I spend a lot of time reading stuff written officially at that level, and there’s plenty of nuance in it. OP’s communication problems didn’t stem from too low reading level.

                  My point is that office communication isn’t bad for being written at an eighth grade level when that’s appropriate to the message, which it mostly is, and the fact that office communication is being written at an eighth grade level doesn’t mean the people there top out at an eighth grade communication ability. State of the Union speeches have operated below a tenth grade level for about twenty years now, but that’s not because no president or speechwriter can write above that level.

                2. Emily*

                  @ fposte at 9:26am

                  True! My sense of fifth-eighth grade writing is probably skewed toward the low-skill end just because of my background. I should give fifth graders more credit!

        3. Another Emily*

          My eyes (or brain?) skip words that seem unnecessary when I read and I actually didn’t see the typo at all. Then again, I’m only four years out of university…

    2. Ed*

      I see the same thing. Most of us did dumb things during interviews when we just got out of school but there certainly is a disconnect between experience and expectations recently with candidates just entering the workforce. There is a difference between being wanting more responsibility and thinking you deserve better assignments.

    3. Jessa*

      And worse that disconnect is often encouraged by hiring offices at uni or their parents or other advisers.

      1. JCC*

        That sounds right. Colleges argue that a degree will somehow allow a graduate to skip to the head of the line, and parents who have arbitrarily hit a glass ceiling in the careers due to lacking of a college degree are inclined to believe them.

        So when it comes time for the student to take out a dangerously large loan to pay for their education, it is justified with the belief that fresh out of school they will be given the mid-level positions that pay salaries allowing them to repay their loans (not “entry-level”), despite having little industry experience.

        The attitude might simply be their desperation showing through, as it dawns on them that most employers pay extra for experience; they are not willing to pay that much extra for just a college educated employee — at least, not in an amount that will pay for the costs of getting that education.

        1. Anonymous*

          Honestly, though, 5 years ago this was a realistic expectation. I know, because I graduated 6 years ago, and my degree and a smattering of work experience was sufficient to get me a great job in a field where I had extremely limited experience. The job market is completely different post-recession, though, and I don’t think colleges are doing enough to adjust the expectations of their graduates…probably because they don’t want to tell students their degrees may end up being little more to them than thousands of dollars of debt for years and years to come.

  2. Duane*

    Job candidates are always at a disadvantage. Yet, with a positive attitude, a smile on your face, and a good skill set, you eventually can get lucky and land a position.

    Poking the bear before you even officially step in the office will not get you in the door.

    Ignore the candidate no matter what the connection. There are better candidates out there just waiting to be given the chance to apply themselves during the first 90 days.

    Words matter. Use them wisely.

  3. BCW*

    While I can see the typos being a bit of a problem (although depending on the job, I don’t know if I’d completely disregard someone because of that), I don’t REALLY think it was that bad.

    I currently have to commute an hour each way. However if I were to take another job with that kind of commute, I’d really want to make sure the job was what I expected it to be. Whether or not others choose to do that shouldn’t have any bearing on whether she thinks thats too much. Maybe her car isn’t in great shape to make that drive daily so she would need to invest in new one. The tone comes across kind entitled, but I don’t think thats the intention, which as we know is part of the problem with communicating through email. Many people would consider “entry level” fresh out of college, while others may consider it less than 3 years experience.

    1. Henning Makholm*

      Sure enough you would make sure the job is right for you before accepting it. But making it a condition for even interviewing for a job you’ve voluntarily applied for? Finding out these things is what the interview is FOR.

      1. BCW*

        Yeah, but if you are questioning the job, isn’t it better to know that before wasting your time or the time of the interviewers. I get that you can’t know EVERYTHING before the interview, but clarification on certain things before driving an hour each way isn’t horrible.

      2. Josh S*

        “Wanna go on a date Friday night?”
        “Well, I don’t know if you’re the marrying type. Are you willing to marry me and cook me breakfast in bed every Saturday morning for the rest of my life?”

        Yeah…interviewing is like dating.

        1. some1*

          Great analogy. There’s nothing wrong with any candidate deciding they want a great understanding/clarification on a position before they travel an hour each way to an interview. But that doesn’t mean you need to tell the Hiring Manager.

          There are plenty of ways to diplomatically asking about aspects of a position that concern you, and if this candidate had done that, she would have come off much better, instead of assuming probation = part time. And it would concern me to hire someone made assumptions like this, because I would be afraid they would send co-workers/customers, etc emails like this.

    2. Vicki*

      I think that canceling the interview based on a minor typo like this in an email message seems over the top. Of course, if someone did that to me and I learned that was the reason, I’d feel I dodged the proverbial bullet.

      1. fposte*

        It’s not just the typo, and it’s not simply “we don’t interview people who make typos”–as Kim says downthread, it’s that this email in its totally makes this applicant noncompetitive with the other people being called in to interview. It’s not that she sucks rocks worse than anybody else who applied. At this point, they’ve already weeded out other qualified candidates for similar kinds of communication problems. Now this candidate is demonstrating that she’s more at the level of those they rejected than those they decided to interview. There’s nothing sacred about that first division into interviewed and non-interviewed, so it’s not like they have to continue to keep her in the better pack just because at one point she looked like she belonged there.

