should you apply to a job if the ad is horribly written?

A reader writes:

I had a friendly argument with a writer friend and we’d love your take.

Is it worth applying to job ads that are train wrecks or have grammar mistakes? Specifically, we’re talking about ads for writers or in communications. If I see some obvious mistakes or the writing is really poor, I pass. My reasoning is that the company doesn’t know better or care enough — so I definitely don’t want to work there. He says it doesn’t matter because the ad could be written by an HR drone and not mean anything. What are your thoughts?

I’d say the answer is somewhere in the middle.

It’s true that ads are often written by HR, not the hiring managers, and they’re often pulled from horrible boilerplate language that doesn’t at all reflect the manager you’d be working for. Your friend is right about that, and so unless the ad is so atrocious that it’s truly beyond the bounds of anything you can imagine a well-run company allowing to be published, I wouldn’t let it stop you from applying.

That said, I wouldn’t entirely ignore it either — because it does say something about the company. So I’d apply if you’d otherwise be interested in the job, but keep your eyes wide open for signs of (a) lack of concern about things that matter to you, like valuing clear writing, and (b) an overly bureaucratic culture that gives HR too much voice in things that the hiring department should control.

In other words, take it as a piece of information about the company, but not the whole story.

{ 39 comments… read them below }

  1. Katy*

    I would probably hold back my feedback until I got a response on the job. Then I might be in a better position to point out the errors without jeopardizing the potential job. It’s hard not to consider the company a “failure” when they allow this sort of “negligence” to exist in a publicly viewable document.

    Sadly, I see this every week where I work. It’s become a joke among my co-workers.

    1. TheSnarkyB*

      Do you mean feedback about how poorly the posting was written? I don’t think Alison was advocating that so I’m just checking. I’m of the opinion that of critiquing their writing isn’t relevant to the interview, there’s a way to clarify and ask more about what they’re looking for than just telling them how poorly written their job at was. Sorry if I’m responding to something other than what you were suggesting. I guess my point is that I think giving that feedback could be detrimental to someone’s candidacy, so I’d personally recommend against it altogether.

  2. LV*

    “He says it doesn’t matter because the ad could be written by an HR drone and not mean anything.”

    Wait a second… who’s he?

      1. Jessa*

        I might check into the job. It could be that they’re hiring a person to fix things like that. In which case they’re aware at some level.

  3. De Minimis*

    If it’s from an actual company, I would not worry about it too much.

    If it’s an anonymous online ad, that would probably make me not want to respond–that is often one of the tip-offs that it might be a scam.

    I know some people don’t respond to anonymous ads at all, but it depends on the market—where I’m from a lot of employers go the anonymous Craigslist route because they are primarily small businesses.

      1. Monica*

        So would I! Training is good. Training makes people efficient. Training makes sure that your new hires make fewer mistakes. Experience makes training easier, but it’s not a substitute for it.

  4. Anonymous*

    We have this problem to a lesser degree at my company – I’ve never seen anything truly atrocious but the job descriptions that go up on our 3rd party talent management site often have typos and crazy formatting issues. HR hands me the descriptions after they’ve already gone up on the TM site, and I correct them for our own web site and post them there, and then let HR know about the typos, but they don’t always get corrected on the TM site and I don’t have time to chase down every single typo. I’ve suggested I should proofread the listings BEFORE they are finalized but so far have not been taken up on that. After reading this I’m thinking I should INSIST!

    1. Chinook*

      When I see something with obvious errors, I think the same thing as when I notice wrong camera movements or banners on the evening news – must be a newbie doing something public for the first time (I swear you can tell when the journalism interns start at the CBC every summer by the number of errors you can spot).

      1. Felicia*

        The journalism interns at the CBC start twice a summer actually (once in May, once in July) but I kind of like catching those errors:P A lot of the national CBC interns last summer were my friends from school:)

        However big difference is when someone points out the errors they do their best to fix them. Once being made aware of the errors the HR people shouldn’t be acting like they’re not a big deal, which seems like they’re doing.

  5. April*

    I’d also like to point out that horrible ads are often written by the hiring managers as well. HR doesn’t hold the patent on horrible/ boilerplate writing. At every workplace I’ve been in, the communications/marketing teams see this kind of communication as beneath them. It’s someone else’s responsibility, which is why you get weird syntax, odd list combinations, things that are obvious cut-and-paste from unrelated documents, etc.

    1. AP*

      My favorite is when people copy/paste from different documents and don’t bother to make the font/text color match up.

  6. crookedfinger*

    Hell, I’m not a writer and I view poorly-written ads the same way. I mean, there could be a million reasons why the ad went out the way it did, but from a stranger/job-hunter’s perspective, I view it as sloppy and showing that the company doesn’t care much about how they are viewed. Would I really want to work for a company that seemed care so little about their public/professional image that they didn’t take the time to run a spell check or proofread their post? Nope.

    Also, even if it IS written by an HR drone…shouldn’t they be paying attention to what that employee’s putting out into the world? They’re (theoretically) paying money for that person to produce things for them, right?

  7. Manda*

    I saw an ad once that had only two sentences, the second of which did not end in a period. There were no capital letters and I think there were four spelling mistakes.

  8. Soni*

    >Specifically, we’re talking about ads for writers or in communications.

