colleague’s wife and mommy group attended our work talk, references from a romantic partner, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My colleague’s wife and her mommy group attended our work presentation

I work at a small college and like many institutions of higher learning, we have been fully remote since last March. At this point we’ve all resigned ourselves to Zoom teaching, but in an effort to connect more with our colleagues and our students, this semester we are sponsoring more live online events to try and maintain some kind of campus culture without the campus.

Recently, one of the departments hosted a talk on a serious topic that was co-sponsored by student life. The usual attendees for these events are faculty, staff, and students who have been bribed with the promise of extra credit. When scanning the black boxes for names/faces I knew, one of the boxes was occupied by my colleague’s wife and their very young child. I thought this was a little odd, but then I noticed that there were several women there with small children, none of whom I recognized from work, but at least some of whom I knew to be in the mommy group of my colleague’s wife. (We all live in the same very small town and you get to know the scene.)

Maybe I’m just tired of these working conditions or haven’t had enough coffee yet, but I felt that the presence of these women and children at this serious talk — with many of the children squirming throughout the program — was distracting at best and unprofessional at worst. Several other people I talked to felt the same way. This colleague has several other presentations planned, and since this person is also a work friend, I am wondering if I should say something to him. Am I wrong here? Or should I accept that this is the way the world is right now? As a parent myself, I consider attending a professional talk time to spend with other professionals and the opportunity to at least pretend that one day things will go back to normal.

Couldn’t the mom group have been interested in the topic, or even just interested in some intellectual stimulation? I don’t think it’s inappropriate that people from the community attended, assuming this was similar to other campus events that are open to the public. Usually you want more attendance, and parents can appreciate serious talks as much as anyone else!

But if the issue was that the topic wasn’t appropriate for kids or the kids’ presence inhibited discussion (as could be the case if the talk were on, say, suicide or sexual assault), then yes, that’s a problem. But I still wouldn’t say anything this time since it’s possible the group figured out the miscalculation on their own or something else that means the situation won’t recur. If it keeps happening and it’s causing real problems (as opposed to just “this feels weird” or “this is different from how we’ve normally done this”), at that point you could say something — maybe to him, or maybe to whoever issues guidelines for program attendance. But otherwise, I’d figure this is a group of people who thought the talk would be interesting, are looking for things they can do safely, and happened to have kids in tow (as many people do right now).

Read an update to this letter.

2. I keep getting rejected from writing jobs, but I find spelling and grammar errors in companies’ content all the time

I graduated with a BA in English in 2017 and worked in sales for a couple of years because I wasn’t certain what I wanted to do after I graduated and I needed to find a job quickly. I was laid off last year when the pandemic started and I’ve been using this time to try to pivot into a writing career, which I had already been trying to do for a while since I had no interest in staying in sales.

I’ve been applying to all sorts of (very) entry-level writing positions, mostly junior content writing and editing positions at marketing agencies or in-house for companies that need someone to write for their website and social media. I have been writing my own blog and working on my own marketing project since 2019 with plenty of writing samples, which I link in my resume. I keep getting rejected for the most trivial reasons like having a degree in English instead of marketing or not having paid experience in content writing even though I meet at least 80% of the job requirements and provide as many work samples as they would like — which I always make sure are flawless.

Meanwhile, it seems that almost every time I read online content from professional companies, I find obvious spelling and grammar errors that any competent writer or editor who is paying the least bit of attention should be able to catch. It drives me absolutely crazy. For example, I applied for an entry-level position at my alma mater to write newsletters and manage the social media pages for the alumni association. I got rejected because they said they wanted someone with more experience, yet I found no less than three spelling and grammar errors a few weeks later when I got that month’s newsletter. I’ve seen similar errors on companies’ websites, in newspaper articles, in automated emails, and in advertisements. The most galling example I can share is when the senior editor at a local PR firm misspelled a word in the rejection email when she rejected me for an entry level editing position.

The people doing the hiring for these positions are staff writers or editors themselves, which begs the question — what on earth is going on? Are these people just terrible hiring managers who have no idea what is important or what qualifications to prioritize during the hiring process? The reasons they give for not hiring me are always the same: I don’t have enough industry experience (for an entry-level role) or I don’t have the right degree. Yet then they turn around and hire someone who can’t (or doesn’t care to) write a grammatically correct sentence. I know that the issue is not my resume or how I interview. I customize my resume for every position and write very personable cover letters, and several jobs I’ve interviewed for during past job searches offered me the position on the spot. I don’t think COVID-19 is really an excuse either, because it was the same song and dance when I started applying for writing jobs a few months before the pandemic began.

Writing jobs are incredibly competitive; there are a zillion people who want to get paid to write, and far fewer jobs doing it. (As an example of what this can look like on the employer side, I once received more than 600 applicants for a writer job.) That means employers can be really, really picky. And since they need to narrow down the candidate pool somehow, looking for people with a background in marketing or a track record of published clips are reasonable ways to do that — and unfortunately, so is focusing on people who have already been doing the work rather than candidates from other fields. (Really excellent clips can sometimes help counter that but not always, just because of the sheer numbers you’re likely up against.)

As for the errors you’re seeing … some of the communications you’re finding them in, like casual emails, aren’t necessarily the things where they would prioritize flawless writing. Plus, hiring a good writer isn’t necessarily about spelling and grammar (that’s why there are copy editors); it’s about the voice, the flow of the writing, and often its creativity or persuasiveness or humor. That’s not to say there should be errors in published content; there shouldn’t be! But don’t get too caught up in conflating spelling and grammar with the rest of it; many employers rightly look at those as separate things.

Ultimately, you’re applying in an extraordinarily competitive industry. That means lots of rejections, reasons for rejection that sound flimsy, and general frustration. The more you can not let it get to you, the better off you’ll be.

3. Candidate submitted a reference letter from former boss/current romantic partner

My department is hiring for a mid-level position, and in my field recommendation letters from previous supervisors carry a LOT of weight in deciding who to interview and ultimately hire. One applicant who looks otherwise quite strong has a rec letter from a previous supervisor in which they disclose that they are unable to write an objective evaluation due to a conflict of interest, namely that they have a romantic relationship with the applicant.

How should we use this in evaluating the candidate? On one hand, my initial reaction was to think that this showed poor judgment on their part, as becoming involved with a direct supervisor isn’t the best idea and speaks to a lack of understanding of boundaries and proper professional conduct. On the other hand, there are often very pronounced power inequalities in this particular type of manager-managee dynamic, so it may be a much more complex situation. What do you think?

This is their previous manager, not their current one, right? So I wouldn’t assume they were involved while they were working together — it’s possible that they became involved afterwards.

The manager is right to disclose that they can’t provide an objective evaluation because of the relationship … but why are they even writing the letter at all? If you required a letter from this particular manager (like if you require letters from all managers from the last five years or something), that would explain it but otherwise it’s a very odd choice for that person to send a letter at all. Assuming you didn’t require this particular letter, I’m guessing the candidate wanted some commentary on their work from that period and figured it was okay as long as the writer disclosed the relationship — but it’s a strange choice and it renders the reference pretty useless due to the personal bias.

As for what to do, I’d disregard the letter completely, but don’t penalize the candidate either.

4. How accessible should info on parental benefits be?

My company handbook states that everyone is entitled to our state minimum for parental leave but doesn’t go into more detail. I took that to mean that only the minimum as required by law is provided, which seems low to me and is well below the industry standard.

During all-company meetings, anyone can anonymously ask a question and I asked for more information on the parental leave policy and if there were plans to expand it in the future to something more generous. HR answered that the company has multiple options for leave available and asked whoever asked the question to reach out directly with specifics.

I’m not planning on having kids for at least a few years. I don’t want to set up a meeting with HR to discuss a future scenario that might never happen, although our HR is generally good and I would trust them to be discreet. It doesn’t seem like an employee should have to set up a meeting with HR if they are thinking about trying to conceive or adopting, but obviously the leave available can play a huge role in someone’s decision on when to have a baby (and if they’d like to stay in their current role or look elsewhere fora position with better leave if they are planning to have kids in the future)

I guess at this point I should just assume my company doesn’t supplement the state minimum, but we have a range of employee levels and experience and maybe it’s possible that more is available for salaried employees than hourly and this is why they don’t want to be transparent. Is it typical for a person to have to specifically ask HR to get parental leave information or am I correct in thinking it should be easily available for all employees?

Yeah, info like that should be available in your employee handbook, intranet, or wherever else your company normally disseminates info on policies and benefits. It’s terrible practice to make it only available by asking HR since a lot of people want to know their options long before they’re ready to announce a pregnancy, a need for medical leave, etc.

But in this case I’d bet that they have made it available in the handbook — and that statement that everyone is entitled to your state minimum for parental leave is all they offer.

You could submit a more pointed question about this at the next meeting. Note that they’re currently making it impossible for anyone to learn what leave options are available without disclosing their personal interest and ask if clearer info can be publicly posted somewhere.

5. Resigning right after being promoted

I’m at a director level and have been at my job about 18 months. I’ve moved through the ranks quickly, going from senior manager to director in that time and was just officially promoted to the role yesterday via a company-wide video call. Sounds great, right?

In a parallel path, I’ve been actively recruited by a a well-known Fortune 500 company where the hiring manager and president of the company knows me and hired for me for my last role. I pursued it simply because the industry is great, the compensation is very high, and to be honest it felt good to be wooed. Also, any offer would be significantly better than where I stand now.

The offer came yesterday, and is life-changing on all levels. I want to tell my boss now so he has more time, but I don’t think I can. I’ll give my two weeks notice, of course, but my leaving is going to damage them at least temporarily but more importantly it will embarrass my manager greatly, who just went to bat for me publicly only days ago. Any advice?

These words: “I normally never would leave so soon after being promoted, but this fell in my lap and it’s too life-changing to pass up. I know you went to bat for me and I’m so grateful for that. I wish the timing were different.”

That’s really all you can say! Acknowledge the capital your boss spent, and explain it’s not something you can pass up. But this stuff happens. A good boss will be disappointed but not angry; it’s not reasonable to expect you to turn down a life-changing offer (ever, but especially when you’re underpaid, which is what I’m getting from “any offer would be significantly better than where I stand now”).

Also, it sounds like you have reasons for concluding you can’t give more than two weeks notice, but if there is any way to safely talk with your manager now (and I realize there may not be), it’s worth considering. They’re presumably about to invest in getting you set up in a new role, and if you can save them from some of that investment, it may take away some of the sting.

{ 949 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I’m seeing the start of a pile-on re: letter #1 and I want to avoid that. Please make a point of keeping your advice to all the letter-writers constructive and helpful, and a reminder that the commenting rules ask you to give letter-writers the benefit of the doubt (which in this case would presumably include allowing for the possibilities I raised about real problems that might have been caused by the presence of kids).

    Update: Please see LW #1’s reply with further details here.

  2. FuzzyFuzzyCat*

    I am not sure if I am understanding OP1’s issue correctly. It sounded like the presence of the women was one of the issues, rather than just the kids. Why are women unprofessional or distracting? Please let me know if I misinterpreted!

    1. SwitchingGenres*

      I’m also confused by this. I’ve attended a lot of online lectures and if things sre set up properly I often don’t even notice who else is in the audience. As long as the audience is muted I’m not sure what the problem is.

      1. Pennyworth*

        I don’t understand what the online set up was. If it was on Zoom the audience presumably would have been muted, and only thumbnail size on the screen when the presentation was being delivered. So I guess it was something other than Zoom.

        1. Ash*

          If anything, a virtual talk where everyone is properly muted while the speaker is talking, would make the presence of children *less* noticeable than in person, not more. It really seems like the LW just dislikes the idea of children in a professional setting, and even perhaps the presence of people (women/”mommies”) who are not in their field. This is sexist, classist, ageist, and just wrong! Hopefully the LW sees all of these comments and rethinks why they had this reaction.

          1. Joan Rivers*

            If an adult were “squirming” throughout a serious talk I’d find THAT distracting, too.

            Do you really think it’s fair for small kids to be forced by their mothers to sit in a talk they don’t understand w/absolutely no toy or game to distract them? Why do some parents not get this?

            You’re enjoying throwing out words like “sexist, classist, ageist, and just wrong” but what about these poor “squirming” kids being forced to sit there w/nothing to do? Are you calling that “good parenting”? Is that fair to small kids?

            1. FridayFriyay*

              It is not your job or the LW’s to criticize these peoples’ parenting. Also many children are prone to squirming regardless of their interest in a particular activity.

              1. Joan Rivers*

                I was a live-in nanny and don’t understand why a child at home has to be held on one’s lap, squirming, instead of playing quietly. At home. Where all the toys are.

                The OP’s tone bothered a lot of people but I focused on a different aspect of this.
                If the question were about children being unsupervised and running through the grocery store aisles where someone works, I’d have the same concern.

                1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                  It’s strange to have to say this to someone who was a nanny, but…maybe the child was in the lap because sometimes a child just wants to BE IN A LAP (be it mom, dad, nanny, or otherwise) instead of on the floor where the toys are?

            2. Amy*

              In a very intimate Zoom / Teams / WebEx talk (under 4-6), maybe but in a large group? I presented to a group of 100 people on Friday, I could only see a few people at a time and if I didn’t like who I was looking at could either 1) scroll to the next group or 2) turn them off all together.

            3. JJ*

              No – I would call it a sign of the times. “Good” parenting in the 2019 sense no longer exists. The very real need to have your children around you while also joining professional discussions is the way that life works these days. We’re all being forced to multitask and given the limitations, I don’t see anything wrong with a child being in the Zoom call so long as they’re muted.

              Keep in mind the amount of mothers who are now out of the workforce because of their circumstances, and then you’ll see how this is a sexist, classist, unfair criticism.

            4. Starbuck*

              What on earth? If anything, that’s the parent’s issue to manage, OP need not concern themselves with it at all. If it’s a matter of the presence of squirmy children on camera being distracted, it’s simple enough to hide those video tiles. OP seems to be inventing a problem where there isn’t one. As long as the topic/theme of the program is described in enough detail that participants know what they’re signing up for, they can just let people judge for themselves if it makes sense to attend, with or without children.

            5. MeepMeep*

              What qualifies as “squirming”, and how distracting is it if the movement occurs in a tiny Zoom window that can be muted? Is every Zoom participant supposed to sit perfectly still, or are they allowed to move? If a disabled adult were moving around or making noises in a serious talk, would you state that people with disabilities are not allowed to attend the serious talk?

              If a woman who happens to be responsible for a small child wants to attend a serious talk by Zoom (i.e. not in person), is she allowed to? Are mothers allowed to participate in any way in public life? Take college classes? Attend seminars of interest to them? In a pandemic while childcare is unavailable, are mothers automatically forbidden from participating in any sort of intellectual public life?

              If a small child wants to see what a Very Serious Grownup is talking about, is a mother allowed to show the small child what’s going on, in a Zoom window that’s muted so that the child will not cause a disruption? Are small children allowed to participate in any sort of intellectual public life or learn anything about what grownups find interesting?

              1. Anonnie*

                Agreed, and so thankful that you brought up the challenges that can present with disabilities. I am at the doctoral level, and with this pandemic, we have seen it all. Babies. Toddlers. Young children who want to show off their paintings. There is no childcare available, and strangers are not welcomed into our homes, especially in areas with stricter government control.

                Having read the reply from OP, what are my solutions? Mute the zoom, and shut off participants videos if you want. Do it for the whole group. Several platforms let you do this. We cannot censor content for other people/families. Otherwise, are we going to start asking parents whose children are not in sight to leave the chat either? Because surely there were several of those, male, female, and others in attendance. We cannot (and should not) restrict participants based on the year when they gave birth. Terrorism talk or not, graphic content or not, people can choose what they consume in the presence of their family. If they were offended by the nature of the content, they could have left at any time, or even had another tab overlying the video presentation.

                Second solution? If you are still overly concerned, place a message at the start of the presentation saying that this presentation displays graphic content, and is meant for an audience of adults only.

                Otherwise, let people do what they must do to manage their households during a pandemic.

        2. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

          You would think, but I have attended a number of zoom talks where the person hosting the meeting either doesn’t know how to do this or just doesn’t do it.

          1. Mute is fine with me*

            I was in a Zoom meeting last week where the person leading the meeting asked everyone to turn off mute so they could hear the ambient noise — to make it feel more like we were in the same room. Sigh.

            1. Lizzo*

              That’s so frustrating! The ambient noise can cut in and interfere with the main speaker’s audio, and create problems for those who are trying to listen to the presentation. :-(

              1. Self Employed*

                The ambient noise from a bunch of different rooms will just make it clear we are not all in the same space. I live over a busy street with construction noise and people waiting in line for homeless services, plus sirens from the nearby fire station. Nobody wants to listen to that–including me. If I had to hear my own noise plus someone’s kids playing, someone else’s dog barking at squirrels, tea kettles, roommates playing video games or music… NOPE!!!

                1. Mute is fine with me*

                  Not to mention the people who forget they aren’t on mute and are shuffling papers, phone ringing, etc. It is just another example of how backwards my place of employment is.

          2. Uranus Wars*

            Yes, and we recently learned that if it’s not set up from the get go people can unmute themselves, even when the presenter mutes them. We wanted Q&A at the end, so we muted all but we had one person who kept unmuting themselves to interrupt. It’s not always perfect!

      2. Joan Rivers*

        Mothers have the RIGHT to attend and bring children —

        but they have the RESPONSIBILITY to bring distractions for those children — as a former nanny, I think that’s good parenting. Be prepared.

        Squirming children need a toy / game / snacks —
        to expect them to sit there is unfair. Of course they squirm, they’re kids.
        Anyone can reproduce, throughout nature every creature reproduces.
        The self-righteousness some are exhibiting here may be a guilty conscience, if they realize they bring their children places w/o adequate preparation.
        It’s not the kids’ fault.

        1. Hannah*

          No one has a “right” to bring children anywhere. I think we can all agree that it isn’t a child’s fault if he/she is put in a situation that’s not super interesting for a child or kid-friendly, but no, there are many circumstances when children do not have a “right” to be in a particular place. I don’t know if this is one of them, but the language here is unnecessary.

          1. Joan Rivers*

            No one has a “right” to bring children anywhere. —

            Is that what you meant to say?

            The kids were allowed — no one stepped in to say, sorry, we can’t allow children here.

            Kids are allowed lots of public places where parents don’t bring adequate supplies or distractions.

            I used “rights” and “responsibilities” the way we often talk about rights and responsibilities in our society or workplace. They often exist together, you don’t just have one.

            1. Hannah*

              I was responding to your blanket statement that “Mothers have the RIGHT to attend and bring children.” It sounded like you were making a broader statement than for just this example. In any case, without knowing more, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that anyone – mother, child, or otherwise – has a “right” to attend this particular Zoom event when they aren’t part of the target community. I don’t think we have enough details here to make that conclusion or at least not so forcefully.

              1. Joan Rivers*

                A bigger question that seems to be looming here is that I speak from the POV of having once been a live-in nanny. I was college-educated and moved on to a publishing career before too long. But I was a nanny.
                I was also a Big Sister for years.
                And parents don’t want to think that anyone ever has insight to how they parent they children. Mothers with careers are sensitive to comments about balancing work and life and children.

                That would be an explosive conversation.

                1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                  This comment makes no sense. What would be an explosive conversation? That you were a nanny for a short period of time long ago and therefor know everything about balancing work and life and children during a pandemic? Can’t imagine why that would make actual parents who are attempting to do those things bristle…/s

        2. Chip*

          But, they didn’t bring their children anywhere! They’re in their own homes attending a virtual presentation. If they had to hold their children, I’m guessing we’re dealing with babies and toddlers who need close supervision.

        3. Lyra Silvertongue*

          I can’t understand why this would matter in the slightest for a virtual meeting so long as the mics are off, which the host usually has full control over.

    2. Intermittent Introvert*

      Many of those mommies could have advanced degrees and professional careers put on hold while home with children. Community colleges usually welcome the community. Serious subjects and motherhood aren’t mutually exclusive.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        It’s not the MOTHERS — it’s the “distracting children” the LW is complaining about.

        “Squirming” was the word, I think. I can see how it might be distracting.

        When you have a child or pet w/you, you have a responsibility to provide a toy or bone to chew or game to play, something quiet they can focus on. You can’t expect a child or pet to sit there quietly during an adult talk. This applies even more on planes or other public spaces.