  4. Joey*

    I really cringe when I see an entry level position ending in executive. I’ve never quite understood the rationale. Isn’t it sort of like saying VP of Data Entry?

    1. Victoria Nonprofit*

      I generally agree (title inflation is has gone mad) but “account executive” has been around forever. It’s just advertising/marketing weirdness.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        Just noticed that I totally did exactly what the applicant did – started a sentence (“title inflation is insane!”), changed my mind about the language (“title inflation has gone mad!”) and didn’t finish editing (“title inflation is has gone mad!”). Heh.

        1. KarenT*

          True, but that’s just a comment on a blog. I’m sure you would have proofread correspondence with a job interviewer :)

          1. Anonymous*

            Proofreading isn’t a guarantee against typos, though. Our brains have a tendency to fill in gaps or gloss over mistakes in writing with whatever we expect or makes the most sense. If it’s something you’ve just written, it’s unlikely you’ll catch an error, even on a second or third pass. The best guarantees against this are: 1) have someone else take a look at it, or 2) walk away from it a while, giving your brain time to reset, and then come back to it. You’d expect someone to do this for resumes and cover letters, where people have more time to put them together and think about them. In a back and forth conversation, especially coming up against a deadline, this isn’t really possible, and typographical errors are likely. Considering spell check only catches misspelled words, not properly spelled words used improperly, it’s not a failsafe.

            Deciding not to hire someone based on a typo in a back and forth e-mail exchange is silly. It’s just how our brains work…or rather, don’t. Unless there’s consistent egregious spelling and grammar errors, it’s a reasonable mistake for any human being to make.

            Deciding not to hire someone based on poor judgment, however, is completely legitimate, and if you want to help the applicant out by flagging their error in judgment to them, by all means, do.

        2. Jessa*

          But it’s not title inflation. Unless they’re using Account Executive to mean less than “manages certain accounts themselves and sometimes has help from the clerical pool.” It doesn’t mean they’re an executive as in a VP or something like that. It’s an odd title out from advertising and banking.

    2. Thomas*

      Victoria Nonprofit is right. In my industry (telecommunications), Account Executive is the standard title for outside sales representatives; I believe it’s common in other industries too.

      Though I once applied for a position in this same industry where the title was something like “Billing Customer Account Executive.” It was basically an inbound call center job where you tried to upsell customers whenever they called about their account. That was title inflation even within the advertising/marekting/sales weirdness paradigm.

      1. Ed*

        I also see Account Manager a lot in my industry which (here at least) just means you manage the accounts your area. I did that in a former profession and was a Sales Rep.

        1. Joey*

          When you are really responsible for managing the performance of accounts Account Manager is fine, but account executive when nothing about your job is executive-ish? Its sort of like companies that get cute and refer to their employees as associates or partners. When you say you’re an account executive your duties really shouldn’t be pitching magazine subscriptions over the phone for just above minimum wage. Employees can see through the BS.

  5. Chris*

    On the typo in the email – I see that sort of thing all the time in messages sent from mobile devices, which sometimes have even more interesting autocorrects. If that was the only issue, I’d just move past it…

    1. Chinook*

      Chris, I agree that the typo is minor (though she should have proofread before sending something out to prospective employer), it is the fact that she also mistook a probationary period for a training period and felt that having one was not really productive. Combined they give me the impression that she is entry level but, since she insists that she no longer is, it flags her as someone who may be difficult to work with.

    2. jennie*

      It makes the message very difficult to understand though. If she’d missed a letter or something, that’s one thing… but her message shows she didn’t understand what she was already told and her request for clarification is so confusing it’d raise a red flag about her attention to detail.

    3. fposte*

      I don’t think I’d be as hard on the email as the OP was, but I’d definitely have a sinking feeling about the candidate as a result of the general cluelessness. I don’t know that I’d cancel the interview as a result–that would depend on other factors–but it might knock her out of the running nonetheless.

  6. Ed*

    “As you can see from my experience I am no longer entry level ”

    This is one of my pet peeves – people who think a minimal amount of experience puts them above entry level. After only a year in the work force, a person still typically knows almost nothing. Maybe you are a little further advanced than average if your first job was amazing and they gave you tons of training and opportunities but that would apply to an extreme minority. We have plenty of entry level people where I work that have been here 3-4 years that I still wouldn’t give any tasks above entry level. It really depends on the person.

    The tone of the email alone really turned me off. It is actually sort of impressive to be able to turn me off so much with three sentences so maybe that is something. I would guess one of the top negatives for a hiring manager is an entitled candidate. Interviews are usually about trying to convince the company you would absolutely love to work there, even if you’re lying. There are few industries that have to woo entry level candidates.

    I’m a senior level person that moves a round a lot on contract jobs. I have to start at the bottom at every job and win over the manager and the staff before I’m treated like someone at my experience level. I’m not always happy about it but it’s a fact of life. Trust be told, I do frequently come across people at my level who aren’t very good so I guess I don’t blame them. But even at my stage of the game, my attitude on interviews is still “what can I learn here?”, not is this place worth my precious time.

    On giving the candidate feedback, I guess it doesn’t hurt if you’re willing. However, I’ve found that young + clueless = not very receptive to criticism.

    1. V*

      I’ve been under the impression that “entry level” is now being overused. My understanding is that a true entry level position is one that does not require any experience, although it might require specific skills. I consider any job requiring one year of experience in any related field lower level, but not entry.