    Well, maybe that’s why they’re hiring. Clearly, they need someone who can write. (Maybe correct and improve the ad as a writing sample in your cover letter?)

    1. EngineerGirl*

      That was my thought too! At least they realize their weaknesses. Bonus points for that.

    2. Rana*

      Oh, don’t correct the ad! That’s a really quick way to piss people off, however tempting it may be.

      1. Sofia the 2nd*

        Actually, not really. I’ve been offered every job I’ve applied for where I corrected the ad, as well as the typos on their sites (bringing in print-outs of their pages included at the back of my portfolio. Not only shows that I’m good at my job, but that I did my homework and looked into the company). As long as you don’t LEAD with it, and it’s not done in a snarky, pompous way? It can absolutely work to your benefit.
        Just to be safe, as someone mentioned above, most of the ads are written by someone else entirely, but not always, so tread lightly and with the utmost respect.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think it’s risky and depends on how you do it.

          I once had someone do it, and her “correction” was actually wrong, which obviously backfires.

  9. Sara*

    I see these kinds of ads All.the.time. on Craigslist; the well-written ones are very rare.

    Funniest one I ever saw was something that read like a “girly text” and asked for a picture and listed other physical requirements (it was for a receptionist). “You have to be able to see over hte table, LOL! XOXO!”

  10. Cara Carroll*

    While I feel proof reading and reading in general seems to happen less and less these days, regardless of the position some of the mistakes I see with formatting are probably because the HR person isn’t tech savvy. When we copy and paste from Word (or other program) it takes the code (and therefore screwy formatting) along with it. Which is why I always do everything in Notepad first, which uses plain text. As for grammar, well that is another story. That always bothers me too, but as AAM stated you must look at the company and interview process overall. It could be a red flag, but it could just be someone rushing and not paying attention. You won’t know till you apply and get some sort of response to confirm.

    Also, I would just like to add that I see poor grammar from all types of business professionals, at all levels, from big companies and small! It is sad but I really think the standards of the written word have been lowered because many do not take the time to read business correspondence anymore. Can someone explain to me how with auto-correct in most programs (email, Word, even this Comment form!), do people still end up with misspelled words??!!!

  11. 22dncr*

    Once I saw an ad that spelled the NAME OF THE COMPANY wrong! I found out when I tried to google the name. Then I was torn – I wanted to apply as it sounded like an awesome job but what to do? I finally decided to spell it correctly on my application in case they didn’t realize it. They obviously never caught on as I saw it re-posted 3 months later with the SAME wrong spelling.

  12. Escritora*

    Two reservations right of the bat:

    1) If they don’t know that the ad is poorly written, then they have no basis to judge your writing. I don’t imagine it would be fun to write for people suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect. They won’t know if your writing is good or bad; they won’t know if their “edits” are butchery or improvements.

    If the employer were a high-school class, this assignment would be the “blow-off” class: You don’t have to put forward your best effort, you can half-loaf it and still get an A. Or paycheck. If you’re willing to coast, then fine. If not, then take a pass.

    2) If they don’t value good writing enough to even proofread or edit their ads, then I don’t believe they will properly value the writers they do hire. They may not want to pay you what the job is actually worth, especially if they (wrongly) believe they could do your job.

  13. Chinook*

    I just had a thought – it is possible that the company wasn’t even responsible for posting the ad you saw. When I worked for a newspaper, I was one of the ones creating the ads (both regular and classified). We always got our clients to sign off on the final proof before publishing, but sometimes things slip through or a typo is made after it has been approved (phatnom typing??). The client would get a freebie but the error still existed.

  14. mel*

    I get that a lot of the time, it’s a language barrier that is causing the terrible writing, but I still feel a little bitter when someone is employed to do something terribly. Like that Cake Wrecks website! I can spell and pipe, but I couldn’t get a job in a bakery. I guess it really is all about who you know.

  15. Best Left Unsent*

    An atrocious job listing would give me serious pause. Companies need to remember that applicants are interviewing them too, and if the company was cavalier enough to let that be a candidate’s first impression, I’d be nervous about what that company would have in store for the candidate they ultimately hire.

  16. jesicka309*

    If I see an ad with obvious mistakes (tenses, spelling, ALL CAPS etc.) I write it off as one of those scam jobs ads.
    “COME WORK AT ZANY, FUN FILED OFFICE. Every day started with withe free coffee!”
    :( They always seem to be under the ‘marketing’ section too….must be telemarketing.

  17. Brton3*

    I am very oriented toward quality control. If I later find one tiny insignificant typo in a dense 20 page proposal I’ve created, I am mortified. I have a lot of trouble delegating things, especially writing projects but other things too, and I have to obsessively edit and proof everything.

    I know I am toward one end of a spectrum, but I can’t help but think that everything a company publishes should be nearly flawless. If it’s not then they don’t have the right priorities or the right skilled people to do what they want to do, and ultimately they will be a second rate company.

  18. Marie*

    I’m HR and I normally publish the adds (I make the manager review them when necessary). I’m pretty good about getting them right, or correcting them if needed.

    My boss… well is not good at writing, at all. I insist that anything written is checked by me before sending. He knows he’s week in that department so it’s not a problem.

      1. Sofia the 2nd*

        LOL, thank you. That was the most glaring of at least *four* errors in her post. I’d pay to see what the BOSS writes!

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