        It’s not fair to the child or other viewers to be unprepared.

        1. Flossie Bobbsey*

          Actually, the LW specifically took issue with “the presence of these women and children at this serious talk.”

          1. Joan Rivers*

            “I felt that the presence of these women and children at this serious talk — with many of the children squirming throughout the program — was distracting at best and unprofessional at worst.” —

            That’s a cut and paste. When watching from home there’s really no excuse for not having a toy that occupies a squirming child. Or a bouncy seat nearby. Something.

            “Unprofessional” is extreme language — but there are parenting solutions here.

            As a former live-in nanny, I’ve seen some things. Maybe it’s like “No man is a hero to his valet.” But parenting skills aren’t all automatic and there are parents who don’t like to hear that.

        2. Starbuck*

          Children “squriming” isn’t necessarily indicative of a problem, though? As a kid, I could not sit still and be engaged – I had to move. Squirming around in my seat or wherever didn’t necessarily mean I would rather be somewhere else or doing something else. So automatically interpreting kids moving around as a failure of the adult caretaker to provide appropriate enrichment etc is not correct.

      2. i'm new here*

        No kidding, and also, many of those mommies might also still be working part- or full-time! Being a working parent and a member of a parent group are not mutually exclusive! I mean for all we know, this could be a group with a particular focus, like special needs kids, and the topic might have been directly on point.

        Not directed at you, Intermittent Introvert, but to people assuming “member of ‘mommy group'” (ugh at that term) = “SAHM with nothing better to do with her time”, please do a little reflection here about why you may be making that assumption.

    3. BonzaSonza*

      The disdain in the description of “mommy group” was palpable.

      I am a highly qualified, high-level professional. I have had three children, each with extended time off work (as is normal in my country). Remarkably, participating in a mother’s group when I was a new parent did not cause my brains to dribble out my left ear or transform me into a vapid, mindless robot.
      I was also able to continue my tertiary studies throughout, though I would have been able to attend a lot more of they were online!

      If my husband was giving a presentation and I had the time free to support him with my online presence, I guarantee that I would be there.

      If the noise is distracting, ask participants to mute. If you find the movements on screen distracting, then change your own view to just the presenter.

      OP #1 – based on what I see in the letter this is a you problem, not a them problem

      1. TROI*

        I guess the key here is what “serious talk” is. If it is an adult topic, it could be distracting to see children there. When I used to run a hobby group, a fun non-serious hobby group, we had a rule that the events were to be adult only unless specified otherwise. The loudest voices wanting this rule were the people with kids! A few times I had to remind people of this rule and they would always be very angry with me about it and act very personally offended. There seemed to be no getting around that. If there is no specific rule people are violating, only norms, I can see where this can get murky. I think people on all sides should try not to take things personally.

        1. BonzaSonza*

          Yes that’s fair.

          I took serious talk to be a formal lecture, not a social gathering. I can see how there’s another interpretation of that.

          I can understand how they’re are topics that aren’t appropriate to be discussed in front of children, and should be addressed with housekeeping notes for future talks.

          (But that still doesn’t explain why women can’t attend)

            1. Juniper*

              But how old are these kids? If they’re young enough to sit have to sit on a lap for the duration of the talk, they’re young enough for their presence not to matter.

            2. iliketoknit*

              The post says, “I felt that the presence of these women and children at this serious talk — with many of the children squirming throughout the program — was distracting at best and unprofessional at worst.” That sounds like an objection to the women attending.

                1. MCMonkeybean*

                  I think that’s being far too uncharitable. Words do mean things, and OP’s words were *these* women. That doesn’t translate to objecting to women in general. Presumably they have female coworkers and plenty of women among the students. They were objecting to a particular group of people who happen to all be women because of the nature of the group. It’s certainly still possible their objection is unreasonable, but there’s not enough information in the letter to be sure.

                2. Observer*

                  @MCMonkeybean It reads as though BOTH are problematic – the OP writes women *AND* children, not women *WITH* children. It could be that they actually meant specifically the women who had children with them, but it’s not completely clear.

                  OP, perhaps you can clarify what you meant and what was distracting people.

                3. Homophone Hattie*

                  @MCMonkeybean, well, perhaps, but to use the word ‘women’ rather than ‘people’ or ‘club members’ or ‘outsiders’ or something is A Choice, even if unconscious. Why emphasise that they are women if that’s not the problem? There was a real pong of ‘women and children are not serious’ (or maybe women with children are not serious, which also, why women?)

            3. MCMonkeybean*

              I was unclear on whether it was this specific group, or the fact that any group outside of their staff and students attended was what primarily bothered them. Are these talks generally open to the public? If this is the kind of thing that is usually open to others then OP probably needs to just deal and get over it. If this was intended to be for their colleagues and students and one colleague invited his wife and then their wife invited a bunch more people then I would understand a bit more why they were annoyed and in that type of scenario I can imagine a bunch of kids at what you expected to be an event attended only by adults would be extra jarring. (Though I still have trouble imaging how distracting they would be assuming everyone was muted… but I get very distracted by my neighbor leaving their car running for 15 minutes every day so who am I to judge what someone finds distracting I guess)

              1. Case of the Mondays*

                This is how I read it. It was an internal meeting and they were surprised by outside attendees.

                1. Sally*

                  At most colleges I have been to, events like these (with experts and a panel or discussion) are generally not “internal meetings”, they are open to all faculty, staff, and community members who are interested in attending.

                2. TardyTardis*

                  I’ve been invited to virtually attend a lot of college lectures and functions. If I had kids at home, would I have to stay away in purdah rather than bother the lecturer with my presence? Or could the lecturer just mute the microphones to keep from being distracted?

              2. Chinook*

                As someone ho has run a women’s group that had a rule about children not attending, I too am confused about why the OP has issues with women with children attending. Our rule was only children breastfeeding could attend (and then only not to throw off feeding schedules while still encouraging mom to leave the house for a few hours) because the children would be distracting to everyone (usually in a good way as this particulargroup of women was of all ages and stages and inclined to cooing and playing with young children. Babirs rarely stayed with mom for the meeting, getting passed around whenever they needed movement to calm down).

                But, if video conferences were an option, that distraction becomes moot and would even allow those who have issues with childcare the ability to participate. In fact, I have to remember to use that reason when I once again try to convince the group that video meetings are a good idea and may even encourage younger women to join without worrying about childcare in the evenings. (The usual arguement is that our senior members don’t like leaving the house during the dark of winter when there is risk of falls on the ice).

                1. Malarkey01*

                  This has been one of the bright spots in the pandemic. I run a women’s group with the same rule, sounds like similar demographics. As we’ve gone online we’ve seen participation, engagement, and satisfaction through the roof. The primary reason given was childcare because previously childcare had fallen through, can be cost prohibitive to some, and adds a layer of complexity to organize and plan attendance. Allowing for virtual attendance in the future (allowing for muting and needing to step away if you become distracted) is our new position going forward and members are providing incredibly positive feedback— another big finding is that it also improves or diversity, inclusion, and equity since some of those groups were the most affected by childcare issues.

                2. Insert Clever Name Here*

                  To strengthen your case to your group: I’m part of a bible study that started last May, so we’ve never had the chance to meet in person, but we’ve already decided our group will always have a zoom option. The group is overwhelmingly working moms with kids, some of whom have never been able to participate in groups before because of childcare logistics.

                3. Chinook*

                  Malarkey01* and Insert Clever Name Here* – thanks for that feedback. I am working really hard to bring our group into the new millennium so that we don’t continue to skew to 25% over 80 (so we can keep growing, not to push them out. We respect and cherish our elders but no group can keep existing like that). Until this column, I never even thought about the advantages of Zoom type meetings for the crowd we are missing.

                  Now I just have to wait patiently for our national organization to make these types of meetings official by changing our by-laws to allow it (we are over 100 years old and these changes can only be done at one of our annual conventions, which have been delayed until after the pandemic, so this is not as easy as it sounds, no matter how many of the membership have vocally asked for it).

                4. Insert Clever Name Here*

                  @Chinook, I feel you! Even though I’m one of the working-moms-with-young-kids who can’t make a 9am or 4pm study, I only went so far as “I wish there was a study that met after 7pm.” A zoom-type study wasn’t on my radar at all! Another thing to add to your case: people can still participate if they’re sick, or out of town, or if the weather is bad and they don’t want to risk driving. Best of luck getting the by-laws updated to allow it!

              3. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

                I was taking it as being a talk that was not really directed to the public and that’s why it was odd to have another group attend en masse like that. The way it is described makes me think that it was a topic that isn’t really all that relevant for the “mommy” group which presumably usually gets together to talk about childcare and adult self care issues. I can understand it being awkward for people to try to discuss certain topics when there is a large group that would not normally be attending there, especially if it’s something that people might normally object to discussing around children.

                1. Flossie Bobbsey*

                  How would you or the LW know what is “relevant” to the “mommy group,” which is NOT, in fact, a monolith with a single interest in childcare and self care? When I was a new mom, I was in a couple of groups intended to connect new moms, and — believe it or not — we all had lives, careers, and interests apart from being part of that group and being new moms! And those lives, careers, and interests continued even after we had kids! Almost all of them/us are working moms with advanced degrees and professional careers.

                2. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

                  What I mean is that if the “mommy” group’s primary purpose is parenting related stuff, then attending a meeting about a campus issue is perhaps an odd thing to attend as a group. I have plenty of friends who are members of such groups and also professionals in other fields, and it would be a little strange if they all decided to come to a talk I was giving in my field, for instance. Nothing at all to do with their intellectual abilities or interests or thinking of them as monolithic child care machines, just that having met them at other social events I would be surprised that they would be interested. The OP’s description makes it sound more like the group was invited to a work meeting.

              4. Kelly L.*

                This. In my experience these events are often open to the public, it’s just that usually the public doesn’t care enough to come to campus for it, so it ends up de facto just university people. Community people deciding to attend–made easier by it being virtual–would generally be something to be happy about.

                And yeah, it’s different if it’s more like a department meeting.

            4. Yorick*

              I assumed it wasn’t that they were women per se, it was that they were club members with someone’s wife rather than some group you’d expect to see at the meeting. OP might have also thought it was weird if a bunch of attendees were from her coworker’s husband’s motorcycle group.

              I think it’s cool if the talks are attracting a wider audience, and OP should think about why this seems off to them. Sure, in-person college talks are usually only attended by people affiliated with the college in some way. But there’s no reason for that to be the case for a virtual talk – unless it’s designed for the audience to be small (to have students actively engaging with the speaker or some reason like that).

              1. Nanani*

                Assuming that they can’t possibly be genuinely interested because they’re “just” a mommy group is pretty sus though.

              2. Barefoot Librarian*

                And if it *is* designed for it to be small, then you just invite the people (students, faculty, whatever) that are welcome. If it’s open to the public, it’s open to the public. I work at a college and we often have just campus attendees, but we are thrilled when community members show up. It’s often the mark of a successful program.

            5. Nanani*

              Except LW1 specifically said “Women and children” not “people with children” or anything like that.

              1. That's Ms to you*

                Yes, the “women with children” and the clear disgust about “mommy groups” raised my hackles–and I’m a very childfree “let me eat one nice dinner at a restaurant without a baby at the table beside me” kind of person! As someone noted above, Words Mean Things…and so does your choice of them.

              2. MCMonkeybean*

                I honestly don’t understand why everyone is really hung up on that, if they were speaking in hypotheticals then that would be a bad choice or words but they are describing an actual group of people who are actually women. Accurately referring to a group of women as being women should not be inherently insulting…

            6. GreenDoor*

              “the objection wasn’t to women attending”. It sure was! The OP referred the group of women as a “mommy” group. When one refers to a “mommy group” it is usually implied that these “mommies” are bored stay at home mom, that don’t have a “real” job, don’t contribute to society, and who just play with her babies all day and, therefore, have nothing intelligent to contribute to a presentation put on by a college or university.

              OP was most definitely referring to the moms.

              1. Social Commentator*

                Yes, these are mommies and wives (as opposed to other women, such as colleagues) and consciously or unconsciously, are considered to be as out-of-place as their children. “A mommy group of intellectual lightweights descended upon our serious talk — WITH their children!” was the subtext I got.

            7. MeepMeep*

              In a pandemic where childcare is unavailable, “children can’t be visible” kinda means “women who have children may not attend”.

              1. Self Employed*

                Exactly, MeepMeep.

                And part of what seemed off about the complaint about “women with children” is that about half of the kids-joining-meetings I’ve seen have been kids wanting to climb on Daddy when he’s in a City Council meeting, etc.

          1. Blackcat*

            “I guess the key here is what “serious talk” is. If it is an adult topic, it could be distracting to see children there.”

            As long as they were muted, I don’t see what the problem is…. In the era of COVID, my child has “attended” all sorts of talks on professional topics. He generally plays elsewhere, but sometimes pops up.

            If OP doesn’t want events open to the community, then that needs to be the rule. But you don’t get to have events “open to the community” and say that doesn’t include people who might have kids.

            If OP finds it distracting, most software lets you hide a particular screen.

            1. anon here*

              Yeah, agreed. My toddler has sat/played through the quarterly earnings call for my Fortune 250 company. It starts early in the morning before daycare is available to her, and it’s important to my job to listen. I’m just amazed/feel blessed that my kid is going to know what a quarterly earnings call is before kindergarten, when I grew up too poor to fix my teeth as a kid.

              Also, as a former professor, I’m super-amused in a schaudenfreudy kind of way that the letter-writer prefers an audience mainly of bored teenagers and young adults coerced by extra credit to adult “mommies” who are presumably actually interested in the topic. This type of attitude is indeed a factor in why I left academia, as among other things I realized my work in outreach and mentoring counted against me and not for me at my R1. (Sure, people said nice things about it, but at the same time it didn’t count for promotion or for a raise, it led to me being asked to do random and unfocused and unpaid ‘diversity’ stuff since I was ‘that lady’, and seemed to disqualify me from research conversation in the eyes of some colleagues. Not all — there were some great folks there too — but the soft condescension was ever-present.)

              1. traffic_spiral*

                This is my take on it – I’d just be happy that people actually wanted to listen to whatever I’m talking about.

                1. daffodil*

                  RIGHT?!? If a group of community members was benefitting from knowledge sharing taking place at my institution I’d consider that a huge win!

            1. Elsajeni*

              I do think, if you’re an organizer or presenter, you have some leeway to say “please don’t bring children to this talk, we want everyone to feel comfortable speaking frankly on the topic of sexual assault [or whatever]” — presenters, audience members asking questions, etc. are going to approach some topics differently if they know they have an audience of young children than they would with an adult audience, even if those children’s parents would be fine with them hearing the adult version. It’s not clear that that’s part of the OP’s concern, but if it is, they could certainly mention it to the organizers for next time.

        2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          When we’re talking about Zoom (or another video platform), then I think there’s also an age below which it doesn’t matter. Participants are muted so a baby crying won’t bother anyone else, and you can talk about whatever you want in front of an infant and it doesn’t matter. (Yelling or angry voices might disturb them, but talking calmly about any topic won’t register.)

        3. The Other Katie*

          With lockdowns and “work from home” mandates, a lot of women (particularly, also some men) have been forced into positions where they’re both working/socialising/doing schoolwork and taking care of children at the same time. This isn’t like bringing your children along to a talk in an auditorium.

          1. Justme, The OG*

            Yes, this. I’m a professional and student and homeschooling parent all at the same time. My kid has listened to many Zoom presentations (but she’s older and just complains that they’re weird).

            1. Dewey Decibal*

              Yes! I remember as a kid my mom trying to get in her CEU hours at home while watching the 6 of us. Inevitably, one of us would wander in during a webinar. My middle sister actually enjoyed sitting in on them, especially the ones on swallow studies- I’m convinced that’s why she’s now studying to be in the medical field like mom! As long as they’re muted and it’s not discussing something like sexual assault, I don’t see why them sitting in is an issue.

          2. Self Employed*


            Exactly. Complaining about kids being present on a Zoom event is apples-and-oranges different than having them show up at an auditorium. You can mute anyone who’s making noise (whether it’s a child, a pet, or sirens outside). If this is not meant to be an audience participation event with everyone involved in a discussion, you can even set it up to be a one-way webinar so the audience isn’t on camera at all. I know our City and County public meetings did that after Zoombombing subjected people to NSFW trolling. They set it up so people can be unmuted to speak for public comment, which works well for Q&A after a talk.

            If OP doesn’t know how to set it up I’m sure they can figure this out.

        4. Observer*

          f it is an adult topic, it could be distracting to see children there.

          This is really what confused me. Unlike in a live meeting, you CAN mute people in a Zoom meeting. In fact, in case the OP is using zoom as a generic term for video conference, you can pretty much any video conferencing software in use. So the issue of children making noise is really moot.

          The OP also implied that these people had their video off, which would mean that you would not even have to deal with the visual distraction of seeing kids fidget.

        5. sunny-dee*

          I think part of this, too, is that this was an online meeting, not an inperson one. Having a “no kids” rule when you’re meeting in the public room of the local coffeeshop or library makes 100% perfect sense for a lot of logistical reasons. Having that same rule for an online meeting makes absolutely no sense. Am I supposed to leave my home to attend a Zoom meeting? Because my kids exist. I have in-home care for work hours, but if this was during off hours, my kids would be in my lap or crawling over the couch.

        6. Galloping Gargoyles*

          I also read it as the lecture was intended for members of the campus community not their families. I seem to be the only one that read it that way though. I agree that it can get murky especially in current times and if the intended audience is not clearly stated.

      2. Mr Jingles*


        I really fail to grasp the problem here. I can’t imagine any setup where any given participant of a Zoom meeting can be distracting except a inept moderator who doesn’t mute the participants during the meeting. But even then I’d ask how to point them in the right direction and it still wouldn’t be about the participants but the lack of moderation.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes. If it’s on zoom or a similar platform when people are all muted while listening then there shouldn’t be a distraction. I mean it’s not like a meeting in person where a crying child is noticeable and can be disruptive.

          To be honest a lot of people in the online conferences and events I attend have their cameras off so you’d never know who was listening. I went to a lecture last week about the state of affairs in the Crimea and I’ve no idea who else was listening to it as I had my camera off. It could have been full of children.

        2. pleaset cheap rolls*

          I think the only place it would be distracting would be talking about a very serious topic (sexual assault, life-threatening illnesses, the horror of war) and having young children to ‘tweens who could sort of understand but might need support. I would not feel comfortable talking freely about those topics in front of children.

          So it’s not their voices that are distracting, but their listening.

          1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            Similarly, I attend a lot of filk (science fiction folk music) zoom sessions, and there are songs we generally try not to sing around children because they have catchy tunes with words they shouldn’t be singing at preschool later. Back when conventions were in-person, this was generally handled by (a) looking around the room to see if any children were present and (b) waiting until after a certain hour to sing such things. (For really objectionable stuff there’d often be a separate circle entirely in another room or else a practice of not singing them without getting everyone in the room’s agreement first (or just not singing them at all at that particular event), but songs with swearing and such are fair game with no kids around normally.)

            Online, it’s tricky because kids could always be listening with the camera off, and people come to the same zoom session from all around the world, so it could be 2am in the singer’s timezone (and thus deep into “adult song time”) but 6pm in the kid listener’s timezome (and thus still in “all ages song time”). One of the many things that we’ve needed to adapt new norms for in Covid-times.

      3. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        Yes, I caught that too. I am wanting to respect the line that Allison drew but also push back on this notion that a woman who is pregnant/lactating/parenting/middle-aged is somehow unserious, unprofessional, silly, or offensive to see in public.

        It honestly feels sometimes that child-free women are scared that “breeder” is catching – that if they are seen hanging out with mothers nobody will take them seriously either. The worst of it is – I’m not necessarily sure they are wrong.

        It’s the same gross reality that says that if you are pleasant or helpful at work, you will be mistaken for an admin. Or that if your body is larger than it is “supposed to be” that you are slovenly and unprofessional. Or that if you are past fifty and female, you don’t know how to turn on your laptop and spend your days mopping mayonnaise stains off your shirt and handing out butterscotch candies while roaming the cubicles, lost and confused.

        I hate the misogynistic crab bucket we are all thrown into.