      I disagree that you should try to convince a company that you would love to work there, rather that they would love to have you working there.

      That being said, I do think this candidate showed a lack of maturity in specifically pointing out that she isn’t entry-level anymore and was concerned about having a training period. All jobs require SOME training and a probationary period is completely reasonable. There are people in all age groups that don’t respond well to criticism, but I think it is worth a shot.

      1. Anonymous*

        It is frustrating to see jobs requiring 5+ years of experience listed as “entry level,” or even as “internships,” and I’ve seen plenty of that. However, if you’ve only been in the workforce for a year, you’re still entry level, and you’ve got at least another 2-3 years before you should consider yourself anything else. I think it’s okay to stretch for things that aren’t entry level in a job search, but if you lack the self-awareness to recognize you are stretching, you probably aren’t ready for the next step.

  7. Your Mileage May Vary*

    I think it sucks that you pulled the interview with the team based on that email. It’s a little abrupt and assumes a lot of things but she’s just trying to get clarification. You already liked her in her phone interview and you must have seen something positive in her resume so what is there to lose by having her interview with the team while keeping an eye out for lack of fit. You could have gone ahead and informed her that she would still be doing entry-level stuff at your company and she may have decided to end the interview process there.

    My guess is that she doubled up the words because she was trying to figure out what to say in the email and backspaced but didn’t get everything. I think we’ve all done that when we’ve sat on a response for a while trying to get what we wanted to say on paper. So you might say that she was at least trying to think of a way to ask her question in a way that she thought was polite (I hope) but got her the answer she needed to see if she even wanted to continue on in the interview process.

    And this sentence: “I think it should be obvious that I politely withdrew my offer for an interview, if for no other reason than the typo in such a short email.” — so snobby and full of a “tone” on your part.

    1. Harriet Quimby*

      I respectfully disagree. That wasn’t a small typo; it was a big and obvious mistake. The sender didn’t proofread before she sent it off. Even a small typo matters; I used to work for someone who said to me, “If you write “teh” for “the” then how do I know that when you write “10 million” you didn’t mean “100 million”?’ And she was right.

      If the sender of that email worked for me, and sent that sloppy message to a client, it would reflect poorly on my business. It just shows a sloppy, indifferent attitude. By now she should know to proofread everything. I mean really.

      1. V*

        It’s really easy to start “falling in love” with your own writing that you can miss it, even if you are typically a good writer. In HS I had a teacher adamantly say you should write a paper and then sit it aside for at least a day to look at it with a fresh set of eyes and be able to proofread better.

        If your name shows up as a misspelled word and you can’t add it to the dictionary in the e-mail platform you are using, it is a nightmare to get your grammar/ spelling correct because you disregard the warnings, thinking it is just correcting your name.

        1. Liz*

          I agree with your teacher, and have done the same thing for over 15 years.

          For a short but important email, reading it out loud will often reveal errors or wording problems. Just looking at them will let your brain skip or make the same translation error again, but the combination of speaking and listening can be most enlightening.

          I also tend to do this for training documents and presentations, to reveal any awkward phrasings.

      2. Anonymous*

        Plenty of people miss typos, even when they proofread. Run a google search on “brain proofreading.” You’ll find all sorts of scientific evidence that backs this up.

        People make typos all of the time. Sometimes they do cause problems. Most of the time, though, people are smart enough to figure out what is intended or to ask if something serious–like the difference between 10 million and 100 million–is amiss.

        Perfection is not a reasonable standard to hold anyone to, however close we think we are to meeting it ourselves.

    2. Ellie H.*

      I think she meant to say “before becoming full time.” As studies have shown people largely identify English words by their beginnings and ends and when you are thinking about composing an email, especially if you start with several different sentences expressing the same thing (something I do often when I’m trying to write something concise and carefully expressed) it would be extremely easy to do.

      I have made mistakes like this (typed a similar looking word with a different meaning) many, many times when writing emails; usually I catch them but once in a while I am sure I miss some. Yes, one would expect a job candidate to proofread obsessively, but I think this is very far toward “even a thoughtful person could do it” on the scale of mistakes.

      While the typo is quite a minor problem the part that goes “As you can see I am no longer entry level” is not well expressed and a bit presumptuous sounding. But I agree that withdrawing the offer seems quite presumptuous as well given the other positive indicators for this candidate.

    3. Pippens McGee*

      I have to agree with this. While I found the applicant’s email a little out-of-line, I honestly didn’t think the typo was that big of a deal. I agree with YMMV that she probably just reworded the sentence and didn’t hit backspace far enough. I’m not saying this is OK all the time, especially if it’s constant, but I would have cut her some slack. I can’t say I’ve never done it.

      When I read the sentence quoted above written by OP, I thought that was nearly just as snotty as the applicant’s email. I was surprised that the interview was pulled on the basis of the applicant’s email alone.

      However, that’s OP’s decision and I think that’s fine. I don’t think it was “wrong,” per se, to cancel the interview, I was just surprised.

      As for the applicant seeing themselves as no longer being entry level… that’s foolish on her part. However, I feel like I was that person once. I’m not so sure that it’s “this generation” or “recent applicants” as much as it is “being 22” and not having realistic expectations for what the workplace is like.

    4. Ed*

      It didn’t bother me that she withdrew the interview but I will admit I could care less about the typo. For me, I might have withdrawn it for the attitude on the candidate’s part. Some my scoff but I want zero attitude from entry level candidates. To me, entry level is all about having the right attitude and being smart enough to learn the job.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think the typo is a deal-breaker, but the wording and tone of the email certainly is. It’s arrogant and entitled sounding, and I can’t think of any good employees I know who would send an email like that.

      1. AB*

        I’d add to that the fact that the OP probably had other candidates who presented much better by email to interview.

        I have no problems whatsoever eliminating someone from my pool of candidates because of wording and tone (and in fact have done so recently). Especially when you have other candidates who also did well in a phone screening, and were much more polite and professional in their email communications (which with me has always been the case).

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          This. If you were trying to get a specific person into a job, a typo would be something to ignore. But candidates are rarely in a vacuum; there were presumably other candidates who were as qualified or more so than the candidate in OP’s question, and that is such a major typo (simply glancing over the very short email you’d just written would catch it, and a glance is sort of a low minimum bar for a communication you’re sending to a prospective employer) that it would certainly be reasonable to say “this person is no longer competitive with the other candidates I’m looking at for this position.”

  8. Chinook*

    If you are going to give her feedback, you might want to clarify for her that a probationary period is not the same as a training period and is standard for almost all jobs. If she is just starting out, she may not realize the difference and it will help her come across as more professional.

    1. Stella*

      Honestly, she really may not know what entry-level means, either. If she is, in fact, twenty two-ish, her fontal lobe is *literally* not fully developed; so , there’s that too. ;)

      1. Meg*

        I don’t think that has anything to do with her understanding the definition of “entry-level”, though. I understand where you’re coming from, but a 22-year old’s developing brain is more likely to affect larger decision-making skills (such as the decision to send that email) rather than understanding the definition of a widely-used term.

        Honestly, I really do feel bad for this candidate. Email etiquette is something that did NOT come to me naturally, and I used to come across as quite snippy and demanding, and never even realized it. I sent a few emails like this one before I realized how I was portraying myself. Maybe she just isn’t very self-aware.

        1. Ellie H.*

          There are many people at the organization I work at who send horribly worded, curt and rude sounding email (including some in all caps with no punctuation). It’s not on purpose, I’m sure, because I have met some of them in person and they are courteous and normal. (I’ve noticed this is mainly, but not exclusively, older people who probably have less experience using email as the primary mode of business communication.) But yeah, email etiquette is not intuitive and everyone has a different style and standards. Just as with many etiquette issues.

        2. Stella*

          I agree. I was making a rather flippant remark in an attempt at humor. I won’t do it again, promise. ;)

    2. Jessa*

      My worry about the phrasing was the applicant was saying both “I am not entry level,” and “I need training in this job.” Those sentences do not go together.

      1. BCW*

        Jess, I kind of disagree. I wouldn’t say I’m entry level by any means, I’ve been working for years. But sometimes when you move fields, roles, or even just companies every needs some kind of training. You can be not entry level but still need training in a specific job.

  9. Tina*

    I’m curious, how did she respond to you withdrawing the offer of an interview?

    If you’re not stressed about an unpleasant response and are willing, I think it would be a nice professional courtesy to offer her some constructive feedback. Maybe she’ll be more receptive than you think, and even if she isn’t very receptive right now, it may still be useful to her later. It may just be that she didn’t realize how her email could be interpreted on the other end and might choose her words differently in the future.

    One thing that goes through my mind, especially since I work with college students, is that they can’t learn from a situation if no one ever gives them feedback.

  10. Stella*

    A few years ago I was looking for a job and went on so many interviews I stopped counting. It felt like my job WAS job interviews. By about job interview three, I panicked. Those Jimmy Choos don’t pay for themselves, you know. I spent such an exorbitant amount of time “researching” interview skills, resumes, etc. that I got lost in it. Some seemingly viable material would say do “A” and other just as seemingly viable materials would counter it.
    At that point I didn’t know my elbow from my nose anymore.
    I actually did get to the point where I asked a few interviewers why I didn’t get the position (of course in a diplomatic way).
    Her email makes me think she tried taking the upper hand?
    If so: desperate move, no doubt. Is it possible she’s having a hell of time finding a job and is grasping at straws? Albeit fatal ones? (Also entirely possible she’s an indulged individual who has a pompous sense of entitlement.)
    If possibility A is the case, a kind human being would reach out a helping hand, no matter the setting, even if it is just a quick email back.
    Ignoring her, as Duane suggests, doesn’t help perpetuate a better world and is incredibly selfish and ungrateful, as NO one is anyplace worth being without the willingness of others.
    What would make this little blue marble a better place because of you? A tiny favor taking five minutes of your time or a fuck you attitude?
    Grammatical errors are grossly embarrassing and should never, EVER show up on job seeking paperwork, but no one is immune. Major ad companies, magazines, newspapers, etc. go through rigorous proof reading and editing before publishing and yet (!) typos are a regular occurrence.

  11. Anonymous*

    It is rare that a hiring manager will give you any feedback. Many are afraid of possible legalities, most couldn’t give a damn about their applicants and don’t want to be bothered with coaching or counseling.