        1. Mr Jingles*

          I don’t have and won’t ever have children. It was a conscious decision and I have no regrets now that I’m to old to start a family. Still I always liked spending time with my friends even after they had children and was often used as a babysitter. All that ever happened by having that kind of contact was that my decision never to have kids got strengthened.
          So if childless have this silly idea they could catch breeder-cooties and react to this idea by discriminating Mommies and Daddies they should be educated not enabled.

          1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            Well, the thing is — and I’m going dark here, sorry — it probably really IS bad for your career, financial security, upward mobility, level of respect in general, to get tagged with the “mommy” label, even by association.

            1. MeepMeep*

              Well, and where are the feminists on this one? Many women, if not most, have children. Do they not get equal rights anymore? Are equal rights only for women who remain childless?

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          OP1 says they are a parent themselves though. Which, as a woman and a parent myself, made me wonder… If (big if) OP is also a woman, what if the thinking is “I spent all these years trying to prove it to my colleagues that I am not like all those other mothers and can be taken seriously, and now all my hard work has been undermined by these mommies with their squirming kids, because now people are going to think I’m like that too.” Which would be a sad statement on what the workplace climate at OP’s school is like.

          “As a parent myself”, I am still kicking myself 20 years later, for answering a CIO’s “why should I hire you” at a panel job interview, with a, among other reasons, “and my parents can watch my children if I need to be at work late”. What the hell was I thinking.

          I hate the misogynistic crab bucket we are all thrown into.

          Oh dear god, yes, I do too.

      4. I'm just here for the cats*

        I felt that too. I’m wondering if the LW thinks . mommy group and is thinking mommy group = uneducated stay at home mom. Or thinks like these women are like the women in those facebook mommy groups that spout the most ridiculous and stupid this GS. (Note not all FB mommy groups are like that but lately I’ve seen a bunch of reddit post and stuff highlighting the worst ones)

        1. MeepMeep*

          There is a definite, and highly anti-feminist, disdain for motherhood here. Women are only allowed to participate in public life if they have no children, or if they are willing to pretend in public that they have no children. Anyone who has children and who is unwilling to hide them from view is treated with contempt.

      5. Amy*

        I’m a mom to three young children. When they call me “Mommy,” it’s (generally) a lovely sound. But I dislike the word in almost every other context. It always seems rather disdainful and sometimes even sarcastic.

        1. Artemesia*

          That jumped out at me as well. Women in ‘mommy groups’ must inherently be non serious, non intelligent and above all non -welcome where important matters are discussed.

          We didn’t have internet back when I was a young mommy and so no mommy group, but I belonged to a babysitting coop — the other mommies were college professors, lawyers, doctors, realtors and accountants and their brains hadn’t drained with their breastmilk.

          1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            Clarifying right now and up front that I am NOT accusing the OP of any of this. I am taking things off-topic, ignoring the letter, going off on a tangent and talking about attitudes that women and mothers encounter in the workplace and American society more general:

            That said, oh my goodness yes about this attitude. It feels like the attitude is: cows to the barn, breeders to the kitchen. And people talk endlessly about how much they hate seeing or hearing kids – especially kids in the wrong spaces – and you know that half of them have never thought that banishing kids from public life means banishing mothers from public life, and that the other half are saying “kids” but meaning “women who are past their ****-by date.”

            I honestly think that the idea of mothers being accomplished or intelligent is terrifying to people, to such a degree that many people just can’t even believe it possible. A mother is a servant. She is supposed to exist for her children – and whatever parts of her they are not using – her intellect, her strength, her skill, her sexuality – shouldn’t exist.

          2. Sutemi*

            Given sexism and the two body problem in academia, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this group of women included some with deep interest in the field or strong but dated academic credentials.

        2. HBJ*

          Agreed. If nothing else, if the OP doesn’t know any context, they should be aware that many mothers do not care for this term and perhaps avoid using it in future. It’s often considered derogatory. Personally, I won’t get offended or call you out for it, but I definitely bristle at it.

        3. Massive Dynamic*

          Same. It’s a word meant for small children to use or at the very least, only for use by people addressing their own mothers (my not-small child knows this is a way to melt my heart down and get what she wants).

          In the workplace though, it grates my ears just like “girls.”

    4. fhqwhgads*

      I took the mention of who usually attends to imply this wasn’t intended to be open to the public – only people affiliated with the university. So it was perhaps out of place that the colleague shared the link with wife at all, and then compoundingly out of place it was shared with the mommy group.
      I also took it as the toddlers were distracting, not the women.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        ETA: specifically I’m wondering if it’s not the visual of the toddlers that was distracting, given the ease with which one could change settings to only look at the speaker’s video, but rather that given whatever the topic was, once they noticed the toddlers were there, everytime they heard something not-toddler-friendly, perhaps that’s what they found distracting. A sort of cringe-factor.

        1. Allonge*

          I can kind of see that but that still seems like a cringe-r problem, no? There are vanishingly few academic subjects that are toddler-appropriate in the sense of ‘they would have fun’, for sure. But unless we are talking graphic, visual violence, or history of swear words (?), the impact is not likely to be that bad. Adult stuff must be boring all the time when you are 2.

          1. Allonge*

            Also, having tought about it, I cannot imagine any set of people less likely to take age-appropriateness into consideration than a ‘mommy group’. With the amount of pressure on mothers to put their children always and forever first and above, and the general ButThinkoftheChildren sentiment everywhere, it’s just not happening – even if the individual mothers thought it might be ok, the group would very likely go towards not risking it if there was any doubt.

            1. inspector parker*

              This fits with my experience – I might make a judgement call about what my own children can cope with but am unlikely to suggest anything even vaguely borderline to other parents.

              As a more general comment on the letter – I can understand the problem if toddlers were making noise, but then the answer to that is to mute everyone. Otherwise this seems more like ‘the domestic and professional spheres keep intersecting during the pandemic and I don’t like it’ than a real, concrete problem. Is a tiny square on a screen containing a squirming child really enough to ruin a lecture? The visual aspect of that can’t be too much harder to ignore than, say, a bird hopping about outside the window, or another participant fiddling with their hair or drinking a cup of coffee. I suspect the movement kept reminding LW of their annoyance at Family Stuff appearing during Professional Time, and that’s why it was distracting. I’m not saying I don’t understand that, but I don’t think it’s enough reason to say that what happened here shouldn’t be allowed to happen. I think it’s a reason for LW to examine why they found this so inappropriate – and ‘some events are just inappropriate for children’ isn’t an answer. Yes, some are, but WHY are they? If a child is being noisy or disruptive, yes, but if a child is silently wiggling on a screen then are we interpreting that as disruptive just because it would be if we were all in a room together? If someone is distracted by their own internal debate about whether said child should be listening to this subject matter, is that *enough* reason to block the mother from participating, or can that person learn to let go? Norms are changing, and some things are less disruptive on screen than in person, so before we begin gatekeeping we should make sure it’s necessary.

              1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

                I mean, I guess the other away they could disrupt a talk is if they let their young children dominate the Q&A afterward (which I totally would have done at age 5 if given the opportunity), but that seems like something a moderator could mitigate by adding more structure to Q&A time. (And personally, I’d rather hear a 5 year old tell a rambling more-of-a-comment-than-a-question than a grown-up person, but tastes may vary and I’d prefer actual insightful questions to either.)

                1. inspector parker*

                  Yikes, that would be its own whole kind of egregious. I got the impression these kids were young enough not to be engaging with the content in any way, though – otherwise they wouldn’t have needed to be held on laps for as long as LW seems to be describing. My 5yo would be tearing around our house doing his own thing and returning for the occasional hug.

                  There *are* dreadful entitled parents who think everyone should be focused on their kids, but the stories about them tend to colour people’s idea of what parents and kids will do. Most parents genuinely aren’t like that and would understand that Q&A at a serious lecture is not time to let your small child take the mic. I know it only takes one, but that could be shut down by a moderator just as with any inappropriate use of Q&A time.

              2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

                I think you’ve so perfectly articulated what is wrong with the LW’s assumption about this being a “problem”. I’d also ask whether LW would have the same reaction if the unexpected guests belonged to the presenting colleague’s book club or college alumni association – is the LW weirded out by any coordinated group engagement, or is it solely the fact that it’s a “mommy group” that makes it inappropriate?

          2. I'm just here for the cats*

            My professor said when she was in grad school she read to her kids in old english (english professor) for practice. And much of whatever the topic is would probably go over the kids head. Especially if they just looked at the screen for a few minutes before playing with their toys.

            1. MeepMeep*

              When my mother was in grad school for her teaching credential, she tried out her lectures/classes on one-year-old me before teaching them to her students. I wasn’t at all traumatized by the grownup math I was encountering.

      2. allathian*

        Yes, these meetings are usually intended for faculty, staff, and students, who are “bribed with extra credit” to attend. I suppose that if a member of staff or faculty, or even a student, needed to have their toddler there, this wouldn’t have been a problem. But the fact that a faculty member shared the invite with his wife who shared it with her mommy group is seen as a problem, and that’s entirely reasonable, IMO.

        I expect that if there had been no toddlers present, the fact that some people who normally wouldn’t have been invited were there, would have gone unnoticed.

        1. anonymous 5*

          Toddlers or no, a quick note in the chat to the organizer to ask them to mute everyone would probably have done the trick (if there was distracting noise) and setting the view so that only the speaker was visible would have probably solved the visibility issue.

          And unless there were toddler-inappropriate topics on the table, or somehow confidential information not to be shared outside the College community, then it’s not actually a problem (the parents in the “mommy group” aren’t holding their toddlers *at* the OP, to paraphrase one of Alison’s lines). I understand the desire to grasp at anything that might help provide a sense of hope that things might someday return to “normal.” But getting annoyed at the presence of toddlers on a video-conference talk just because that offends OP’s sense of “professionalism” is a problem, for many reasons.

          1. littledoctor*

            I mean, I feel like “talk on a serious topic” does pretty strongly imply it was a talk on something not super appropriate for small children. Maybe they meant like an academically complex topic, but to me it reads like a polite euphemism for a difficult topic.

        2. Claire*

          Agreed, the comments here are bizarrely aggressive. It’s typical for colleges to have some events that are open to the wider community while others are for campus members only. The LW doesn’t say for sure but I’m guessing this was not one that was intended for a wider audience. The colleague should not have shared the invite. Just because the event was virtual doesn’t mean anyone can show up. If they wouldn’t normally be invited to attend this type of even in person then they sshouldn’t attend virtually either.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            If it really was only intended for faculty/staff/students, then a friendly “hey Steve, great presentation on Topic last week. I noticed there were a few names of people not affiliated with the campus listed as attendees and wanted to remind you that these types of presentations are for faculty/staff/students only and not the general public.” The LW’s reaction (talking about “hey wasn’t it weird moms and kids were there” with others and worrying that this is going to happen in the future) doesn’t seem to indicate that was the case to me, but maybe they’ll clarify in the comments later.

            1. FridayFriyay*

              Agreed. It would have been a much shorter letter to just say that if it was the case, which makes me suspect it isn’t.

            2. PT*

              I’m also confused, if the group wasn’t supposed to “be” there, why didn’t they just shut their cameras off and listen?

              No one would have been distracted by 10 blank squares with initials in them, for example.

              1. FridayFriyay*

                Presumably because the event was open to the public and they had no idea anyone was judging their presence as inappropriate.

            3. Tisiphone*

              If it was intended only for faculty / staff/ students, the host could generate a passcode to log in to maintain the confidentiality and limit attendence to those invited. Other household members might not be able to be excluded, but they can and should respect the confidentiality – we’re all living in each other’s pockets these days. But if unauthorized attendees from the community got the code, someone gave it to them. I’m seeing that as the real problem.

              If the seminar was open to the public, be glad that the public attended. This is good for the college. You can always mute and turn off cameras to cut down on distracting noise/visuals. My company does town halls and nobody but the presenters are allowed to have cameras and mics on.

            4. LTL*

              Presumably, this is the kind of advice that LW wrote in for. My read was that LW highlighted a mommy club because it was even stranger that a whole outside club (rather than one or two random individuals) ended up on a call that wasn’t meant for the public.

          2. Rock Prof*

            I took it that it was open to general campus and likely the public since the talk was cohosted by a student group (on many public campuses these type of events are technically always public even if not advertised).
            I also wonder what the serious topic was.

            1. sunny-dee*

              My company has hosted probably a dozen internal seminars on managing finances and mental health (and other things) during covid, and families were encourage to attend. That’s serious, but it’s not offensive or “adult” in the sense of being inappropriate. And it may well be interesting or useful.

              If it was talking about how to get into the workplace in this job market or local resources for managing stress, it could easily be adapted to a larger audience.

              1. Rock Prof*

                I’d kind of made the assumption, based on the student group being involved with an academic department and the timing, that this was maybe about racism or sexual harassment in their field, but I have no way of knowing that for sure.

          3. Blackcat*

            “The LW doesn’t say for sure but I’m guessing this was not one that was intended for a wider audience.”
            It could have been, but if it was explicitly closed to others, that should have been stated.
            My department is clear on what events are “open to the broader public” (we can share the link), just for the department (keep the link to yourself) or “closed but some exceptions allowed” (email to ask permission to share with particular individuals).

            If their college isn’t doing this… that’s on them. Unless explicitly stated, I would assume “talks” at a college are open to the public as they would normally be. And a baby/toddler on zoom is WAY different than a baby/toddler in person.

          4. H2*

            I don’t think that it’s “typical” and in fact I think it’s more typical that no one really cares who’s at an event. I can’t think of a situation where something would be co-sponsored by a student group and not be appropriate for public (since even discussion on something serious happening on campus has implications for the larger community).

            I’m a professor and I can see where we might have a speaker about, say the environment, or health, or politics, or economics or something similar that might be of interest. I do climate related research and my mommy group was super interested in it! OP, it’s totally possible that they just read a book related to the subject!

            I also think that if it’s a public university that’s a factor because I think most campus events are technically open to the public.

            But most of all, the spirit of a university should be to disseminate learning and welcome discourse. The more the merrier!

        3. SomebodyElse*

          This was the first thing that struck me, and honestly we don’t have enough information to know for sure. But this read to me as a case that the lecture was not open to the public, which would have meant that the colleague’s wife and group were crashing the lecture.

        4. Observer*

          But the fact that a faculty member shared the invite with his wife who shared it with her mommy group is seen as a problem, and that’s entirely reasonable, IMO.

          That’s really the core of the issue. What makes this a problem? If this were keeping other people with higher priority from getting into the meeting, that would be one thing. But otherwise?

          The only other possibility is that the subject was not just “serious” but truly unsuitable for children. But it’s unlikely enough that I would not expect that to be the case. Certainly, they should have noted that this is a truly child inappropriate, as opposed to just not intended for kids AT ALL, subject.

          1. serenity*

            I agree with this. And without knowing the broader context, it’s hard to see what the issue is here. And I’m saying that as someone who runs online presentations for a university.

            I’m guessing from OP1’s language that this was *not* an internal staff or faculty meeting, given that students are “bribed” to attend. I’ve seen some friends/family/staff of presenters and colleagues on some of the student-focused presentations I’ve held the last year, and it’s not been a problem at all (I’m probably the only person who realized who they were, tbh). Again, without knowing the broader context it feels like OP1 should cut these folks some slack. Many people have more time this year, or are trying to be intentional and use breaks and childcare time to also multitask and do some intellectually stimulating things. Not clear how their presence negatively impacted anyone.

          2. PJ*

            OP mentioned that the talk was co-sponsored by the student organization. Therefore students were also sharing the invitation. Could those mothers also have been students?

        5. Self Employed*

          I can see one potential problem that may happen if lots of people outside the target audience are invited: if the host has a fairly small limit on the number of participants allowed on their Zoom subscription. I don’t know what the subscription tiers are, but if they have a cap of 50 people and 40 campus affiliates usually attend, then if 20 off-campus people sign up that means 10 of their target group can’t attend. I’ve been to online events where I got reminders that registration is tight and if I think I might miss the meeting to please release my reservation so someone who will definitely use it can sign up.

          I’m sure this is why I’ve seen some popular events at a local university require some kind of proof of affiliation to get tickets. (If student fees paid for $FamousSpeaker to speak and students get free tickets, it makes sense that they should get first dibs.)

          But there are ways to handle a problem of limited resources that don’t involve being dismissive of women with children. Would it have been OK for the unexpected guests to be a male trailing spouse’s fly fishing club who were working on lures instead of staring at the camera performing “active listening”?

      3. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

        That’s my interpretation as well, and that seeing both a parent *and* their child’s name on the zoom box is also a little odd; it gives the appearance that the kid is also signed up for what is presumably an 18-and-over event (though I understand with a parenting group, it’s probably customary to identify both names and might be their Zoom default).

        That said, if this was open invite OR colleague got specific permission to add a group of people, then there’s no problem. Nada. Perhaps they planned a virtual coffee after to discuss? It’s no different from book group… except nobody is scrambling to read 5 minutes before.

        Also, what is considered not kid friendly varies. My mom thinks talking about COVID is inappropriate for young children but was comfortable discussing genocide and bigotry b/c it relates to our diaspora.

        1. Natalie*

          I don’t think they saw the mom & kid, it doesn’t say anything about how the name was written. But if it did say both it’s probably just a holdover from some other group – when I attended a mom/baby class by zoom our display name was always both.

          1. Natalie*

            Ugh, editing/autocorrect fail.

            I don’t think the LW saw mom & kid’s name, just their faces in their camera window.

      4. BethDH*

        I suspect you’re right and this is about the “collegial” vibe being affected. I’ve run events like this that are public in the sense that anyone can come, but not public in the sense that they’re intended for a general audience. That can definitely change what happens in the Q&A, which is often a considerable amount of the time for these events (and would explain why everyone was onscreen as thumbnails).
        That said, this would be true even if the attendees were all males over 35 or whatever. OP should examine what “inappropriate” means in this context. Was it really the kids squirming, or was it that people who are not familiar with the field changed the discussion flow? Did you feel unable to ask critical questions because his wife was watching? Those are valid concerns but have nothing to do with age or gender.

      5. Khatul Madame*

        This is how I interpret it, too.
        It would have been just as inappropriate to have a participant’s husband or parent attend. Or share the invite with members of one’s axe-throwing hobby group.

    5. NYC Taxi*

      At first I thought LW1 was going to say that it was a private work meeting that they were crashing, but this was a public forum if I’m understanding correctly? In that case, as long as there’s no audio distractions, which why should there be, that’s what mute button is for, who cares that there are kids? I’ve had colleagues who’s kids have crashed meetings, and it’s hardly the end of the world. No one even notices or acknowledges it happening. It’s life, which is sometimes messy, particularly now.

    6. Dust Bunny*

      I feel like the OP has conflated women/mommy group/children.

      I work for an institution that is part of a very large healthcare and medical education network, basically. Pre-COVID, we regularly had lunch-hour presentations/discussion that were basically open to whoever knew about them, which by default meant people who were somehow associated with one of the healthcare/educational institutions. Students got extra credit–and I think some were required to attend one talk per semester or something–but anyone could attend. A (back in the day; this organization has been replaced with one that supports female faculty) faculty wives’ or mommy group would be fine. But the restless kids attending would not have been–the expectation would be that even if the women knew each other through the mommy group and were attending the talk en masse based on that, their kids would not also attend. It’s not a hard rule but it’s also an environment that would be super boring for kids, and since at least some of the attenders are at least semi-required to be there, it’s not fair for their experience to be disrupted by fussing.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        A quiet older child would be fine, though. If somebody’s eight-year-old was interested in medicine during the Civil War and wanted to come to that talk, nobody would mind. There is no blanket policy against kids.

      2. FridayFriyay*

        Sure, but it sounds like there isn’t any reason for their presence to be disruptive in the current context. Especially when you factor in that many people – “mommies” and working professionals alike (and all overlap therein) – have scarce or non-existent options for safe childcare currently.

      3. Anonnie*

        I wonder if men/fathers/daddy group/children will ever be conflated in such a manner. We have online medical update meetings now, with the “videos on” option welcomed for familiarity. Not the same as a conference, but in this context, it is usually the male physicians who have their children on their lap, sometimes the case for 3 or 4 of the videos (with a group of 30 participants, and about 10 video on participants). I wonder if OP would have the gull to say that daddy groups aren’t welcomed at this meeting. Wild.

        Again, if this is a distraction, another option is to spotlight the speaker. There are simply way too many options, alternatives and solutions not to consider.