  12. Rana*

    I think giving feedback on your part would be kind. However!

    I would make it very clear that you’ve made up your mind regarding her fit for this position, regardless. Otherwise you may find yourself in the position where you’re fielding attempts to argue with your advice, either out of defensiveness or a vain hope that if she addresses your concerns that will fix things and reset everything. Make it clear that this advice is a courtesy for future jobs, not things she can fix in order to get this one.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Excellent point! I have encouraged recent grads to ask for feedback (cautioning them that they might be refused, or the feedback could be remarkably vague) as a specific means of improving their interview performance for the future. The ship has sailed on this particular opportunity, so start looking to the next one.

      I have gotten some decent feedback over the years when I have asked for it (then again, I work in higher education, which may be more inclined to be helpful/corrective/instructive than other environments). Sometimes the feedback is nice for closure purposes. It’s one thing to get a letter saying “there were many qualified applicants with impressive experience and skills” but it’s another to hear in a phone conversation “you actually did a very good job. The candidate we offered the position to had more experience with XYZ/worked more with these types of students.” Sometimes what you hear in feedback comes down to “fit.” And if they don’t think you’re a fit for their organization, culture, clients, etc., they’re probably right. And they’ve done you a favor by not bringing you into an environment where you will be uncomfortable, unhappy, etc.

  13. The IT Manager*

    …As you can see from my experience I am no longer entry level so I want to make sure all is productive before making any trips.”

    There’s something about the awkward wording of this sentence that makes me thing non-native English speaker, but the rest her sentences don’t really convey that impression. And I figure the LW would have noticed if the candidate had a noticable accent during the telephone interview. So while if I were the hiring manager while I might not dismiss the candiate I have to to say a typo, an awkwardly worded, unclear sentence, calling the probationary period a training role, and thinking that she was no longer entry level really add up to a lot of mistakes in a three sentence email.

    1. fposte*

      I was also confused about “full-time.” I guess she’s using “full” in contrast to “probational” rather than “part,” but I don’t like having to do the heavy lifting to figure out a message.

      I actually read right over the “become/before” error and wondered if people were responding to the grammatical error of the modified-less modifier of “becoming.” That would be too picky even for me, so I’m glad I did see what error people are talking about.

      1. The IT Manager*

        Yes. Probationary period is not equal to part time so I really wonder what the candidate understood about the job.

        * Upon rereading my post, I spotted a few typos, but in my defense I am not communicating with someone I’m trying to convince to hire me here. And I tend to rush finishing my posts here because I don’t have a ton of time to respond. Communication with potential employers require more time and effort to get them perfect. It’s an employers market out there.

    2. AB*

      “There’s something about the awkward wording of this sentence that makes me thing non-native English speaker, but the rest her sentences don’t really convey that impression. ”

      Heh. I’m a non-native English speaker, and in my past job, the CEO required that all formal communications to third parties (written by Americans) were reviewed by me before release. I lost count of how many times I had to fix awkward wording from native English speakers.

      Sometimes, yes, mistakes happen due to lack of familiarity with the language, but I have evidence that this particular type of badly worded email is very common among people with English as their first language as well.

  14. EnnVeeEl*

    I got an email from a girl I was friendly with in college one time. It was riddled with typos. The place I worked at would have picked up on that immediately and ditched her resume for it. I let her know that and provided some edits/feedback in a friendly email. I told her I would pass it along once she sent it back. Never heard from her again.

    Oh well.

  15. Anonymous*

    I’m curious to know what others in the job search market consider as “entry level” because we’ve had this issue before too. Our entry level analyst positions ask for 2-3 years experience (ideally, and this can be met with intern experience) and we’ve gotten snide emails saying how dare we describe a position that requires 2-3 years as “entry level” and our false advertising is totally unfair, etc etc. To me, entry level does not mean your very job ever, but the beginning range of your career.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit*

      This is an interesting question. What do folks think constitute “entry level”? (And what people think is really what matters, isn’t it?) Worth posing in the next open thread.

    2. Tinker*

      Truthfully, I do consider “entry level” as more properly meaning “directly after one has completed the relevant level of education” and would kind of snark internally at a company who was billing its position as entry-level but was calling for more than one year of experience. I’d expect 2-3 years of experience to call for a “junior” or “I” title still, if one is using that structure, but not to be billed as entry-level in an ad.

      In a way, this also reflects that I’d see a person with zero years of professional experience as a distinctly different animal than a person with one, even though they would both have the same title and essentially the same pay. Maybe it was just me, but I recall having changed quite a lot during my first six months as an engineer.

      1. V*

        Ditto. I bet most people learn a lot more in their first year of a career than in the next 40!

        1. J2*

          Sorry, but if you haven’t learned anything since the first year of your career, then you aren’t managing yourself or your career correctly. That’s like saying that your high school years were the best of your life. To me, that’s just really sad. What could you possibly have to look forward to? There’s always something more to learn. As soon as I stop learning, or get bored, that’s when I know I need to change something about my job.

          1. V*

            I didn’t say you won’t learn anything after the first year. I just said that you learn a lot more at the beginning of your career than the end. At the beginning you learn a lot more about yourself… whether or not you picked the right major, how to deal with difficult situations when you don’t have a professor/teacher to turn to, the various personalities in a corporate environment, those types of things.

            Of course, there is always more to learn, but overcoming struggles as a new grad can help you learn and grow in a drastic way that isn’t something you can put on a resume.

            A true entry level candidate straight out of college is very different from a lower level candidate that has been in the corporate work environment for just a year.

            1. EngineerGirl*

              I’ll disagree with this. At the end of your career the problems are significantly harder and exposing parts of you that you didn’t know existed.

              If you are doing it right the level of effort at the end of your career is equal to or greater than the beginning.

              1. V*

                I think the problems you face might be on a bigger scale when it comes to the organization, but I wouldn’t call them harder. Trying to figure out how to deal with difficult people who have power over you while at the bottom of the food chain can be a lot more challenging than larger managerial things. At the beginning you have to figure out how to survive, with little to no power.

                In an ideal world, yes, you should still be putting in as much effort at the end of your career, as when you start. Unfortunately, I know many people that just start delegating tasks and “supervise,” instead of a hands on approach to leading/ managing. Not all people of course, but I’ve seen enough to know that a title is just a title, and doesn’t reflect a person’s abilities and work ethic.

                1. EngineerGirl*

                  Your post demonstrates a lack of understanding on how things operate at a senior level. A senior person is much more likely to come under the scrutiny of upper management, and much more likely to be let go on a moments notice. They report to a VP, or a board, but they still report to someone who has much more power than them. Many times the people they report to have huge egos to go along with the position of power. Difficult people do not go away when you rise up the ladder.

                  Problems are not only larger in scale, but more complex, with lots of tentacles. Usually the senior person has to use influence instead of direct orders to get things done. And a senior person is doing a lot more strategic planning, looking forward years instead of months. If a senior person messes up they **will** be let go.

                2. V*

                  In theory yes, a senior person should come under more scrutiny, but I’ve seen many situations where they do not. They’ve worked their way up solely by kissing the asses of those they report to. ANYONE can be let go one a moment’s notice. I’ve seen people fired or “laid off” in lieu of being fired (to avoid the legal hassles) for all sorts of ridiculous reasons.

                  I think your theories are absolutely correct, that’s how they **SHOULD** be. I just don’t think that’s how they play out in the real world.

                  It’s not that I think the egos go away at the larger level, it’s that I believe by that time, most people should have learned how to deal with them (but of course, there is always the crazy exception to everything you have learned).

                3. Ariancita*

                  Yes, have to agree with EG. Especially the second paragraph. For me, it’s less who I report to (though that is indeed more stressful because we’re talking about the highest levels of the organization and the pressure/expectations that are much different), but it’s the strategic planning, problem solving, process implementation, strategic interventions with the right stakeholders, implementation evaluation, etc.

                  Even in Six Sigma (which is a fairly straight forward process), they don’t refer to the levels in terms of martial arts belts for nothing. :)

                4. EngineerGirl*

                  V, you keep referring to what I’m saying as “theories” – as though my 33 years of **experience** can be discounted. Lets get something straight – I know how things are at a senior level because I’m a senior person. There are no theories here – they are paths that I have walked. On the other hand, I suspect by several of your statements that you are someone with not much work experience. Would I be wrong to think that you have been in the professional work force less than 10 years?

                  Don’t discount the advice and beta of people how have actually walked those paths.

                  There are always a few outliers that we can pick and chose to prove our points. But the reality is, things get harder the more senior you get. If that isn’t the case then perhaps you are in the wrong company.

                5. Ariancita*

                  Love this line, EG:

                  Usually the senior person has to use influence instead of direct orders to get things done.

                  So very true.

      2. Holly*

        I totally agree with this! Entry level to me means “right after you’ve completed the correct level of school.” I take entry to literally mean “your first round of experience in this field” or close to it. I mean, otherwise entry level sounds like “you really should’ve done some internships before, idiot” (which, internships are good! But people who don’t have them shouldn’t feel lost.)

        1. Jessa*

          To me entry level means you need to learn more about the job and how to work than just “walk in and learn the specifics of this office.” As in you can’t come in and hit the ground running once they show you their particular procedures.

          A non entry level person has the general knowledge of their field so that all they need to know is where things are filed in the new company, possibly how the specific programme you use to do the work does what they already know how to do, but just not in ABC Teapot’s custom made system. They walk in the door and know all about teapot design and on paper and in CAD programme z they can do everything, all they need to know is how to plug it into ABC Teapot’s Design system. Because they have designed and built actual Teapots in actual work settings.

          An entry level person needs to also practise actual Teapot designing in the real world, because they only know how to do it in a uni setting and don’t necessarily know about real life issues in Teapot Design.

          1. Judy*

            After 20 years of experience in my corner of the teapot universe, it takes 2-4 years to complete a new teapot design. And as you start straight out of teapot design school, you first start doing modifications to existing designs, that might be 6 month projects when you handle through design, prototyping, approval testing, manufacturability and sourcing. Even though there is a lab organization and procurement organization, everywhere I’ve been, the design team has to be available for changes requested by the supplier, or after an approval test not passed, or manufacturing has their inputs.

            What I’m trying to say, is generally an entry level person would work under someone on 2-3 6 month to year modification projects (cost or quality improvements) before being one of the design resources on a large project. Until someone has followed a full development project through the entire lifecycle, I wouldn’t say they are past “entry level” at least in product design.