    7. Rebecca1*

      OP, if it was Zoom and the visual distraction was an issue, do you know how to switch to “Speaker View”? That can help.

      1. Rebecca2*

        This is what I came to say as well. Rebeccas thinking alike! And on Zoom you can move everyone’s picture around so you can move anyone who might be distracting to another screen or the bottom of the screen.

        1. Joan Rivers*

          When you’re at home at your computer w/your child, how do you not have access to distractions or even a child seat nearby?
          You didn’t have to carry a bag full of toys or games or snacks outside — you have a home full of that stuff. Presumably.
          Small kids used to sit in “playpens” w/lots of safe toys to amuse them. Instead of squirming on a lap during a talk they can’t comprehend.
          I know it’s fun to be outraged and yell “sexism!” but if you do you have to expect someone else might bring up “parenting!” Maybe even “mothering!”

          1. Ash*

            Joan Rivers, you have made a similar comment in many spots on this forum, so apparently this strikes a nerve for you. However I believe you are focusing on the wrong thing. The LW wasn’t saying these women were making a poor parenting choice. They said they were making a bad choice simply by choosing to be present at the event and to have their children with them. Which again, if they had hidden the participants and went to just Speaker View in Zoom, they wouldn’t even have to see the children at all.

    8. Public Sector Manager*

      I’m likewise confused. If this was a closed meeting for only administration, professors, and students, and the mothers group are none of these, then the issue isn’t with the group but with the coworker who gave them the access information. And if it was a lecture open to the public, then it doesn’t matter whether the person is a mother with a young child, homeless, a high school student, etc., because it’s open to the public. As long as everyone was courteous and respecting online norms, I don’t see what the problem is.

      There are also lot of solutions, for both the OP and the host. At least on Zoom, the OP can pin the video feed of the speaker. If members of the public are being disruptive, they can be muted by the host or booted from the presentation, but it sounds like none of this happened here.

  3. Professional Writer*

    LW2’s letter had more than one error itself, including the use of the phrase “begs the question” when they meant “raises the question.” Begging the question is a very specific type of logical fallacy. As a Professional Writer, one thing I’ve learned is that if you write a rant about how you see typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors everywhere you go, that rant WILL include one of the above. That’s how I learned what a split infinitive is!

    1. Artemesia*

      The misuse of ‘begs the question’ jumped out at me too — a much bigger mistake the misspelling, but of course like many nuanced concepts and words, there has been so much misuse of the concept that few people know what it means anymore. The criticisms seemed odd — the competence of a writer has little to do with spelling or typos.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        This is not a “pile-on” — just an observation from decades of publishing work. People almost all know how to “write” in some fashion. We don’t necessarily know how to “paint” or “draw” or “knit.” But we can write a sentence of some kind. And many of us want to “write.” And feel we can. Some of us think we have a great book in us. If only we wrote it.

        But published “writers” usually have to defer to “editors” and even change their work [or quit]. And defer to “readers” who are the ultimate judge. Editors know that “proofreaders” and “editors” can fix a good writer’s errors; not all great writers can spell or even write perfectly. Some publications even have “fact checkers.”

        These days blogs have more errors because there’s no one proofreading. But that’s been the structure.
        And editors or employers know what kind of writing they like and want. So it’s not so much about typos or errors, it’s about how your writing comes across when you apply for the job.

        Writing a LOT is a good way to become better at writing. Being edited is a good way to become better, if the editing is competent. But you have to get hired somewhere that’s a good fit for you. In the past you’d be asked for your “clips” so they can look at what’s been published.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          But published “writers” usually have to defer to “editors” and even change their work [or quit].

          I’m glad that you’ve pointed out the degree to which published writing is typically a collaborative project. Many young writers in my industry are surprised to learn that. I think this comes from how the secondary education system works in the US. We’re taught the “good” writing is the writing you do 100% completely on your own with no input from anyone anywhere at any time. So we get lots of newbie writers who take great offense at the input of editors, copy editors, fact-checkers and so forth. Almost anything great you’ve seen written in professionally published form has likely had many hands on it. Good writing is a group activity.

          1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            Majoring in journalism and working at the school paper cured me of this particular affliction VERY quickly. I ultimately chose not to pursue journalism as a career path, but damn if it didn’t teach me how to write (and, more importantly, how not to be offended by edits and re-writes in a business setting!)

    2. Shira*

      “As a Professional Writer, one thing I’ve learned is that if you write a rant about how you see typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors everywhere you go, that rant WILL include one of the above.”

      Ah, yes. Otherwise known as Muphry’s Law :-)

      1. Artemesia*

        Love that. After proofing galleys of a book, you can be sure that the first page you turn to when it is published will have the typo.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          Yes, a well known fact! Years ago, I decided to no longer open books as soon as they come back from the printer, as everyone knows that that’s when the errors fly in!

          1. Reluctant Manager*

            Hah! We used to say that the best way to find an error was to print 10,000 copies. (One book even had the designer’s name spelled wrong–which served her right for not reading what she was designing.)

    3. Lily of the field*

      Actually, according to Merriam Webster, “beg the question”, in its most common usage, means “to elicit a specific question as a reaction or response,” and can often be replaced with “a question that begs to be answered.” However, a lesser used and more formal definition is “to ignore a question under the assumption it has already been answered.” The phrase itself comes from a translation of an Aristotelian phrase rendered as “beg the question” but meaning ‘assume the conclusion’.” So both the OP and you are correct, it is just that you have a more formal understanding of the usage of “beg the question”. It is actually a pretty interesting article about the usages of this phrase and its origins; I am including the link, in case anyone would like to read it.

        1. Reluctant Manager*

          I often struggle with MW, but they seem to use a descriptive rather than prescriptive approach. They’ll tell you what someone meant, not necessarily how they should have said it. (See also “irregardless.”)

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        It is used that way nowadays, but it’s kind of a trap for public writing because there will always be a complaint or comment. Many writers will therefore simply omit it in favour of other ways of expressing the same thing. “Technically correct is the best kind of correct” doesn’t help us here.

        The wider point is that you can always find errors (or “errors”) in any piece of writing, even those that have been through multiple rounds of highly skilled editing, so LW should not take such errors in rejection letters or newsletters as proof that she is a more accurate writer/editor than those currently on staff.

        Best of luck with the job hunt.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          This. The claim that “beg the question” is nothing more and nothing less that a decidedly obscure translation of “petitio principii” to simply factually incorrect. That ship sailed long ago. The only legitimate criticism of its use in public writing is, as you say, the writer needlessly opening himself up to an irrelevant distraction. This is reason enough to avoid it, but I don’t think less of a writer for using it.

          In related news, “the hoi polloi” is correct idiomatic English. Insisting on dropping the “the” is awkward and pedantic. I do in fact think less of a writer for going that route.

          1. Observer*

            The only legitimate criticism of its use in public writing is, as you say, the writer needlessly opening himself up to an irrelevant distraction. This is reason enough to avoid it, but I don’t think less of a writer for using it.

            It depends on context. When you are trying to write stuff that avoids nit picking, this is a bad choice. Which may speak to the OP’s skill in knowing how to write the a particular audience (or not – if the OP hasn’t spent much time here in the comments, they might not have realized how people are likely to react.)

      2. happybat*

        I like ‘invites the question whether….’ or ‘assumes the truth of the position being argued for’ because it’s just a lot easier than unpicking misunderstandings.

      3. Artemesia*

        This is the result of the misuse of the term, primarily by journalists trying to sound smart. It is like the term ‘brutalize’ which has a meaning that is subtle and has totally been trashed by misuse so that now people use it to mean ‘treat with brutality’ — so constant misuse vitiates the meaning of words. Misuse it long enough and it enters the dictionary in its clumsy form.

        1. Observer*

          It doesn’t matter WHY a term or word has come to a particular meaning. The reality is that once a word or phrase takes on a meaning it’s pretty useless to criticize someone for using it.

          Even prescriptivists need to deal with the way language changes. Or are you going to insist on using the work “nice” to mean finicky (as was once a common usage) rather than “pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory” as is the first dictionary definition today?

    4. Double A*

      Ah, but the split infinitive rule comes from forcing Latin grammatical construction onto English, thus opening the prescriptive vs descriptive grammar discussion.

      I was also confused about the type of job the OP was applying to. Pointing out spelling and grammar errors suggests to me they’re looking for copy editing jobs.

      1. Sylvan*

        Sounds like they’re looking at writing jobs and editing jobs. There are some people who just catch every little mistake, whether they’re trying or not. Personally, I only notice what sounds weird in my head, but that’s why I’m a copywriter and not a copyeditor.

        To the OP: Part of being a professional writer is putting your work in someone else’s hands. Your editor, site designer, or client does whatever they feel is necessary to your writing. Sometimes, that’s when errors come into the picture, because the designer or client needs to make changes. They don’t know they’re mixing up homonyms or using an Oxford comma in AP, and you don’t know until after the fact. This can irritate the shit out of you unless you let go of error-hunting a bit.

        1. KHB*

          But even what constitutes a “mistake” is so very context-dependent. For example, at the publication I work for, we’ve consciously decided that we don’t care about certain things that people are often taught are “wrong” (like ending a sentence with a preposition or beginning one with a conjunction – but we’re extremely persnickety about dangling modifiers, which a lot of other places don’t even think to look for.

          An eagle eye for grammar is a great skill to have – and it can open up a world of copy-editing and proofreading jobs for you – but only if you can tune it to your the specifications of your employer’s style guide.

          1. londonedit*

            This is a really good point. I’ve stopped working with a couple of freelance editors in the past because they’ve nitpicked and argued about our style guide – OK, fine, *you* might not like the Oxford comma, but we use it, so if you’re doing editing work for me then you need to make sure it’s used. I don’t mind if a copy-editor asks for clarity on a point of style, and I don’t mind if they ask whether there’s a particular reason for a certain style choice, but I can’t work with someone who’s going to argue about it or tell me we shouldn’t be doing XYZ because technically it should be ABC.

            1. Lacey*

              Oh yes! I’m not a writer, I’m a graphic designer, but I get to know client’s copy-style preferences. They’re not always technically correct, but it’s advertising not a research paper so whatever connects with your audience is correct. Which is a nightmare when you’re working with a super pedantic copy-editor who can’t grasp that maybe there are different rules for advertising than what they learned getting their English degree.

              Which is also why the OP is getting shot down for having a degree in English and not marketing or professional writing. People who have English degrees can be… difficult… to work with in a marketing context.

            2. Koalafied*

              Yep. From the opposite side, my org does not use the Oxford comma. In my personal life I will die on that hill and make you rip the Oxford comma from my cold, dead hands. At work, at least once a week I remove an Oxford comma from something others have written and remind them that we can’t use them, while dying a tiny death on the inside. The org style isn’t a 1:1 with my own voice, and if I had any say in the style I’d argue for the Oxford comma till I was blue in the face, but I don’t don’t have any say and the org needs to have a single, consistent voice no matter what staffer wrote any given piece. That’s the job.

            3. oranges & lemons*

              There are seemingly many copy editors out there who have no ability to distinguish between things that annoy them personally and things that we actually want to avoid printing. I once worked with a freelancer who would flag things like the word “if” used in two consecutive paragraphs and seemed outraged by it.

          2. DarnTheMan*

            Same; my work uses certain spellings of words or phrases that look ‘wrong’ for the version of English that we us but it comes from the fact that we’re part of an international organization, with our Global offices setting the mandates (and spelling) for key terms.

        2. Deliliah*

          I work with a lot of clients and see a lot of copywriting (though I am not a copywriter). Sometimes clients want things a certain way, even if it’s wrong. They’re paying the bills, so it goes their way if one gentle pushback doesn’t sway them. I read things that sound horrible all the time, but I don’t get the deciding vote, so I let it go.

      2. Been There*

        This stood out to me as well. Catching spelling and grammatical errors is not the same as knowing how to write a good blog post or newsletter. Employers are looking for different skills here, and the OP’s resume may not be as good for those writing jobs as they think.

        1. Lacey*

          Yup! I’ve heard nightmares about copy-writers who could write technically correct sentences, but couldn’t figure out how to keep them from being deadly dull. It’s not that being correct isn’t important, it can’t be interesting if it can’t be read, but it’s not the most important part.

        2. Koalafied*

          Yes, LW, if you have the means I’d strongly urge you to take a business course in some kind of persuasive writing or writing for marketing. It will be a huge boost to your resume.

          I write marketing copy as a large part of my job. My boss was trained years ago as a journalist. He’s a great writer when we need someone to do a blog post. But he’s not very good at direct response copy. He uses too many $5 words and multipart sentences with 3 clauses. He makes the reader have to think too much for a scenario where you’re trying to get someone sitting on the fence to pull a trigger. It’s beautiful prose but it doesn’t get results. And it’s a lot easier for me to edit the work of someone who gets persuasive direct response copy tactics but messes up the spelling and grammar than it is to try to edit a piece that just fundamentally, from beginning to end, is just not that compelling, even if it’s flawless English and beautiful prose.

          If you want to work in marketing, the #1 thing you can do is get some exposure to marketing. Even a LinkedIn course certification would be better than nothing, by a lot!

        3. irritable vowel*

          I was going to suggest to LW2 that they might be better suited for a job in copy editing or proofreading than in copywriting. I work in an in-house creative agency for a large company, and the most important thing for the writers is voice. They don’t care about grammar and spelling so much (that’s what the proofreader is for), but being able to write with pizzazz is essential. If LW2’s cover letter is focusing on presenting themselves as a good writer because they have impeccable spelling and grammar, that is signaling to hiring managers that they have no experience in the field, on top of what their resume shows. LW2 either needs to reframe their letter or refocus their job search, IMO.

          1. Joan Rivers*

            I got experience in Corporate Communications, interviewing distributors long-distance for several newsletters, etc. It was good for me to have to try to make someone readable who wasn’t.
            Over time I developed tricks. Like, if they’re consistent to the point of boring, praise that as as a virtue. If they’re flakey and have no business plan, praise them for being spontaneous.
            And, write like writers of articles that are published — imitate them.
            It felt like hack work but my boss loved it. It’s what they wanted to pay me to do.
            Writing a lot taught me to write. Getting praised helped. So did getting edited.
            When you move on you have those newsletters or articles to present for future jobs.
            Writers write.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        Split infinitive: It’s actually worse than merely forcing a Latin construction onto English. It is based on a misunderstanding of what should be bog standard English grammar. The “to” is not part of the infinitive. It is a marker required for some, but not all, uses of the infinitive. A common example of where it is required is when the infinitive is acting as a noun:

        “To be, or not to be: that is the question.”

        An example where it is not required, and indeed would be ungrammatical, is after a modal verb:

        “I must be myself.”

        The “split infinitive” rule traditionally doesn’t include the second example, so it would not complain about

        “I must always be myself.”

        Some are eager to go down that road, once it is pointed out, but this just shows how not a real rule of real English grammar this is, and has been all along.

    5. Elle by the sea*

      I knew that people would obsess over OP’s use of “begs the question”. But I think it’s overly pedantic to call it a mistake – everyday language is not equal to the language of formal logic and it’s a common, acceptable expression for colloquial usage.

      What struck me was OP’s use of “personable”. I have never heard it used as a synonym for “personalised”. It has an entirely different meaning, for all I know.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        “Personable” wasn’t used here as a synonym for “personalized” because you’re right, it isn’t one. It means something like “friendly” or “amiable.”

        1. TootsNYC*

          and that is what the OP meant, wasn’t it? That’s what I took it was–that their cover letters were amiable and pleasant, which is a good thing for them to be.

          And not that they were personalized.
          I had thought that Elle by the sea’s interpretation of that word was wrong.

    6. Jenny*

      I have to urge LW2 to be careful because they are developing a bit if a vibe that, if an interviewer picks up on, won’t help them. It’s a very difficult field to get into and, as discussed, what matters in writing has less to do with typos and more to do with tone and content. You have to drop the “you hired someone incompetent over me” vibe. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. But it comes across as arrogant and if you put that across in interviews, you won’t get hired. I’d pick a writer with typos over one with an attitude problem any day. Don’t let your frustration hurt your job search.

      1. londonedit*

        I agree. Working in publishing you occasionally get letters/emails from people who want to tell you that they’ve read Teapot Painting: Modern Techniques and spotted NINE(!!) errors within the text, and they wish to offer their services as a copy-editor/proofreader seeing as we clearly don’t employ professionals to do the work properly. Do we work with those people? No, we don’t. We work with the people who approach us in a polite manner, offer a solid CV with plenty of relevant experience, and/or come recommended by our friends and colleagues in the industry.

      2. Harper the Other One*

        I agree with this. OP, I do a lot of writing for my work, and I have been told by many that I’m an excellent writer, but I make mistakes sometimes. When the person who edits my work changes a sentence structure or adds information, they also make mistakes sometimes. There is no such thing as a perfect writer.

        Plus, on my first few years writing for a living, I learned a TON and my writing changed enormously.

        OP, writing is hugely competitive and rejection is always going to be a part of it. It’s okay if you find that hard – or even if you find it hard enough that you decide to look for work that’s not purely writing-based. But if you want to continue in a pure writing/copyediting career, you’ll have to find a way to reach some level of peace with mistakes and rejection.

      3. Elle by the sea*

        Yeah, I agree with that. That vibe and the eagerness to correct minor typos will probably start annoying future employers and might factor into the hiring decision. To be honest, I wouldn’t be too enthusiastic about the thought of hiring someone who thinks that good writing equals no typos only and spelling equals grammar and language.

      4. Richard Hershberger*

        LW2: I feel your pain. We are in a tight job market, allowing–even requiring–employers to filter out candidates whom they might hire in other circumstances. This too shall pass. You may have to keep flipping burgers for another year or two, but keep plugging away.

        That being said, keep in mind the difference between writing and copy editing. A sharp eye for typos and grammatic mistakes is important for a copy editor, but much less so for a writer. Clean copy and good writing are entirely different things. If you are trying for a writing job, you don’t want to give the impression that you confuse the two. I sometimes read blogs and forums in the self-publishing realm. It is not uncommon to find someone who thinks that the acme of literary achievement is knowing the difference between their, there, and they’re. I am not in the least bit tempted to devote any of my time to reading their writing.

      5. Le Sigh*

        I feel like there are a few things going on. I think Alison’s point about the tone, flow, style, etc., is really important. Yes, of course I need people who can create clean copy and I wouldn’t hire someone who’s application was riddled with issues. But what I need far more is someone who can write in an engaging way, no matter how bland the material, who can turn something around quickly, who can pick up on my company’s tone/style easily, and who can adapt their writing the audience. I could have the most perfectly constructed, error-free sentence in the world but if doesn’t accomplish what I need for the document, it doesn’t do me a lot of good.

        Another thing — while writers should be able to proof and copy edit, there is a reason a lot of places (e.g., newspapers) used to slot copy editors and writers/reporters as two different jobs. When they started cutting copy editing staff at newspapers, there was a decline in quality overall and no wonder! It’s two different skillsets and it’s hard to proof your own work. And when you write as a trade you’re often under tight deadlines, where people demand speed over perfection and need something now, not when every last comma splice has been fixed.

        I think LW is frustrated and I get that, but focusing on this stuff is unproductive. It’s just a really competitive industry.

      6. booksbooksmorebooks*

        Agreed! Their attitude may be harming them more than they think here. I recommended one of my former co-editors on the student paper into a job once, someone who was an excellent copy editor and solid managing editor. He floundered really, really badly as a copy writer. Couldn’t hit deadlines because he’d get hung up on the perfect sentence, had a bit of an attitude about everything, wasn’t absorbing client styles fast enough. Writing well within a specific context is not the same thing as writing well technically.

        1. Cat Tree*

          Also, grammar police are just exhausting. I often write technical documents in a highly regulated industry. When we have to send anything to a regulatory agency, literally 10 people have to review it and give their blessing. And when you end up with two different grammar police who have slightly different views on what is correct, I spend more time trying to place or remove commas to please everyone and less time on the technical content. Oh, and just for fun there is a character limit.

          1. Le Sigh*

            Ohhhh boy do I feel this. I’m not in a regulated industry but my world does have specific parameters we have to follow. I send docs out for review with clear instructions on what I need folks to focus on (e.g., not exhaustive copy editing, which is pointless until we have the text right). I don’t mind people pointing out big issues with grammar or a run-on sentence, but there is always SOMEONE who clearly spent far more time nitpicking the grammar to death instead of telling me if the content is accurate and on-point. Which is a huge waste of time at this stage!