      3. J2*

        I might have thought this way at one time–when I was at the early stages of MY career, in fact–but these days, not so much. When it takes 6 months and more for any new hire to even begin to pick up procedures and start getting comfortable with how things work? Even when they are decidedly NOT entry level in skilled/tech roles? No. For us, entry level would be below 3 years for a lot of jobs.

        1. Tinker*

          The issue I have is with the floor, rather than the ceiling. I would expect people with under 3 years experience to all be at the same (lowest) grade, generally speaking, but if a position definitively excluded people with no experience then I would not call it “entry level”.

      4. EngineerGirl*

        It may be true that you learned a lot during your first six months as an engineer. But that is small compared to the range of experience in engineering. I would call anything less than 5 years as entry level. You may know how things work, but what you don’t yet know is how things don’t work, and how to get out of the situation when they don’t work. You also don’t have a good understanding of how things fail so you can design against those failures.

        I often equate new engineers to a “kindergarten” level of understanding. After a year or so they are up to a “2nd grader” level – significantly more advanced, but nowhere near a post-doc level.

        Those who think they’ve arrived after only a few years in the industry are demonstrating Dunning-Kruger.

    3. Kerr*

      It’s very nearly entry level, but I see “entry level” as being a job that you can take right out of school. It annoys me to see jobs requiring 2-3 years’ experience listed as entry level, because it implies that those jobs are the lowest possible rung on the ladder, and that if you don’t have said experience (which you can’t get without…an entry level job), you’re shut out of the market, because obviously there’s nothing lower available.

      It also implies that you’re going to be paying absolute beginner rates, but asking for experience beyond “absolute beginner”. Whether or not this is actually true, it’s what it sounds like to a job seeker.

      It really can come off as, “You didn’t do an internship? Good luck getting a job in THIS field.”

      1. Risa*

        Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think of entry-level as the person’s experience – I think about it at the level in which they are entering the company. Sometimes the lowest job on the totem pole, so to speak, may still require 2-3 years of experience based on the skills required for the job. It just depends on the complexity of the job tasks.

        1. Jill*

          This is how it is at my company – entry level is the bottom level, lowest pay; it has nothing to do with previous experience.

        2. Tinker*

          I tend to think that if you’re saying “you have to work for someone else before you work for us” then that’s fine, but it means that you do not offer entry-level positions.

          Saying that a position is entry-level because it’s the lowest possible position at your company (and I’ve known companies where that would mean twenty years of experience and a professional license) is kind of like saying “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” — moving the point of reference around obscures what you’re actually describing, and arguably misses the point.

          1. Risa*

            My department is the customer service call center for our company. It is definitely one of the couple of entry-level points into company, which is why we term it “entry-level”. It’s how they can start their career with our organization. When I hire, however, I’m going to definitely prefer someone who has some customer service experience – retail in high school, or an part-time job while in college in a restaurant, anything that gets them some work experience. When I say I’m looking for experience with an entry-level position, I don’t necessarily mean experience doing the exact same identical job tasks at a previous employer. I’m looking for some experience in the working world with coworkers and customers. But even with retail/restaurant experience, they would definitely be considered entry-level for the purposes of an office/corporate position.*

            *That doesn’t mean to imply office is better than retail/food, just an acknowledgement of the inherent difference between face-to-face customer workplaces, and phone/email customer workplaces.

      2. TheBurg*

        I agree. When every “entry-level” job requires at least 2 years of experience, it makes it really hard to actually GET an entry-level job, which gets frustrating quickly when job hunting.

        1. Zahra*

          Same here. Lots of jobs in my domain ask for 3-5 years of experience, even those that are billed “entry-level” which makes it really frustrating for someone who doesn’t have any experience. It’s like I’m trying to enter a building and I’m there, saying “OK, there’s a door here. Nope, my key doesn’t work. Well, there’s another one 10 yards down. Nope, doesn’t work.” And after going around the building and trying what seems like 50 doors, you’ve found 1 door that seems to open (but they’re not sure they’ll let you in) and another where your key maybe works. Frustrating doesn’t begin to cover it.

    4. Anonymous*

      I must not be up on things, because for some reason, I believed that entry level = no experience. Maybe it’s my age?

      Speaking of, I’m also wondering if her parents put her up to writing that message? “Tell them you’re not entry level!”

    5. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      I feel that requiring 2-3 years of experience is an awful lot to bill as “entry-level.” The phrase, to me, means pretty directly that if you join this sector, this job is where you “enter” the industry. I’m fine with internships or some other kind of very low level experience being required for an entry-level job, but if you’re OK with 2 years experience and internships are fine, I’d really change it to 1-2 years experience. That sounds a lot more “entry-level” and there will still, surely, be plenty of applicants with more years than that applying anyway.

  16. Shawn*

    What sorts of companies still have probationary periods? My first job at a grocery store had one, but it was union. No professional companies I’ve worked for have had them.

    1. Chinook*

      In Canada they are standard and work sort of like a marriage engagement – if during the probationary period things don’t work out, either party can leave/be asked to leave with zero notice. I assume any place in the US that has official notice periods or procedures to follow to dismiss someone would have the same thign because you can’t always tell if someone is a fit through an interview. I just went blank on the policy in the US where you can be fired anytime, but that policy would make a probationary period a moot point.