            1. Cat Tree*

              I often get the sense that the nitpickiest reviewers don’t have a solid understanding of the technical content, but they feel the need to change something to prove that they actually did something.

              1. Richard Hershberger*

                Chances are excellent that the nitpickiest reviewers don’t have a solid understanding of grammar, either. This adding and removing of commas is a dead giveaway. There are a few hard and fast rules of comma placement, followed by a wide range of variation that is not in any meaningful sense wrong. Some of this might fall under house style, the Oxford comma being a classic example. Most of it does not lend itself even to that. Complaining about commas, their presence or absence, when within the range of not-wrong and not proscribed by a house style guide, is simply a waste of everyone’s time. But these people often think that their opinions on commas come down from Mount Sinai. Or worse, they feel the need to comment, so will suggest the opposite of what is in front of them no matter what.

      7. Yorick*

        Honestly, I wonder if LW isn’t getting a writing or editing job because LW doesn’t understand what it means to be a writer or editor and that comes across in the cover letter/resume/interview. Writing a grammatically correct sentence isn’t writing work, and correcting typos isn’t editing work.

        However, I do agree with LW that it’s super annoying when copy editors make mistakes. I publish in academic journals and it is so frustrating to go through the page proofs looking for and correcting mistakes the copy editors edited in. Once they added an incorrect comma to the title! And I didn’t notice because I thought the title couldn’t be changed after acceptance so didn’t check it, now my title is just awful and wrong.

      8. sofar*

        Yep! When I was new and marketing myself as a writer, I very much put my ability to produce clean copy and copy-edit at the forefront.

        Then I got hired as a content producer, and the sheer volume of work I was expected to churn out made me realize why so many errors creep into published copy!

        Now that I hire writers, to Allison’s point, yes — we can be picky. Often we can be so picky that we can find a candidate who is not only a good writer, but has had experience writing for our industry, which gives them a huge advantage.

        The attitude I’m looking for is, “I understand that I need to produce a lot of content. I’m good at prioritizing to get all that done. I’m a decent self-editor, too, because I’ve had to learn to DIY it at companies that don’t have dedicated copy editors. I can produce clean copy under pressure.”

        And then I give them a copy-editing test to prove that.

        What I am NOT looking for is someone who can point out all the errors that went live on our site last week. I could do that too, if I had the time.

        1. so anon for this*

          sofar: “What I am NOT looking for is someone who can point out all the errors that went live on our site last week.”

          Or, as I like to call them, freelance post-production copy editors.

          I handle reader-generated opinion page content (letters to the editor, commentaries), writing headlines, correcting spelling and punctuation, and making sure nobody gets libeled.

          When I get the inevitable helpful call or email about spelling mistakes, I always want to respond, “You should have seen all the stuff I caught!”

      9. RDG*

        LW2: I am a professional content writer/editor for a large tech company. I’m involved in hiring other content writers/editors. Here are some of the things I look for aside from just “no typos.” (For context: My team authors instructional content for global audiences. We need to be able to distill complex technical concepts into clear, step-by-step instructions with as little ambiguity as possible.)

        1. What is the readability / reading grade level of your sentences? Your writing may be beautiful and typo-free, but if it’s difficult to follow I will have serious reservations. (If you use MS Word, try activating the Flesch Readability score and Flesch-Kincaid reading grade level fields–they will show up when you do a spelling/grammar check of the document.)
        2. Is your writing easy to translate? Language-specific idioms (e.g. “killing two birds with one stone”), large clusters of nouns (e.g. “Customer-Employee Relations Committee Report”), puns/wordplay, and some words with multiple meanings are difficult to translate.
        3. Does your writing meet accessibility standards? Are you aware of best practices for users who interact with content using screen-reading software? Does your content reflect consideration toward color-blind users?
        4. Do you work well with other stakeholders? This is answered more during an interview than in a writing sample, but as others have mentioned here, it’s important that you are able to play nice with others. Being militant about spelling and grammar is not the way to do that. (And this is coming from a person who DEFINITELY notices when publications have grammar and spelling mistakes. It’s fine to be annoyed by them on your own. It’s fine to gripe about them to your friends. But that alone will not get you hired.)

        That’s not to say I don’t care about typos in candidates’ writing samples – I do! But when I’m looking to hire someone, I want to know what issues are coachable and which aren’t. A lack of attention to detail that results in typos? Pay more attention to spellcheck / have a coworker do a quick read-through of your work. That’s a relatively easy fix. It’s much, much harder to edit and rewrite work that doesn’t meet standards 1-3, and difficult to deal with content authors who don’t meet standard 4.

        It’s also important to note that typos are sort of the low-hanging fruit of content management and authoring. Is my documentation typo-free? Nope. I try to make it perfect, but I’m human, and I’ll never get there. However, for every typo that gets pointed out to me, there were probably five more pressing content issues that *did* get solved before the work went to publication–a webpage that crashed and wouldn’t display the content at all, two conflicting pieces of information in the document, a last-minute client request that required a hasty re-write and re-translation. You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes with someone else’s content.

        I hope this information is helpful as you continue looking for writing jobs – believe me, I know how frustrating it is to get rejected from a job and then look at the company’s work and think, “What the heck?? I could definitely do better than that.” Good luck!

        1. Starbuck*

          Note for anyone who wants to use that readability feature in MS Word – if it doesn’t show up automatically when you do a spell check (for me it didn’t) go to
          File > Options > Readability
          And you’ll find the option to enable it. Nifty! And helpful for me as I’m often writing for different grade levels.

      10. DarnTheMan*

        +100; I always thought I was an overall decent writer but one of the best lessons I ever got was on the first day of my internship when one of the managers I reported to warned me that everything I wrote for her would come back with changes because she had a very specific style and she would ask me to change things until it fit. Did I always agree with her changes? No but the lesson I learned was that it wasn’t about being “right” (grammatically/linguistically/etc) but about being able to adapt my writing to what the boss wanted.

    7. Beany*

      I’ve read, and agree with, most of the comments that emphasize that (a) copy-editing is not writing, (b) writers are often under huge pressure to get pieces out the door, and (c) LW2 probably isn’t winning themselves any brownie points in focusing on this stuff.

      That said, seeing silly typos, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors in otherwise highly polished material (printed or online) drives me mad. It may not be the writer’s job to catch it all, but it should be *someone’s* — and it’s not being done very well. Are we doomed to live with it?

      1. Le Sigh*

        Probably? For one, people are human. Mistakes will always happen, even by really experienced, talented copy editors. Some bigger than others, but they will always happen. The bigger thing by far is that so many publications have slashed or eliminated their copy editing budget (either laying off their staff or cutting outside freelancers). Or the person the organization has hired has to wear many hats, and something has to give at some point.

        A comma splice or poorly placed apostrophe might trip me up when reading, but I’m not going to spend much more time on it than that. (Though I cringe and feel badly for a writer when I spot something big that will require an actual correction. That’s never fun for the writer.)

        1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          Agree wholeheartedly. In addition to what you’ve said, some ‘errors’ are hotly debated and will inspire vitrol from a small segment of readers no matter what ‘side’ a writer has chosen.

          1. Le Sigh*

            Oh lord, yes. Loved to get emails from people informing me of something they deemed an error (which as you point out, was actually something that was debated and people could agree to disagree). Some were friendly about it, some took a tone to suggest I was condemned to a purgatory full of misplaced apostrophes. Either way, when I was being asked to produce way too much content for very little money — and because copy editing wasn’t actually my job! — it was annoying to feel nitpicked.

            Curiously, these same people often spelled my name incorrectly.

            1. HoundLover*

              Yes, there will always be some errors. I do a lot of writing for work, though that is not my primary role. I have it peer reviewed and read by others. No matter what I do, when I present it — often multiple times to the same company, I can find a typo almost every time.

              Sometimes, you read something so much, you think it says what you want it to say, not what it actually does say.

              1. Cat Tree*

                The beauty of human communication through language is that it is error-tolerant. Humans make mistakes, and other humans automatically figure out the meaning anyway. Of course that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t bother proofreading. And there are rare errors that truly change the meaning of the communication. But human brains don’t work like computers. The occasional mistake doesn’t ruin the communication, even in very formal writing.

        2. sofar*

          This this this. I work for an online media company. Often, the person hired to be “editor” will end up wearing many hats and, as such: Spend the day in meetings with the business side; become responsible for SEO performance of articles; be required to make various reports on article performance/conversions; get caught up with accounting snafus and paying freelancers; get roped into various management and admin tasks.

          There are articles on the sites I’m responsible for editing that I’ve never even READ, let alone given a line edit. It’s up to the writer to self-edit, which often goes badly (because self-editing is hard!). I’ll often spend the last hour of my day reading through everything and then pinging the writers about errors I’ve spotted so they can fix them.

          I’ve been trying for years to get a permanent role opened up for a copy-editor whose sole job is to catch errors. But, often, that’s seen as a “nice to have” rather than a “must have.” If an article is getting lots of traffic/commissionable clicks, nobody at the company cares that it has a typo in the first graph. Even if the info in the article is blatantly wrong, the idea is, “Well we’re online, so we can just fix it, and it’s like it never happened.” It’s very hard to make an ROI argument for hiring an editor. It’s easy to justify hiring more writers. And then, we end up with more content and less time to edit.

          1. That's Ms to you*

            Yes! In my experiences, “copy editing” gets very confused with “content editing”…and so one person holds both roles. And is also expected to be a fact-checker. And it’s not their title, it’s a side-of-the-desk role where it’s what they do when they get a free moment to do it.

        3. TootsNYC*

          I’m a professional copyeditor. I fix the comma splice, but I really don’t think it’s the worst thing ever to happen to a piece of copy.

        4. Self Employed*

          One problem that I’ve noticed frequently is the use of a word other than what the author probably intended. It’s similar to the correct word and spelled properly–so it may have been introduced by autocorrect or they picked the wrong option when spell checking. For example, someone will say “this peeked my interest” or “peaked my interest” instead of “piqued my interest” or “for all intensive purposes” when clearly they meant “for all intents and purposes.”

      2. oranges & lemons*

        Personally, the more time I spend editing professionally, the less I care about typos and incorrect or informal grammar in the wild. As long as it doesn’t impede understanding, I’m prepared to live and let live. (Although I confess that I get annoyed when I read a blockbuster book by one of the massive publishing conglomerates and it’s obvious that they paid for approximately $5 worth of proofreading time. They can afford better!)

        1. Lore*

          Generally what that means is not that the publisher cheaped out, but that no amount of money can pay for time travel—in other words, the manuscript delivered so late in reference to a nonnegotiable onsale date that what would normally be six months’ work got done in six weeks, and then on top of that the author rewrote the whole thing in proofs and it was not possible to make up that time.

          1. oranges & lemons*

            You’re probably right! I just have an independent publishing chip on my shoulder. But I have heard a number of stories about big publishers slashing their editorial budgets and hiring unpaid interns, and can’t help but wonder why they can’t make room in their budgets for these things if tiny independent presses can.

            1. Oh No She Di'int*

              If the conglomerates annoy you, don’t look at the university presses, many of which have become very reliant on authors to do much more for themselves that used to be done by professionals.

            2. Lore*

              I work for one of the big 5 publishers. We generally pay a copy editor and three proofreaders per book at minimum. There are still errors!

    8. Em*

      Split infinitives are also JUST FINE in English. Feel free to joyfully split them wherever you go, because English is not Latin.

      1. WFH with Cat*

        Thank you, thank you, thank you. To callously and ferociously split infinitives is my life’s joy.

        But I do insist on Oxford commas. (No, not for client work, don’t be silly, they never accept them … but for my own writing, yeah, baby.)

        This part of the conversation has been quite entertaining.

    9. oranges & lemons*

      I work as an editor at a book publishing company, and we get people writing in to point out minor typos all the time–often suggesting they could handily replace the current staff. The thing is, when you spend eight hours a day editing, you soon lose your zeal for scouring your every email for split infinitives. And anyone who writes in to triumphantly announce that they found a single typo in a 500-page book is just showing that they don’t understand how publishing works.

      That being said, I feel for anyone like OP2 who is struggling to find writing and editing jobs right now, because it can be next to impossible. I’ve worked in the industry for over a decade and I’m not sure if I would be hired for an entry-level job now, because there are freelance editors with two or three decades’ experience who are also applying. The supply far exceeds the demand, unfortunately.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        Everything you’ve said is 1000 degrees of correct.

        To be fair, I think a lot of people trying to get into publishing imagine that publishing is basically an extension of schoolwork, in which they’ve now taken on the role of the teacher whose job it is to get the student to a gold star in grammar and spelling.

    10. Public Sector Manager*

      Slightly off-topic, but when I started law school almost 29 years ago, my grandmother sent me a copy of Frank Visco’s rules for writing, with such gems as:

      Avoid Alliteration. Always.
      Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
      Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
      Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
      Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
      Be more or less specific.

  4. LilyP*

    “many of the children squirming throughout the program” makes it sound like the kids were the issue. Maybe a general suggestion or requirement that observers keep their audio muted and turn off video if they might have potentially distracting movement going on?

    1. rural academic*

      All audio but the speaker should definitely be turned off, but if LW can switch to speaker view, any squirming from other audience members shouldn’t be much of an issue.

      1. Claire*

        This isn’t always practical though. If it was an event designed to give students an opportunity to discuss an important campus issue, silencing all attendees might not be an option. Some events are meant to be interactive.

        1. Blackcat*

          “Some events are meant to be interactive.”
          I’ve been to lots of “interactive” events, and everyone but the host is muted by default. People can unmute themselves, but muting when not talking is 100% the norm in anything I’ve experienced that’s not a meeting with fewer than 5 people…

        2. rural academic*

          What I meant is that audio other than the speaker should be turned off by default, and people asking questions should then un-mute in turn.
          I do teach myself and have participated in online events intended for discussion.

        3. inspector parker*

          All my current classes involve discussion but we never have everyone off mute at once – that way chaos lies. It’s bad enough when one person forgets to mute and starts slurping coffee or talking to their dog. We just unmute one by one to contribute.

    2. BonzaSonza*

      I can agree with that, but removing that aside about children from the sentence it doesn’t read well:

      “I felt that the presence of these women at this serious talk… was distracting at best and unprofessional at worst.”

      Why is it unprofessional and distracting for women to attend?

      1. allathian*

        The women weren’t the problem, the kids were. The sentence was a bit badly crafted, would you accept “the presence of these moms at this serious talk” as less problematic?

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          I’m not the person you asked (BonzaSonza), but imo, substituting “moms” for “women” would not help one bit. Neither women nor moms should be distracting to anyone, and it’s problematic to even imply that they would be. If the o.p.’s concern was children being present, they should have said “the presence of these children was distracting.” Saying that “the presence of these women and children” was objectionable can be read as a (possibly justifiable) complaint about the presence of small children, an inappropriate (and possibly unintentional) jab at the women themselves, or both.

          No matter what noun (women, moms, or something) is used to describe these women, it still comes across as condescending to mothers and/or women in general, regardless of what the intention may have been. That is what set my teeth (and I believe the teeth of other commenters) on edge to the extent that some of us are having a hard time seeing past it.

          1. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar*

            Oh, please. What allathian is getting at is that some events are not appropriate for babies, toddlers, and children, which is perfectly reasonable — as much so on Zoom as in-person.

            1. FridayFriyay*

              I know that some people hold that opinion, but can we talk about WHY that is a norm and whether it’s truly transferable to a Zoom lecture? In a meeting room or lecture hall you could argue that the sounds a child makes or the visual of squirming or whatever we’re disruptive. On a Zoom lecture that is being properly moderated, participants will be muted (so no disruptive sounds) and if someone is distracted by the wiggling of a child on a thumbnail image they can easily fix their own discomfort by changing the viewing settings to “speaker.” So what specifically is the issue? If the content itself had been inappropriate for children (as opposed to just boring and not relevant) it seems the LW would have noted that. Maybe now would be a good time to revisit archaic norms about educational settings and workplaces that have kept women with children on the sidelines for very thin reasons, many of which have been erased or nearly so by pandemic-era technologies.

              1. EventPlannerGal*

                This! Alison often asks people to think about what actual PROBLEMS are being caused by people’s behaviour, rather than just whether we happen to find them annoying or weird – this comes up so often and I think it’s really valuable advice.

                And I mean, it sounds like these events in normal times were attended by some faculty and a handful of disinterested students being bribed to attend. Maybe that’s fine, maybe that’s all you want to achieve, but also maybe that’s not great. I don’t know. Maybe the way that they were done before is not necessarily the pinnacle of audience engagement.

                1. Crooked Bird*

                  Yes… he openly admits people have to be bribed to attend these events, yet he’s annoyed that someone is spontaneously taking an interest! It really sounds to me like he’s just a little stuck on norms–he knows small children would be disruptive at these events in-person, and so just knowing that they’re in front of their screens listening to the same thing he is gets under his skin and ruins the “professional” atmosphere for him. Unless (as someone higher up suggested) the participation of people perhaps inexperienced with the field affected the Q & A portion… (or unless he could hear the children fussing, of course)… maybe just focus on the lecture & the content, friend, and be glad that others are interested. It seems like the professional thing to do.

                2. Observer*

                  @Crooked Bird, Not to nit pick, but we don’t know the gender of the OP and this is a case, where I think we REALLY should not make assumptions.

              2. Homophone Hattie*

                Exactly! And, in addition to that, many parents (mothers in particular, but parents of any gender really) have had their lives put on hold even more so than usual due to the pandemic and childcare/schooling having to be largely done at home. The fact that online events are more accessible and more child friendly (in the sense described above, where children in an online event are not nearly as disruptive as they might be in an irl event) should be seen as a good thing, a small silver lining to the greater burden the pandemic has placed on a lot of parents’ (mothers’) shoulders.

                Who knows, some of these women might have been part of the university community this year if the pandemic hadn’t made outsourcing childcare difficult.

              3. Self Employed*


                And I’m a wiggly adult who just can’t perform “active listening” for the camera for sustained periods of time. I will have my camera off unless there is a specific reason I am on camera, such as in a small group where we are all virtually in a conversation.

            2. BonzaSonza*

              Yes, I understood his comment but you have both totally missed the point of my question.
              No-one is debating whether children are distracting.
              I am asking why the presence of the WOMEN was inappropriate, regardless of their status as mothers or not.

              If it’s just the kids that were distracting, why get upset and complain about the women at all? If the OP is complaining that members of the public attended a private zoom call then why not say so in the first place? Why mention the mother’s circle? It just doesn’t read well either way.

              (Plus everything Grizabella so eloquently said)

              1. Beehoppy*

                I interpreted “women and children” to be used here as a single unit. If the children were lap-sized they wouldn’t be there without the mothers, and were in fact physically attached to the mothers, so it is the children they are objecting to and the women that brought them.
                If he had no problem with faculty and students being there that almost definitely had to include some women.

                1. Observer*

                  I interpreted “women and children” to be used here as a single unit

                  Why? They are NOT a “single unit” and acting as though they are is really problematic. And that’s assuming that that’s actually what was meant, which is not clear – AND could mean both rather than the unit.

                  If the OP had a problem with the children, I would still be questioning it, but not anywhere near as much. But if that is what the OP was worrying about THEY SHOULD HAVE SAID SO.

            3. Forrest*

              I Judge You When You Don’t Seem To Realise We’re In An Unprecedented Global Pandemic, Schools Are Shut, And Many Of Us Cannot Separate Our Identities As Parents And Professionals The Way We Usually Do (And By They Way, That Expectation Stigmatises Women Way More Than Men Even When We’re Not In A Global Pandemic.)

              I mean, if the event wasn’t supposed to be open to people outside the university, that’s the problem. If it was, people are at home with their kids right now, most of us have no access to our usual childcare arrangements, get over it.

              1. inspector parker*

                Yes. If the problem was members of the public being in attendance at all, then the kids are irrelevant. If the problem is children being silent-but-visible during what LW mentally assigns as professional time, well, yes, that IS the way the world is right now. It’s not reasonable to block people – overwhelmingly women – from engaging with things like this just because their lack of childcare makes events feel a bit different. (If the event is truly child-inappropriate then of course that’s different. I wouldn’t let my 5 year old sit in on a discussion about the sexual mores of Restoration literature – not that he would want to – but I’d hold a baby through the same class because what do babies care?)

            4. Jackalope*

              I have a PhD and have sat through many, many a seminar. In my past department, it wasn’t uncommon for folks with small kids to sometimes come and sit in the back row so they could duck out quietly if the kid(s) started getting fussy. A lot of seminars in my department were scheduled on Friday afternoons, and for working parents, childcare arrangements sometimes mean that not bringing their kids would have meant they couldn’t come at all.

              Academia could stand to be a lot more inclusive and a lot less tolerant of the idea that parenthood or needing to bring your kids to things is shameful or impossible or inherently unprofessional. Thank goodness many academic spaces are starting to move the other direction, e.g. offering lactation rooms at conferences.

              I agree with FridayFriyay that the assumption that babies and kids are inherently unwelcome in academic spaces is one we could stand to assess critically, in particular for the benefit of women.

              1. UKDancer*

                Yes. When I was a child my father went back to university when I was 7 while my mother worked full time. Occasionally in the summer holidays that meant I went to the lectures with him and sat very quietly at the back reading a book (I was a bookworm so this wasn’t any hardship). I think if a child is quiet, well behaved and the subject isn’t traumatic (and given he was studying accountancy it wasn’t) I don’t see the problem with them being brought along. It’s different if the child is noisy, squirmy and causing a distraction.

                I used to read a book quietly. Dad would go to his lecture and my reward for behaving was to be given an ice cream.

                1. Shenandoah*

                  I remain eternally grateful to my mother’s professors who tolerated a quiet kid reading in the corner on the days when she couldn’t find childcare. Her completing that degree and being able to find a job in it was an absolute gamechanger in our lives and family finances.

            5. Artemesia*

              Actually no — no zoom presentation is inappropriate for children to be present UNLESS the topic is truly inappropriate for children which would have been mentioned if that were the case. It is noone’s business if kids are in the zoom audience for a public lecture unless they are not muted and that is the obligation of the host to take care of.

              1. LITJess*

                I feel like the missing details in OP’s arguement are really what seals this as an OP problem, not a “mommy group” problem. Was this meant to be a private, internal event or actually open to the public? Was the topic inappropriate to children? Could the OP actually see any children other then their co-workers wife and child (mentions of sea of black boxes)?

                I think OP needs to do some self-reflection. Particularly about unconcious bias about women/mothers in the work place.

            6. anon today*

              As a ten-year-old I was super-interested in poisonous and medicinal plants. I could tell you all sorts of historical and botanical facts about deadly nightshade and foxglove and yew and mandrake root. At twelve I was super into linguistics, and could tell you many differences between the Finno-Ugric and Indo-European language families and give a reasonably coherent description of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Sometime in junior high it was all about higher-dimensional math and geometries (Euclidean vs hyperbolic and elliptic). This is all skipping the younger years which were spent playing under the tables and in the back at cultural and sporting events because my parents couldn’t afford babysitters. The first time I was hit on was in the university math library, by a young man who backed away in horror when I told him I was not a grad student and was still in high school, haha :) As someone who has been enjoying inappropriate events all my life…

              …well, just know I’m judging you too :)

              1. Ri Tog*

                …and yet you weren’t Doogie Howser enough to figure out that 10 and 12 year olds aren’t toddlers?

                University lectures (for which students after paying good money) are not meant to be daycare substitutes (even for people less linguistically talented than the above poster) any more than other offices are.

                1. anonymous 5*

                  This wasn’t a class meeting. University lectures are frequently open to the public (and there’s no indication that this was an exception). And if the parents are holding their respective toddlers, then even an in-person lecture wouldn’t be serving as daycare. But it certainly isn’t over video conference.

                2. Ash*

                  Daycare substitutes?! The parent was physically THERE with the child. Why is a silent (muted) squirming (image can disappear via speaker view) child sitting on their mother’s lap so objectionable?

                3. FridayFriyay*

                  This attitude has kept parents from starting or completing degrees for decades (centuries?). I’m ready to see it go. If the child is being supervised by an appropriate caretaker no one else is “babysitting” regardless of the venue. Especially so when the venue is, for all meaningful purposes, their own home.

        2. The Other Katie*

          Why would “mom = unprofessional and distracting” be any better? “Moms” often have professional lives, advanced degrees, and a high level of interest in intellectual pursuits and information about serious topics, just like anyone else.

        3. Myrin*

          I think that would actually make it more problematic, but I’m also pretty sure I understand what you’re getting at – that OP meant “the presence of these womenandchildren”, if you will, and not “the presence of these women was distracting and the presence of their children was also distracting”, correct?

        4. Jam Today*

          No, that makes it worse. Women’s brains don’t fall out of our heads when we give birth, and a woman also being a mother does not make her presence at a talk (or anywhere, for that matter) a problem. Furthermore, its presuming author intent to say that a very straightforward sentence was “badly crafted” and the author meant something completely different from what they clearly and unambiguously stated in plain English.

        5. i'm new here*

          The “mommies” were also a problem for the OP. Upon recognizing their colleagues’ wife, the OP deliberately scrolled through the remaining attendees’ names and made the connection that – gasp – many of these attendees were also members of the same “mommy group.” It’s pretty clear it the presence of members of the moms’ group irked the OP, and it’s pretty clear the OP is equating “mommies” with “not suitable to attend a ‘serious’ talk.”

          The efforts I’m seeing from a bunch of posters to inject hypothetical facts and otherwise look for alternate explanations to make OP’s reaction seem acceptable are rather disheartening.

    3. Artemesia*

      What formal presentation does not begin with the host muting all audio and why would people not be on speaker view for a presentation so that most of the audience is invisible? And anyone can set their own computer to speaker view so that they are not distracted by others. It feels like an exclusionary impulse — a desire to exclude these women from a serious lecture because they must not be qualified or authorized or welcome to hear it.

    4. Caliente*

      But they scrolled through to see who was on, thereby causing their own distraction and irritation! I find that odd. I do yoga with a whole group and we usually keep cameras on so the instructor can see us. I can’t imagine scrolling through to see what’s up with others and then getting mad. Just seems weird.

  5. Renee*

    I don’t understand what the problem is in question #1. I also work at a University & people from all types of lives join in on presentations and we don’t gatekeep those situations.
    You’re mad that parents of small children listened to a talk on an interesting topic because their children, wriggled?
    If you can’t hold focus on a presentation, that’s on you.
    If you want to gatekeep events for the “right types” of people. Then you probably need to examine your prejudices to be honest.

    1. Mr Jingles*

      Gatekeeping is a real problem we should discuss more in society. I really dislike the idea of gatekeeping: that a topic is somehow diminished if the ‘wrong’ audience attents. Or the pretense that it could be ‘harmful’ to the wrong crowd.
      I once had a fellow student commenting on a friend of mine attending one of our classes as a guest. She had the opinion that fashionistas shouldn’t bother to try understanding psychology classes…
      That was my first contact with a gatekerper.
      I nicely informed her that this perceived ‘fashionista’ had a degree in law and was an aspiring notary and how sexist she was to judge my friends ability to understand a psychology reading by her fashion choices.

      1. Jay*

        I’ve battled my internalized misogyny on this for years, ever since my daughter declared herself a fashionista at age 8 (“I’m not like you. I am like Aunt Susanne. We are fashion.”) I realized I was dismissing women who dressed fashionable and even women who seemed to care “too much” about their clothing and makeup (and of course I defined “too much.”) I was pretty horrified. Now at least I notice that bias when it pops up and work to keep it from having an impact on my behavior, but it still pops up from time to time. That crap runs deeps.

        1. Ada Doom*

          I have empathy for your situation, but the image of an 8 year old declaring, “We are fashion.” has made my day, so thank you.

          1. Jay*

            :) you’re welcome. She was an awesome kid and she’s now an awesome (and fashion-forward) young adult!

      2. Esmeralda*

        Sometimes, though, sessions are not appropriate for all, or need to be restricted to a certain audience (such as staff and students at the institution). It’s not clear that that was the case here, but everything does not have to be open all the time.

        No flames, please — I dislike the OP’s tone and word choice here and I do see the problems with it.

        1. kt*

          That totally makes sense for some events. For instance, in college I attended a closed event regarding experiences of sexism and sexual assault on campus; we were pretty upset to find that one of the attendees wrote a news article about it and didn’t disclose that to anyone who was there. (It’s not the same situation but perhaps a similar flavor.)

          At my former university, an easy way to enforce that was restrict sign-ups to university email addresses only.

          1. UKDancer*

            My university did something similar. Some lectures were for university attendees only and you needed a university address to sign up. Others were for a much wider audience and anyone with an interest could sign up and attend or just turn up on the night.

            So for example we had a group of older ladies who regularly attended the history society lectures at my university. They lived around the corner and considered it a good way to spend their time. I think one of them actually went on to start a degree in history as a result.

        2. ex-academic*

          When I was in academia, I attended several presentations where the expectation was that the attendees would critique the presenter – where the entire purpose of presenting was to solicit criticism from the attendees. They were technically open, but the (communicated) expectation was that attendees would have a reasonable background in the topic and be prepared to offer criticism.

          What would really throw me about the situation in the letter would be the possibility of offering (potentially quite blunt) criticism to a colleague not *just* in front of our coworkers, students, and occasional members of the public, but also in front of their partner, their kid(s), and presumably others from their social group. That knowledge would significantly affect the quality of the feedback I would give, if I gave any at all.

          (To be clear, going by the wording, I don’t think that’s what was going on here. I am perfectly ready to accept this is a personal hang-up that I would have had to get over if I had continued on in my previous field.)

          1. Self Employed*

            If a group has a Zoom event that’s meant to be a closed meeting and random guests show up because someone handed out the link like club invitations, the hosts can apologize, and kick them off the call.

      3. Ri Tog*

        By all means! Let’s open up scientific conferences on epidemiology to Covid deniers and anti-vaxxers! Down with gatekeeping!

        1. Barefoot Librarian*

          Honestly, they might learn something. The purpose of moderators is to keep the Q&A on topic, productive, and respectful (as well as making sure the speaker doesn’t talk 10 minutes past their time limit lol), so there’s already safeguards in place to prevent it from erupting into chaos. I’m not saying that can’t happen (I work in academia and I’ve seen the occasionally heated debate — usually over issues of sexism, racism, or freedom of speech issues) but educating people of all walks of life is the GOAL.

          1. Barefoot Librarian*

            For context, I often serve as a conference and event moderator. The era of Zoom events has actually made my job easier. If someone doesn’t wrap it up when I ask, I have the power to mute or even kick them from the session. I’ve never had to use it, mind you, but it’s there.

            1. UKDancer*

              Like Jackie Weaver you have the authority here.

              For anyone who hasn’t seen this google Handforth Parish Council meeting and watch the most bad tempered zoom meeting ever culminating in 3 members being kicked out by the mediator. Truly comic gold.

          2. Politico*

            But the purpose of a scientific conference isn’t to educate Covid deniers. It’s for experts in the field to trade notes and advance scientific knowledge. You can’t do that if you’re constantly having to rebut baseless accusations from the peanut gallery.

            I have done my fair share of moderating panels at think tanks and conferences. Everyone knows that there are gadflies — often repeat players — who try to derail panels with baseless questions. There are things you can do to ameliorate the problem, such as not having open-mic questions, allowing people to cut off the mic (or Zoom), etc., but this is effectively gatekeeping by another name. There is nothing wrong with invitation-only conferences.

    2. allathian*

      I think the whole issue boils down to the fact that these talks were intended for the university’s faculty, staff, and students, not the general public. So when someone who was invited shared the link with his wife, who shared it with her mommy group, none of whom were invited to the meeting originally, the LW didn’t like it.

      I think that the kid issue is simply a red herring. Granted, kids can be distracting, but the LW is annoyed at the kids and the moms who attended the meeting rather than the person who shared the link with his wife in the first place, for whatever reason.

      Maybe they need some more clarity about who is welcome to attend these meetings and the policy on sharing invites.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        It sounded like maybe the colleague whose wife (and wife’s friends) showed up was the speaker or organizer, based on “This colleague has several other presentations planned, and since this person is also a work friend, I am wondering if I should say something to him.” In which case it seems quite natural for his wife to know about it, especially with so many people working from home. (I know much more about my husband’s job, and vice versa, than ever before!) It also seems natural for her to have mentioned it in her parents’ group and for someone else to say, “Oh, that sounds interesting – can I come?”

        I suspect that OP is just really hankering for a return to normalcy, and this is a concrete example of the abnormal we’re still stuck in. I get it; there are aspects of my COVID-era work that aren’t objectively bad but that I have come to resent because of what they symbolize. Like the tea I bring to work in a giant thermos is actually far higher quality than what we used to have in the break room, but I am really looking forward to having that mediocre break room tea again.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          In a normal year, that entire group of women might have attended your presentation and you would never have known. Believe me, every parent who is unable to get a babysitter is as ready to get back to normal as you are.

          1. doreen*

            I don’t know about that- it seems like this is something that in a normal year would have been done in person. And it’s not at all clear that this is an event that would have been open to the public in normal times – if it’s only open to faculty, staff, and students, the public will usually not be able to attend.

            1. Justme, The OG*

              I can tell you from personal experience that the general public attends these kinds of lectures all the time. I have never had one where I had to show my staff id card to get into the room. The most I have ever had to do was print my name so the list of participants could be turned in with the food receipt.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                This really varies. I’ve been to plenty that are as you describe, but also other smaller lectures that are intended for a specific department or group of labs or what have you and where everyone in attendance knows each other. It wouldn’t be problem for a bunch of people from the community to show up to the latter, exactly, but it might be odd or confusing. And potentially distracting, as everyone tried to figure out if they needed to make sure the newcomers were able to participate in the discussion or if everyone could carry on as usual.

                1. Justme, The OG*

                  Why would a group even need to decide if newcomers were able to participate in the discussion until the discussion were actually taking place? Nobody ever kicked me out of an Ed Reform lecture because it wasn’t my field and I never asked a question.

              2. PT*

                My husband worked at a university where the back rows of lectures were frequently filled with the area homeless: word got around about which talks included a complimentary lunch.

        2. Claire*

          But just because you know more about your spouse’s job by virtue of working from the same location doesn’t mean it would be ok to just crash one of their work meetings because you think it’s “interesting.”

          1. Jay*

            Academic talks are not the same as work meetings. I’m a doc. Tomorrow I’m giving a presentation on a clinical topic at our weekly meeting. It would be entirely appropriate for someone from outside our organization to attend that presentation. There’s no inclusion of protected health information and no discussion of organizational policy or other issues. It’s purely educational.

            Last week we spent the whole hour talking about a new initiative we’re starting. That would not have been appropriate for anyone else to attend. Different.

            1. Annony*

              Yep. I work in higher education and from the description, this type of talk would generally be open to the public. It may not normally have high attendance by people who don’t work or study there simply due to logistics if it were held in person. But if someone did attend, especially as the guest of someone involved, it would not really be weird. It is entirely different than attending a work meeting.

      2. Violet Fox*

        I’m wondering if the talk was meant to be interactive, or to have people just passively listening. If they aren’t meant to be interactive, maybe using a Zoom webinar license if their institution has ones that can be used, and have a lot more control over what people see of other’s videos, including hiding the audience, using waiting rooms, and the like might be a good idea.

        It’s also possible to set up Zoom meetings such that only the people signed in with a SSO sign-in and are members of the domain can actually participate.

        Maybe also making it clear that the talks are meant for people associated with the university and are not meant for minors?

        I’m also wondering if the presence of the mom group, and so many small children made it so that people from the university felt uncomfortable participating if it was meant to be interactive.

        1. Elliott*

          Even Zoom meetings (not webinars) can give hosts some control over muting people and turning off their cameras, I think. I’ve attended panels on Zoom where people were allowed to have their cameras and mics on for part of the time, but the host turned them off while the panelists were speaking, for example. That might be an option. Or even just asking people to turn off their cameras.

          But yeah, webinars are a great option if you have access to that format and you don’t anticipate much audience participation.

          I also think that if you allow audience members to have their cameras on, it’s hard to totally prevent distractions. This could easily be an issue even if this particular group doesn’t keep attending.

      3. iliketoknit*

        So the thing is, the OP doesn’t say who the talk was intended for. They say that the “usual” attendees are faculty, staff, and students bribed with extra credit, but that doesn’t mean those are the only people expected/allowed to attend. Having worked at a bunch of colleges/universities, public talks are generally public, open to all. Just because before Zoom was a thing, few outside people ventured onto campus for such talks doesn’t mean that the talk is intended to be private. (And I don’t think this one was, either, or the OP would have said so.)

      4. Mr Jingles*

        If what you say was true I’d agree but then Iwonder why LW didn’t say it like that.
        If the meeting was not meant to be open, why isn’t the qiestionin the letter: the organisator invited outsiders to a limited meeting
        But instead: the Mommy-Brigade entered a reading people have to be lured into by promise of extra credid or wouldn’t attent and the wriggling of their children distracted me?

        1. FridayFriyay*

          Yes, it seems likely from the information provided by the LW was that the issue here wasn’t that it was meant to be a closed event, it was the nature of the people who attended (mommies and kids) that they took issue with.

      5. Observer*

        who shared it with her mommy group, none of whom were invited to the meeting originally, the LW didn’t like it.

        Talk about “professionalism”. If this was really the issue, then that’s what the OP should have addressed. Making about something else is, in my opinion, the essence of UN-professionalism.

        I think that the kid issue is simply a red herring

        If you are correct, then that’s even worse than the actual complaint. The “issue” that the OP is raising is bad enough. The idea that they might be using it as an “acceptable” smoke screen is simply hair raising.

        1. FridayFriyay*

          And gossiping about your colleague’s wife’s attendance of the event, or others from a group she belongs to, with other attendees the way the LW implies they did is… well, not good. Some might even say unprofessional.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I was also confused. When I saw the headline, I gasped, because it read as if a mom group called into a corporate work presentation; where proprietary/confidential information may have been discussed. But a college event? I attended quite a few of those as an SO of one of the professors at a small college – the events were open to public as well. One of the larger schools where I live (CWRU) hosts a large number of events that are open to public; used to be in-person, now virtual. Was the event for staff and students only for confidentiality reasons? if not, I don’t see what the problem is. But really, I think it’s a good look on a college these days to host this type of open events for the community. (Do you want to look like CWRU? then that’s the way to go.)

    4. Jackalope*

      Yes, thank you for saying this. Academic institutions have their “ivory tower” rep for very real reasons. Why wouldn’t you welcome community members into a talk that’s online and isn’t space-limited? Why would the default assumption be nobody in the community could appreciate a “serious” talk? I hope OP#1 uses this as an opportunity to think about the assumptions they make about who counts as their peer and community and who apparently doesn’t.

    5. Smishy*

      I’m with you. I don’t understand this problem either. LW wasn’t themselves the speaker or involved in planning the presentation. The event was open to the college community and part of an effort to continue college life during the pandemic. It would be one thing if this event were limited to just faculty or something and someone clearly violated the invite list, but it doesn’t sound like it was. LW is just another audience member; they have no standing to determine which other people appropriately meet the definition of “member of the college community” (that’s for the event organizers) OR to determine for other people what events it is appropriate for them to have kids at, which may very well have been unavoidable for many of these women given the pandemic.

      Not to mention that what they consider an inappropriate subject may very well have been one many parents think is important to expose kids to. For example, If I had to take a guess at what a “serious” college presentation that somehow managed to be so popular it pulled in the local mom’s group may have covered, racism would be high on my guess list.

  6. Jessica*

    LW1, was the talk open to the public or was it not? If it was, then I think you’re being unreasonable (and sound a bit elitist and sexist as well).

    I work at a university too so I’m quite familiar with the dynamic of “in theory this talk is open to the public, but actually only a pretty small group of academic people will be interested in it or show up.” But one of the things that’s happening in pandemic times is that as everything transforms into being held remotely on Zoom or similar, the barriers to attendance are lowered. This can be a good thing! It can also make things weird.

    One of the upsides of Zoom is that the presence of kids needn’t be the distraction it would be in real life. At a talk, you’ve probably got everyone but the speaker muted anyway (and if not, do!), so you won’t hear any noise the kids are making. You could use a webinar setup so that attendees can’t see each other, but even if you don’t, most of them will probably use speaker view anyway, and if somebody has distracting stuff happening on screen like kids bouncing around, you can likely scroll away and not have to look at that person.