      1. TL*

        The company I work for has a probationary period. It’s still at-will employment, but the powers that ask that the managers follow a performance improvement plan + officials warning before firing.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      In a lot of federal offices there are probationary periods. I’m not in a union, but it’s still a pain to fire someone, so the 2-year probationary period allows you do it with a lot less paperwork.

    3. Nelly*

      In Australia most jobs would have a probationary period. In some areas, the higher up you go, the longer the probation. In my current job, it was six months.

      I brought on seven new staff this year, all of whom played around in the first few weeks until I explained the ‘probational period’ concept. Straighten up and fly right…

    4. A*

      Mine does but it only means that certain benefits don’t kick in until after 90 days.

    5. Liz*

      It seems to be pretty standard. I work at a university and the first 90 days of new employment (even if you’re an internal transfer) are a probationary period, meaning you accrue vacation and sick time but can’t [officially] use it, and can resign/be terminated without jumping through the usual hoops.

    6. JCC*

      Basically, companies that still offer employment contracts. If the job is “at will”, then there’s usually no point in a probationary period, because the entire job is probationary.

      One exception is with “at will” jobs that have high turnover. Then the probationary period is used as an excuse to offer a lower probationary wage, the idea being to save a bit of money on the expected percentage of employees who will quit in less than 90 days.

  17. BCW*

    I think another thing that makes me think its a bit less of a big deal is that its not like it was the resume or cover letter itself that had these typos, it was a quick email for clarification. I get that all correspondence when trying to get a job “should” be perfect. But I do think this isn’t as big a deal since you already offered her an interview. Again, I could see this being almost like asking for directions or about parking. You are trying to get information, but it won’t be as formal.

    Again, the OP has the right to withdraw the interview, it just really seems to be jumping the gun. Did anything about the conversation make her seem not intelligent or like she had a sense of entitlement? If not, it does seem harsh to do this just for a clarification email.

    1. fposte*

      I would actually give the applicant a pass on that typo if that were the only problem in the email. It’s the rest of it that gets kind of WTF-y for me, and at that point I’d say “And then there’s a big ol’ typo as well” and roll my eyes. There is no “training role,” she’ll already be full time, she is near as dammit to entry level even though she doesn’t think so, and that’s irrelevant to the rest of the email anyway–you get trained when you need training, no matter where you are in the workplace. Then there’s the dubious English of the last sentence.

      The OP seemed a tad dismissive to me too, but I also think that if you’re genuinely sure you won’t hire a candidate it can be kinder to cancel an interview than to drag them in for a farce.

    2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      I don’t agree at all. As a hiring manager, your job isn’t to keep the maximum number of people in the process for as long as possible; you’re supposed to find ways to pick the best one. This email says so much about the applicant (rudeness, presumptuousness, unwillingness to scan a very short email for very obvious errors) that if I got it, and I had ANY other applicants still in the process that had not made any such errors, I’d probably dump her for it as well.

  18. Anonymous*

    I worked for a company that had a manger that couldn’t spell even at the 3rd grade level and didn’t know how to use spell check. This person also attempted a remedial math class and dropped because it was too hard. It was obvious that favoritism kept this person where he was at.

  19. Tex*

    I think the moral of the story for today’s and yesterday’s post is to consider picking up the phone for certain conversations.

    Using “become” for “before” is an annoying typo but can be occasionally forgiven. To me, “before making any trips” sounds like the applicant is concerned about being fully trained before being sent out to clients. The entire email sounds like she is confused and seeking clarification rather than being entitled. And, boy, do I remember being a confused 23 year old.

    1. Anonymous*

      I disagree. Alison has written repeatedly about e-mail vs. phone and how phone is more demanding of the other person’s time, whereas e-mail allows the other person to respond according to her schedule. E-mail is more respectful.

      It’s also a fact of life. You won’t have the luxury of dictating to clients that they must speak to you by phone because the conversation will be easier for you.

  20. One of the Annes*

    To me, the overall incoherence of the email message (lack of commas, “all is productive” [???]) is a bigger deal than the typo.

  21. Jessa*

    Honestly, given the way the email was written, is English the first language of the applicant? That does not parse like a native speaker at all.

  22. Cnon*

    I think she meant to say “before becoming full time.”

    That would be my educated guess.


  23. SC in SC*

    Wow…we have really picked the candidate’s three sentence email apart! I agree that it comes across poorly and we can read between the lines all day as to her sense of entitlement, lack of maturity, naiveté…whatever you like. For me it just shows that email is about the worst form of communication. It’s necessary and can be extremely useful but it’s horrible when it comes to anything that requires any sort of nuance. I agree that it was a bad move on the candidates part to send the email and the typo looks bad. If I was the OP I would have been put-off by the candidate but might have continued the conversation (preferably by phone) to get clarification in light of a positive phone interview depending on my candidate pool.

    This should be a valuable lesson for all job candidates. It is extremely competitive in the job market and it doesn’t take much to get thrown out of the pool.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      An entitled attitude that shows a lack of understanding about job scope is not a small thing. It is a deal breaker.

    2. V*

      When in doubt, have someone else read it!

      These days it isn’t uncommon for 200+ people to apply for one position. If the pool of candidates was smaller, I could see overlooking it, but in these cases, you have to look at each detail.

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