    I think you (or whoever is in charge of each event) just need to decide if it’s genuinely open to the public, or if you want to make it a closed professional event for faculty only, or certain people only, or by invitation, or however you might want to do it. You might also want to reflect on town/gown relations and what you think the role and responsibility of the university is.

    1. rural academic*

      Yes, agreed. I teach at a small college in a small town. At my institution, most events are open to the public, and community engagement is considered a positive. Complaining about community members attending a talk would not, in general, be received well. If you want it to be a closed event, you’re probably going to have to start a conversation in your department/program to get agreement on that.

    2. D3*

      This definitely rang warning bells of elitism and sexism to me, too. I honestly don’t understand the issue here.

      1. Self Employed*

        I can think of some topics that would attract trolls, but that’s not what OP1 was complaining about, so yeah–elitism and sexism.

        (I would hate to be speaking about the COVID-19 vaccine and have an anti-vaxx mommy group show up en masse to dominate Q&A with conspiracy theory questions when they won’t believe the answers and they’re blocking people from asking better questions.)

    3. WS*

      Yes, Zoom removing barriers to attendance (you don’t have to travel, you don’t have to organise childcare, you don’t have to endlessly check the venue to see if “accessible” actually means that) might mean you get more varied attendance. But I agree that a decision should be made about attendance – when I was at university, everyone in our program had to do a practice defense in front of our peers (totally reasonable) and it was technically open to anyone (also reasonable – other students considering the program often attended). But one student brought his parents, who then complained and tutted every time anyone asked him questions. The poor student was bright red and his thesis advisor had to take the parents out “for a little tour”. After that, it was specified who could attend.

      1. Double A*

        Oh dear that poor student! Now that is a concrete example of how (very specific) parents attendings could cause issues.

      2. Allonge*

        Oh wow… ouch! That said, I would argue that this is not a who can attend issue but a ‘brief your guests’ issue. Which sometimes is easier to play as ‘oh no, parents of the defendee cannot attend, such a bummer’ for sure. Some parents be weird.

      3. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

        Or really, it’s that parents of a defendee who can’t behave appropriately shouldn’t attend. It’s not the fact that they were parents or that they weren’t in the program, right? If a random older (assuming grad school aged offspring) couple had attended and sat quietly, that would have been fine right?

        1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

          Yes, but if you write that “only people who can behave appropriately can attend”, all the unreasonable people who cannot behave will of course assume you are not referring to them.

          1. pleaset cheap rolls*

            “The audience is asked to remain silent and not distract the speakers in any way throughout the defense.”

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Then again it’s perfectly acceptable to define appropriate behaviour: in libraries people are expected to be generally quiet, if you attend a court case, you’re expected to sit quietly too. There’s nothing wrong with asking all attendees to remain quiet during the event.
            (Just remembering my son’s graduation ceremony where attendees were explicitly told that they were allowed to cheer and clap and whatever – the graduates were not to inhibit their parents! so we duly made a point of embarrassing him ha ha!)

            1. The Other Katie*

              At one recent conference I attended, the moderator shut down that problem when the first person said “this is more of a comment than a question” – she immediately jumped in with “This is the time for questions, not comments. Next, please.” I was in awe.

          3. Observer*

            Yes, but if you write that “only people who can behave appropriately can attend”, all the unreasonable people who cannot behave will of course assume you are not referring to them.


            That’s true – but zoom (and most decent videoconferencing software) is your friend. The person controlling the meeting can mute someone, and in most cases you can keep them from unmuting themselves if you need to.

        2. Artemesia*

          There is no reason parents of the person defending a thesis can’t attend if s/he invites them to do so. Because some parent sometime was an azz does not mean all parents all times should be unwelcome. This was a student who apparently misjudged how unsocialized his own parents were.

    4. Violet Fox*

      It could be, or it could also be that the people who held the talk were made to feel like their work/research just isn’t being taken serious in an academic sense, which is a bit scary right now in a world where a lot of academic programs are loosing funding.

      I work at an “open university” (sorry not a better term in English), where members of the public can come and attend lectures during normal times. There’s an understanding that when you attend you are respectful to the students trying to learn and the lecturer. We also don’t do this over Zoom because it’s impossible to protect student privacy, have students comfortable participating, and invite the general public at the same time.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        This colleague has several other presentations planned, and since this person is also a work friend, I am wondering if I should say something to him.

        From the way the LW has worded it, it sounds like the colleague whose wife attended IS the one holding the talk. In which case, it sounds more like he talked about this topic with his wife and she discussed it with her circle and they made the decision to attend based on either interest or support.

        And to be honest, unless the topic really is university centric, if the presence of a few non-academic faces means ‘work isn’t being taken seriously’ then perhaps those in ivory towers need to consider for what purpose they’re doing what they’re doing.

        1. FridayFriyay*

          Seriously. That line of thinking reeks of sexism/bias against women who are mothers. My goodness.

          1. Violet Fox*

            It’s a legal issue. We cannot release students names and likenesses to the general public. We cannot confirm or deny if anyone studies here, which means Zoom talks/classes meant for primarily students cannot be open to the general public. It doesn’t matter if it is men, women, parents, non-parents, grandfathers, etc That is the law where I am. This is something that we’ve gone over with data protection agencies, our own data protection officer, our in-house lawyers, it’s been reviewed by outside council who told us we weren’t strict enough, but things were okay enough.

            1. FridayFriyay*

              If that were the issue it seems specific enough that the letter writer should have mentioned it. Plenty such talks are open to students AND the campus community (broadly speaking I would be disappointed for this not to include the spouses of students and faculty/staff) and often the surrounding community. We don’t know whether that is the case with this talk, but if so they really need to revamp their data security and that’s a whole different issue that the college can handle without approaching anyone in particular about their presence being unwelcome at future talks.

            2. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Your situation yes, and good for yiur government!
              These 2 comments go back to OP who may well be in the US with few such regulations.

              1. Argye*

                I bet this writer is in the US. FERPA is very serious. As mentioned, I cannot confirm or deny if any given person is in one of my classes.

                If an event is open to the public, it cannot be part of a regularly scheduled class, unless I put up huge disclaimers and allow any student to opt-out.

                This sounds more like a symposium series, some of which can be open to the public. We held something like that last summer on viruses, one session of which was deliberately open to the public, and had quite good attendance.

                My issue with opening everything up to anyone is that sometimes you really want to have an in-depth discussion with your peers, and don’t necessarily want to have to explain Multi-Chain Monte Carlo simulations to everyone. Every presentation has an expected audience, and it can be disconcerting to suddenly have a very different audience than what you expected. I would explain my work differently to the general public compared to my department colleagues, not because the general public is stupid, but because they’re not specialists in my field.

                I may feel a little more strongly about this than most because my field can be a little controversial, so opening anything to the public means getting the occasional wack-job who wants to question the basis for everything I’m discussing (evolution).

                That being said, in the situation described, a few extra attendees who aren’t disruptive wouldn’t bother me at all.

                1. TiffIf*

                  The LW specifically says that students bribed with extra credit are often attendees of this type of talk–indicating this is not part of a regularly scheduled class.

                2. Wintermute*

                  THIS, so so much this.

                  And on top of that, there are topics where you need to watch how you explain things to avoid spreading dangerously wrong ideas around if you’re not speaking to experts. It might be a matter of political sensitivity or a matter of the fact it’s easy to get a mistaken impression, or not wanting your words taken out of context and used against you, your field or the entire idea of science itself.

                  I’m thinking about, for instance, one of my friends. If they’re talking to a group of peers about a transgenic hybrid they will talk far differently than if talking to a group that includes laypeople who need it very carefully explained to them what out-of-frame mutations are and are not, what they can and cannot do, and how no, this will not kill everyone on earth, it’s no different from what nature does every day a billion times over with random transcription errors. There’s a lot of fields where you have those kinds of concerns about not giving people ammunition, and not giving people “worse than wrong” understandings of the topic at hand

            3. pleaset cheap rolls*

              “It’s a legal issue. We cannot release students names and likenesses to the general public. We cannot confirm or deny if anyone studies here, which means Zoom talks/classes meant for primarily students cannot be open to the general public. ”

              This doesn’t sense in terms of logic – if the event is open to the public then how does anyone know a participant is a student?

              1. Violet Fox*

                In person events are considered different than Zoom events. There is also a big difference between “open to the public” and “public is invited to attend”. The legal framework we have for things that are just streamed is iffy, but for anything that even resembles recording or releasing any identifiable likeness (name, voice, pictures, etc) to the general public, it is a flat no. This is different for academic employees.

                We still don’t even know if the seminar #1 is talking about was even meant to be open to the general public or not. If it wasn’t, it’s an awful lot like having people from the general public show up to your meeting at work.

                For a lot of academica, talks, seminars, etc are our equivalent of meetings. This is how work gets done.

                1. Observer*

                  In person events are considered different than Zoom events. There is also a big difference between “open to the public” and “public is invited to attend”.

                  Which is again not really relevant to what the OP mentioned. They talked only and specifically about distraction. Which has no legal implications at all.

                  On the other hand, just as video conferences can create problems in terms of the privacy of students, they can (and pretty much DO, if you bother to take a maximum of2 minutes worth of effort) resolve issues related to distraction.

                  In short, the whole privacy issue is a red herring IN THIS CONTEXT.

              2. NoviceManagerGuy*

                My alma mater has a public-facing website where you can find any current or former student’s email address (effectively, since their university ID string is just the email minus

                1. Non-nonanon*

                  And if your alma mater is in the US, it also has a way for (at least) current students to opt out of being listed in that public-facing website. FERPA mandates it.

                2. IEanon*

                  That’s considered directory information (along with a slew of other student info), which can be disclosed without consent in the US under FERPA.

                  If this was a class, however, with registered students attending, it’s possible that having non-university attendees could be a violation of FERPA, since it would be disclosing non-directory information (student course registration). I’m not the FERPA person on my campus, though, so I’m not 100% sure about that.

                  I think the OP is probably out of line in wanting to restrict their colleague’s spouse and “mommy group” from this event, but I can imagine some talks/lectures where it would be inappropriate to have non-university attendees. Our institution made all of our virtual programming’s Zoom links public (posted in a PDF on our website!!), so we could have had any number of random people participating in events that looked open to the public, but were strictly designed for students. That’s a whole ‘nother security issue, though…

            4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Surely students can change their Zoom name to something anonymous and not have video on if they don’t want to be identified as a student there?
              But why on earth should you have to go to such lengths to hide the fact that someone is studying at the college in the first place?

              1. Violet Fox*

                Not with our SSO logins, and it’s the law here. We also have GDPR onto of the local laws as well.

                It’s actually the law in the US as far as I know as well. FERPA is a thing.

                1. Jay*

                  FERPA is a thing but does not preclude students attending and being seen at public events. I have logged on to Zoom talks at some of the local colleges and at my alma mater, including one student presentation. There was no issue.

                2. Total*

                  FERPA is about educational records, it doesn’t really apply to a live event. If it did, it would make it impossible for students *ever* to interact with the public in an identifiable way (work at a campus store open to the public with a name tag on? Nope!).

            5. LDN Layabout*

              It could be, or it could also be that the people who held the talk were made to feel like their work/research just isn’t being taken serious in an academic sense, which is a bit scary right now in a world where a lot of academic programs are loosing funding.

              Is not a legal issue. The fact that having non-academics present would apparently be enough for someone to think their research isn’t being taken seriously is a pretty horrific mindset for anyone involved in academia to have.

              Although having worked in knowledge transfer it’s certainly not rare…

            6. Blackcat*

              “We cannot confirm or deny if anyone studies here, which means Zoom talks/classes meant for primarily students cannot be open to the general public.”

              That’s weird. My university’s thought is that if it’s open to the public, no one knows if a name is a student, faculty, staff, or a random person. And students do not have to display their name in class.

              Classes where things are graded are different (FERPA!). But talks can be fully open to the public.

            7. kt*

              That’s not the case in the United States; while FERPA forbids sharing of private student information, attendance at a seminar is not considered private information as it does not in itself confirm/deny/share the information shielded by FERPA. Moreover, on Zoom the student would have the freedom to change the name displayed or keep the camera off.

            8. Observer*

              It’s a legal issue. We cannot release students names and likenesses to the general public. We cannot confirm or deny if anyone studies here, which means Zoom talks/classes meant for primarily students cannot be open to the general public

              Except that’s not what the OP said. The OP never says that the class is not open to the public, and never notes any sort of issue with student privacy. Rather they specifically say that the presence of “women and children was distracting”. Which has absolutely NOTHING to do with privacy or any sort of legal issues.

            9. TiffIf*

              This is a real reach given the LW specifically says this is the type of event that students bribed for extra credit often attend. That means this is NOT a regularly scheduled class not primarily intended for students. This also means you can’t actually tell who is a student and who is not among those in attendance.

            10. Nope.*

              FERPA is not an issue here. At all. If it were, no one would ever be able to invite a guest lecturer. No school would ever be able to put on any kind of exhibition or performance to which the public is invited.

              I work on the admin side of academia and deal with FERPA every single day – I’m sometimes the one having to remind others why they can’t say something because it will break it. This isn’t it.

        2. Kaiko*

          To me this is also a funny and porous separation between academic/man/husband and non-academic/woman/wife. I can guarantee that as a faculty wife, the presenter’s partner is likely deeply aware of her partner’s work, and will likely have some thoughts and opinions of her very own. Assuming that lay people and non-academics don’t have the interest, skills, or brainpower to get through a talk (especially if they’re the “mommy” type) is reeeeaaly worth unpacking.

          1. Claire*

            This does not sound like a traditional academic talk. The event was sponsored by student life- seems like it was clearly meant for campus members to discuss an issue important to their campus community. Not an appropriate event for outsiders to crash.

            1. Kaiko*

              Are faculty partners outsiders? Truly asking, because I can see both sides here: they have no direct skin in yh game, but I would bet their lives are deeply impacted by campus politics and policy. Depending on the topic, I wonder if the “mommies” were there to remind the presenters that campus life can extend well beyond the campus.

              1. Jackalope*

                I’m trying not to project too much (apologies to Alison if I am), but my default setting for thinking academic institution in a small community is: that situation seems somewhat often to produce a culture where the academic institution is in the town-gown driver’s seat (meaning the decisions the institution makes can have a drastic and sometimes uneven effect on the community) yet many folks connected to the institution maintain a sense that they are part of a community distinct from that of the town. Making the assumption that parents in a local moms’ group are “outsiders” to the campus is not just elitist and sexist thinking, it’s also unlikely to be true when you consider the likelihood that folks in the town have some connection to the campus community. Again, I think this is a great opportunity for OP#1 to reflect on who they imagine is in their community and what unconscious assumptions they are making about boundaries and norms.

                1. H2*

                  Yesssssss! This is a small town (according to the LW) and what happens on a college campus 100% affects everyone in the town.

                  LW, I would at the very least hold off. It’s entirely likely that wife mentioned it to her friends, they decided to come, and they won’t come again. Once doesn’t make a pattern. They may have gotten there and decided that it wasn’t really for them but couldn’t politely leave. Unless you start having a situation where community members are routinely causing an issue in university sponsored events, I would definitely let it slide.

                  And if that does happen, I think you need to think about what the point of the event is. If it’s to spread knowledge, then…

              2. PT*

                What sort of relocation assistance did those “mommies” get when their spouse got their faculty job? Chances are, nothing. The university made it quite clear that they are an outsider, and their plane ticket was comped for their husband’s convenience.

            2. Forrest*

              The talks that fall into that category at my institution are things like racial justice. Absolutely appropriate for people in the wider community that our university serves to attend.

              1. LDN Layabout*

                If the university is part of a small community like the LW states, I would imagine talks like that and other topics (such as women’s safety) would be precisely those you’d want other members of the wider community to attend and be informed of.

          2. Jay*

            The two-body problem is real. A number of my friends in academe have partners who have the same advanced degree, often in the same field, and are not currently working in academe because there was only one job. Some of those partners have non-academic jobs. Some are not currently working. They almost all retain a keen issue in their discipline and sometimes they go to academic talks. “Not faculty or student” =/ “no academic experience or interest.”

            And of course there are lots of people without advanced degrees (or any kind of degree) who are deeply interested in a topic and enjoy engaging with other people who are deeply interested.

            1. Blackcat*

              My husband is no longer in academia. His PhD is in an adjacent field to mine–we majored in the same field as undergraduates which is how we met. He has shown up to department talks both in person and on Zoom that have interested him. No one has ever thought it was weird, even when he showed up with the baby.
              Some of that has been the culture of the places that I’ve been at, but I’m also going to bet that it’s partly that he’s a dude. I’m in a male dominated field, and no one questions why he would be interested in these talks. But if the situation were reversed, it might be different.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I went back and re-read that paragraph and it… wasn’t great. “I thought a professional event was for professionals and then these mommies showed up.” Small town or no, I’ll be willing to bet OP does not know these women enough to know if they are professionals or not. All OP knows is that they are not faculty at OP’s college.

          But I am biased in that the worst I have ever been snubbed by a group of people in my life was by small-town small-college faculty during the two years when I dated one of them, so I’ll try to be quiet as all my past experiences with that group are now coming back.

          1. inspector parker*

            Yeah. My mum friends range from university faculty to senior engineers. Our expectations of professionalism still date back to when professionals had wives at home to stop any messy family stuff creeping in around the edges of Important Professional Life. Well, it’s a pandemic, there’s no childcare, and if we’re not willing to bend our expectations then we’re heading towards putting all the wives back in their box.

      2. Jam Today*

        Except that it was sponsored by Student Life, so on its face it doesn’t sound to me like its a talk on some esoteric subject that can only be appreciated by pointy-headed academics. A “serious topic” that is relevant to student life on campus could be racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, college affordability, mental health, food insecurity — all of those are serious topics but which are also of interest to the greater town community (I grew up in a college town; any serious event or circumstance happening on campus impacts the town almost 100% of the time).

        Your second point is interesting in particular around making sure students are comfortable participating. If that’s the case then ground rules need to be set for how these lectures are run and moderated, but from the description it just sounded like the LW thinks the work is being diminished by the presence of women who have given birth which is…not a valid criticism.

    5. Shhhh*

      I agree that this is really dependent on whether the event was open to the public. If it was, the LW is out of line. If it wasn’t, then at a minimum their reaction is more understandable.

  7. C Average*

    I wouldn’t normally nitpick a grammar/usage issue, but a would-be writer who takes pride in meticulousness should probably steer clear of the phrase “begs the question.” It’s way too easy to mess it up.

    (I don’t use it because, while I know when it’s being used wrong, I can never quite remember how to use it right. Certain things–the rules for chess, how to knit, how to properly deploy “begs the question–just refuse to stick in my brain.)

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, because it has two distinct and almost opposite meanings explained in a post above.
      Another expression to avoid, at least if you’re writing to an international audience, is “to table something.” In the US, to table a proposal means to postpone or suspend its consideration, whereas in the rest of the English-speaking world, it means to begin consideration, or reconsideration, of a proposal.

    2. Logic Prof*

      Begging the question is reasoning circularly, which is to say assuming one’s conclusion as one of one’s premises.
      It’s bad reasoning because it doesn’t actually make a case but just claims that “X is true because x is true.”

      The name’s not very intuitive, but begging the question is a very different thing from raising a question.

      1. boo bot*

        Yup, it’s the name of a specific logical fallacy (and a useful one to know). I avoid the issue by saying “raises the question” when I mean the other thing.

  8. pcake*

    LW3, I’ve worked as a freelance writer and editor full time since about 1998, sometimes involving marketing that can be measured in sales or signups. Because of this, I can tell you absolutely that the ability to place a comma, pretty much a lost art, neither makes sales nor does it engage or inform people. In writing, like so many other fields, experience counts much more than education and proper sentence structure.

    You’re probably on paper a much better writer than I am, but my best client’s profits increased literally 300% after I joined him, and there’s much more reader engagement, as well. And these days, reader engagement is more valuable than pretty much anything.

      1. Esmeralda*

        LOL. Surface errors are not important, most of the time. Everyone knew which op you meant, so not that big a mistake.

        We’ve all done it…

    1. also an editor*

      Yes, this.

      I see a few things going on with LW2, but ultimately it comes down to: employers aren’t necessarily looking for high levels of accuracy.

      Sometimes they value quantity over quality. When I worked as a writer for a certain website, we would get emails at least once a week pointing out typos or minor grammar issues. Sometimes the email writers would offer their writing/editing services. The thing was – expertise wasn’t the issue. We were all experienced writers and editors. The issue was that we had to produce at least 9 articles per 8-hour shift, and that included editing, finding and resizing photos for each article, etc.

      Sometimes they want to save money. Where I live most websites are in at least 2 languages. I can’t even tell you how many people want to hire a single person to write in 2-3 different languages, even if their language skills in 1-2 of those languages are… non-awesome. Sometimes this is a mistake (I’ve seen plenty of sites marketing to the US with *horrible* English), but sometimes it isn’t. Not everyone who needs a writer needs a good writer.

      Often they need subject-matter expertise. Many of my clients hire me for being an editor-plus-experienced in super-esoteric field, not for English skills alone.

      And *always*, writing is as writing does. Ultimately, “is it technically perfect” is always going to take a backseat to questions like “is it interesting”, “is it clear and technically accurate”, or “does it get people to click the button and do the thing”.

      LW2, I’m not saying you’re lacking in those areas. Even if your writing is interesting and informative and excellent at getting the people to do the things, it’s still a competitive field. And breaking into a new field is always hard.

      But understanding what employers are looking for can only help. And what they’re looking for is both less than and more than perfect spelling and grammar.

      1. Juniper*

        That’s been a hard lesson for me to learn! Writing is a peripheral part of my position, but I have had to put together longer policies and handbooks, usually from scratch. I remember proudly turning in a 20-page draft of some corporate guidelines, and my boss tearing it to shreds. Technically, it was fine (good, even). But it was long-winded, dry, and leaned heavily on legalese. My boss wanted something people actually wanted to read, not just a document that ticked a bunch of boxes. That meant re-thinking the structure of the document, how I communicated the main points, and how I could loosen up the writing to make it more accessible. So, pretty much a brand new document. This is just one example, but I’m a better writer for it.

        LW2, correct grammar and spelling will only count for so much. And frankly, that’s the easy part. Use this opportunity to critique your own writing at a deeper level. Are you using 100 words where 50 will do? Are you telling a story, or writing a thesis? Are you demonstrating industry knowledge by showing that you can present the material in an interesting, engaging way? Before you submit your next application, spend some time browsing content that the organization has recently produced to get a sense of the tone they’re going for. Is it casual? humorous? Technical? Academic? Droll? Adjust accordingly.

        1. PspspspspspsKitty*

          I agree with this thread. At my previous job, I had to review policies and training materials. The person who wrote it all used what I would describe as college “text book” language when the target audience was basic education. I’m dyslexic and totally the wrong person for perfect grammar and prose. However, I can read technical documents and break it down for someone who doesn’t have a science background.

          1. Juniper*

            And that’s another key takeaway: can you synthesize complex information, writing about a topic in a way that logically flows from one main idea to the next?

        2. Le Sigh*

          A big thing I stress with interns at my organization who are interested in writing (e.g., fundraising, communications, etc.) is they need to get experience writing for different audiences and be able to demonstrate that when apply for these types of jobs. Academic writing is a very different beast and it’s not of any use in my industry. I’ve had job applicants who submitted long academic material as their writing samples and it’s not super helpful to me in assessing their skill.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        We note that the person who complains about the less/fewer distinction at the end of your article at least clicked through and read the whole damn thing.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        《Ultimately, “is it technically perfect” is always going to take a backseat to questions like …》
        Can you get it out by deadline without upsetting a senior subject matter expert whose text must be shortened to fit and who disagrees with an edit required by your legal department? While also attending a scrum via Zoom?
        (The inter-personal aspect can be HUGE in some departments.)

      4. Cat Tree*

        Yeah, most consumers won’t even notice minor errors, let alone care about them. I’m highly educated and I can’t even remember the last time I saw an error in a published work. I do occasionally notice things, then promptly forget them. I never think, “Oh, they should have hired a better writer or editor.” I usually think, “Huh, that’s interesting. It looks like the editor missed that typo.”

        It’s perfectly understandable that LW would notice these things because of their career goals, but basically nobody else cares. Sure, something that is poorly written and riddled with errors will look unprofessional. But the occasional typo just doesn’t matter in most cases. I had a great English teacher in college whose philosophy was that 90% of the time in real life, your writing just has to be good enough.

      5. twocents*

        This!! I know in my field “does the customer understand what we’re attempting to communicate” matters WAY more than “is it technically perfect?”

      6. Annony*

        I think this is it. Just because you consider what you got your degree in as trivial, doesn’t mean it actually is. If they want to hire someone to do marketing that involves writing, it makes sense that they place more emphasis on the marketing aspect of the job even if you see it as a writing job. They value evidence that you know how to phrase things to make them sell over grammatical or spelling errors.

        I get that it is frustrating to get rejected over things that you cannot change and feel don’t affect your ability to do the job. And it is even more frustrating to see other people doing the job and making mistakes you feel your wouldn’t make. But remember that you don’t actually know why those mistakes are being made. You don’t know the quantity that is expected or what timeframe they have to write it. This is part of why they value examples of work you were paid to do over work you did on your own time with no one to answer to but yourself.

      7. pcake*

        also an editor, good points, but I disagree that employers are necessarily looking for quantity over quality. It’s just that they’re looking for different qualities – the quality of a writer who can makes more sales or send more Google traffic is a quality as is writing pieces so that readers bookmark a website, return frequently and comment. These are not the qualities that would get one higher marks in college English classes, but these are qualities, nonetheless, and they’re actually not that common.

    2. Sylvan*

      Yep. Engagement matters, and doesn’t require perfect SPAG or style. I have a few coworkers whose grammar isn’t so great, but who can hook you right into their writing. While my grammar is better, my engagement isn’t. My logic and flow aren’t, either. And they often outperform me.

    3. Clewgarnet*

      I was a reporter for a few years, and we once had an application from somebody pointing out all the SPAG errors in a recent edition and saying that’s why we should hire them as a reporter.

      It showed a fundamental misunderstanding of what a reporter does. A reporter speaks to people, gathers information, and puts it into a vaguely readable form for a sub-editor to beat properly into shape. Writing is the smallest part of the job. Our best reporter had unbelievably good social skills and could spot the interesting discrepancies in official documents, but could barely spell his own name.

    4. Chilipepper*

      I don’t think anyone has mentioned this but maybe you know. I would guess that another hurdle is that fact that the OP has not had to write for others and under deadlines?

      I think there must be a learning curve for that and even an entry level position could have experience producing for others and under deadlines from an internship.

      It sounds like the OP’s samples are from their own blog, could that be a missing piece in getting hired?

      1. WellRed*

        There was definitely a time when I wouldn’t consider hiring someone with no published articles written for someone else. I might be more flexible now but on the other hand, it’s so competitive out there there’s plenty of clips.

      2. EPLawyer*

        I thought that too. There’s no one else vetting OP’s blog for quality and readability.

        Rather than focusing on grammar and spotting typos, OP should be trying to freelance for others. Not easy by a long shot but if they can land some gigs, it will definitely give them the “industry experience” that employers are looking for.

  9. BonzaSonza*

    OP #3 – did the job posting request a letter from former managers as part of the application criteria, or are letters of recommendation so normal in your field that it would have appeared out of place not to have one?
    If so, I can understand how *not* providing a letter would be detrimental to their application, and the applicant must have felt they were caught between a rock and a hard place.

    Providing the letter, albeit with a full disclosure of the inherent biases, is probably what I would have done in the same situation. At least the disclosure is being upfront and honest.

    I second Alison’s recommendation to ignore the letter and not hold it against the applicant

    1. Annony*

      I agree. Depending on how important the letter is, you could reach out to the applicant and ask for a letter from someone else. If you need a reference from this job maybe the supervisor’s boss could provide one or a coworker. If it doesn’t have to be this job then a different manager. I don’t think the applicant should be penalized though.

  10. Allison K*

    LW2 – if what you need is paid content writing experience, it may be worth talking to other writers who are not content writers, but who could pay a discounted rate for your services in order for you to gain experience and them to get some assistance with their own content. Writers of memoir in particular are under more pressure than ever to “build platform,” and don’t have the time or skills to do it all themselves. They need newsletters and social media posts and press releases. You could freelance for a while to build your resume, and sidestep the gatekeepers while you establish yourself in the field. You may ultimately not want to be a freelancer, but if the work suits you, it can be more profitable than in-house work, too.

    1. RagingADHD*

      There is a voracious abyss of customers who want freelance content. The pay is often abysmal, but the experience is valuable. (And you can ramp up your rates quickly as you learn).

      There are several subreddits devoted to freelance writing of all kinds. r/freelanceWriters has an extremely helpful Wiki that I wish I’d known about starting out.

  11. Anne*

    LW3 makes me wonder if they’re in academia. It would be highly irregular for a “mid-level” applicant not to have a rec letter from their PhD and/or postdoc supervisor. The absence of either would be interpreted negatively by most people. Presumably they decided it would make more sense to be transparent about the situation, rather than leave it open to speculation and the rumor mill. Either way, it sounds messy.

    1. Allonge*

      I was thinking more or less the same, and it also can work without being in academia, actually. It’s surprisingly easy to run out of usable references – you don’t want to use the current manager, and especially for poeple who were in the workforce for fewer years, all the others might not be available any more. So yes, I emphatise with wanting to use the ones you are in touch with.

      1. Filosofickle*

        A former colleague ran into this. I worked with her at her first “real” job after college. When she wanted to move on, she didn’t want our boss to know so she couldn’t use him. Her only other post-college job was a short term retail/service position more than 4 years prior; she didn’t even know how to find that supervisor and even if she could it would not have been helpful. As a senior colleague, I served as a reference. Not her supervisor but I did direct / mentor her. Another former employee and a former client of ours agreed to be references, too. She simply couldn’t provide a useful supervisor reference.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      That’s what occurred to me. If there’s a lot of weight on recommendations, and you don’t have one from your previous supervisor, and they are still alive and in the field, potential employers can interpret it as them refusing to give you a reference. In this case, they pre-emptively let the employer know that is a case of can’t, not won’t.

      Also – this is why getting involved romantically with a supervisee can be problematic, even if the romantic relationship postdates the professional one. Once you’re involved, the former supervisee forfeit that recommendation for future job applications, which can be a significant problem in a competitive job market.

      1. Reba*

        I actually said “oof” aloud. It’s definitely a pickle!

        They said can’t, not won’t — but then they did a letter anyway! In this case, transparency is good, but the letter basically tells the reader to ignore its contents. It’s as if the applicant robbed themselves of a letter slot by including this one, which has to be discounted, instead of a letter from a more disinterested party.

        I wonder how it would read to have a note in the applicant’s cover letter or someplace in the packet that explained the absence of an advisor’s letter. But ugh, I just hate the applicant having to state their romantic status in job materials!

    3. kittymommy*

      This is what I was thinking as well. The LW makes a point of saying how important these letters are so I think it’s likely that the lack of the letter would be interpreted as a negative rather than a neutral action.

    4. LW3*

      Correct – as you say, the absence of this particular letter would be conspicuous and would definitely count against the applicant. So it’s not really a case of having wasted one of their letters on someone who couldn’t give a valuable reference, but rather that this one is pretty much required to include.

      That said, Alison’s point about them becoming involved after their professional relationship had ended is well taken, and somehow isn’t something I’d considered. It seems like an obvious possibility in retrospect and I agree (as other commenters said) that using knowledge of an applicant’s romantic status makes me feel… weird, to say the least. I think ultimately they were between a rock and a hard place and chose maybe the least bad option?

      1. Starbuck*

        I’m wondering why you would have considered this relationship a negative mark re: professionalism, since the judgement (if any) should go to the person who was in the higher level of authority, not the subordinate, if it was the case that it started while they worked together.

  12. Anonymous cat*

    For the writer finding typos, maybe you could look for jobs proofreading or copyediting for publications and build networking connections with writers?

    1. Phoenix*

      This is a good idea. Thanks. I think I would enjoy editing or proofreading jobs more since I tend to be very technical and analytical.

      1. starsaphire*

        Hey, LW, I’m glad you’re here! Fellow English major here.

        It’s a tough market, and I know personally how difficult it can be to get anything out there. Trust me when I say that, when I decided I wanted to be a writer, tech was the *last* place I wanted to end up. But I’m here, and it’s pretty awesome.

        Marketing is an even tougher market to crack. Because you’re starting from an English degree, and you’re a grammar perfectionist like me, maybe consider pivoting to proofreading/copy editing jobs. There aren’t a lot of them going (budget cuts usually send the editors to the chopping block first, which is a big reason for all those typos out there) but you can get legit freelance work if you look. I freelanced between jobs for about a year and, while it wasn’t super lucrative, it was all right.

        Contracting is also a great way into a good permanent job. And in tech, you’ll almost always have to start off as a contractor.

        A lot of us spent time in the admin pool too — a good boss really appreciates an admin who can make him sound smarter by cleaning up his writing — and it’s a good way to build a work history while you’re trying to crack a tough market.

        You’ll be okay. There’s stuff out there! It’s just, as Alison said, wildly competitive. Broaden your search and keep your hopes up.

        And in the meantime, get some work in on your novel. :)

    2. Echo*

      It’s also worth thinking about whether what makes you passionate about the work is writing itself…or if it actually IS learning and applying a long list of complicated, semi-arbitrary, and sometimes conflicting rules. Because that’s a valuable skillset in itself and could open up many more career avenues to you. That’s a big part of my partner’s job in an ethics and compliance career field, for example. That kind of work is of course highly specialized, and jobs require industry-specific training, but my point is that expanding your horizons might get you out of feeling like you’re in a rut.

      1. Sutemi*

        If you want to combine those even m0re and have a scientific background, consider medical writing! Pharma companies need people to write scientific reports and communications following exacting regulations.

    3. Public Sector Manager*

      Also, the OP should look at the public sector as well. Legislative services agencies in all the 50 states hire proofreaders and copy editors to work on legislation. Some larger state and local agencies have people in similar positions. These positions aren’t well known because instead of “proofreader” the job title may be “staff analyst” or “quality assurance,” and it will only be in the description of the job that it’s a copy editor/proofreader position.

  13. OverripeBanana*

    LW-2 is getting too caught up in the idea that a job that involves writing is a writing job, this simply isn’t true. A part of my job involves social media management and writing the captions and posts is a very small part of what that job is, having marketing skills are significantly more important.
    Communications jobs are more than just writing grammatically “perfect” prose (and honestly in social, where you need to come across approachable, it can almost be a detriment).
    If their approach to these interviews is to highlight their grammar and writing skills I can understand why they’re not getting hired.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, sounds to me that working as a proofreader or copyeditor would be more their style than actually writing.

      1. Lacey*

        Yes. They might do well editing books or professional articles. Marketing is not really a place where we’re looking for perfect grammar at all times at all costs.

        1. LizardOfOdds*

          I was thinking the same. Sure, marketing copy should be polished and shouldn’t cause blowback for the company. But in the scheme of things, a lot of marketing content is throwaway content, i.e., it’s used once for a specific campaign and will never be used again.

          User research has also shown that content consumers care far less about writing quality than writers do. From a business POV, it’s unlikely that perfection will deliver a strong return in a lot of cases, so writers have to be picky about where they spend their time.

    2. Djuna*

      That was my thought too.
      It’s extremely hard to know from the outside what the requirements of any particular writing team are. They can vary wildly from “only” writing blog posts based off marketing copy to writing anything people need words for (tweets, emails, captions, manuals, articles, blog posts, etc.).

      Where I work, we care a lot about tone. Can you work with our house style guide? Are you happy and comfortable writing in what looks like a more casual style? Can you do that fluently? Can you adjust it for different products and audiences? Can you do that on the fly?

      If you seem rigid about “correctness” in your materials, I am going to worry that you won’t adjust well to what we need, or that you’ll be unhappy writing in our house style. If your focus is on lack of typos and grammatical errors I will wonder (like allahian in this thread) why you’re not looking for a copy-editing role.

    3. UShoe*

      I thought this as well. It seems like there’s a mismatch between what they see as ‘writing jobs’ and what other people see as communications/PR roles. I was just the hiring manager on a junior level comms role and SO MANY of the applications were from people talking about having ‘communications experience’ in terms of the day-to-day understanding of writing and speaking and not in terms of ‘communications’ the business function.
      If LW2 wants to get into these roles I’d suggest a basic ‘intro to comms/PR’ training course to understand the other (and often more important) strategic and tactical functions of ‘writing jobs’.

    4. londonedit*

      Yes, definitely. I’m an editor, and many people’s first response is ‘Oh, wow, your spelling and grammar must be amazing!!’ And yes, I’m decent at spelling and I have the ability to spot errors in proofs – but that’s because I’ve honed that skill over nearly two decades in my industry. Being an in-house editor is mainly being a project manager – I check proofs myself at various stages, but I work with copy-editors and proofreaders who do the bulk of the technical work. And let me tell you, none of the books I’ve worked on has been error-free. Despite going through copy-editing, refining, proofreading, several rounds of proof corrections, final checks…there will always be something that slips through. Always. We only have a finite amount of time to work on each book, we’re working to deadlines, and at any one time we’re working on several books at different stages of the process. The goal is always to get everything to be as polished as possible, but it’s simply not possible for things to be perfect. I imagine it’s the same with the writing OP2 is seeing.

      1. Lacey*

        That was my thought as well. I worked at a small publishing company for a while. Our error rate was pretty low, but on a deadline it’s just not possible to catch every single thing. If it’s a super important thing that is wrong, well, that’s a problem, but there’s no helping the minor stuff. Something will get through, no matter how hard you proof it.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      The lead writer for our firm can take the most boring subject on earth and turn it into an engaging piece. The person who can write genuinely funny commentary into a piece on (e.g.) engineering geometry readings is a rare individual.

      I dare say they do make spelling and grammar errors. Nobody cares however. They got the job because they showed many brilliant examples of how they’d taken writing about boring subjects and increased engagement by making them fun to read. Think they wrote for a car review firm prior despite not being remotely interested in cars themselves.

      Had they produced technically grammar perfect, correctly spelt but dry text they’d never have got the job they have.

    6. WorkingGirl*

      For real. I really get the LW frustration here because you always think “I’m skilled at this so I’m qualified”. I didn’t get hired for my current gig because I’m a good writer; I got hired because I’m a good writer, AND an expert in relevant subject matter, AND I “got” the company’s mission.

      On the flipside, it’s really heard to “break in” to writing jobs and there have been a few that I’ve applied for – having the requisite clips and all – but with my resume showing so many years of experience, even though loads of it was freelance and such, I’m not really the right fit for “entry level”!

  14. Finland*

    As a parent myself, I consider attending a professional talk time to spend with other professionals and the opportunity to at least pretend that one day things will go back to normal.

    I don’t see in your letter any mention of this being an exclusive presentation. Maybe the people you see are college students joining the session as a group with their kids. Parents can be professionals, and parents can be students.

    1. Allonge*

      For me the bit you quoted read like LW1 was concerned about the kids showing up even after things go back to normal. Which for me reads like borrowing trouble, but honestly that’s the only real issue I can come up with from the letter. Anyway, if that is the problem, LW1 please understand that turning on a Zoom meeting in a group you are meeting in already is not the same as choosing to go, en masse, to a totally age-inappropriate program in real life, and therefore it’s unlikely to carry on once the plague ends.

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely. I’m going to a fair number of online talks, events and lectures at the moment on zoom. This is because my usual activities are curtailed due to lockdown. So for example I would normally go to the theatre and go social dancing, neither of which I can do at the moment. In order to fill in the evenings in lockdown I go to different lectures on film, music, politics etc. I probably wouldn’t travel to these events and when life returns to normal I will resume my normal activities.

      2. BubbleTea*

        It would be completely unprofessional for me to bring my dog to client appointments in the Before Times, as our office isn’t dog friendly and my dog isn’t office friendly, but I don’t have a lot of choice about “bringing” him to calls and meetings while I’m working from home. I definitely won’t be carrying on having him give input into my work once we’re back in the office!

      3. Cat Tree*

        Yeah, parents mostly don’t *want* to bring a toddler to an in person event. Sometimes they have to because there’s no alternative, but it’s a huge pain to drag along a toddler, likely conflicting with bedtime or nap time, *plus* all the stuff they need (diapers, snacks, toys).

        It’s so much easier to call into an interesting Zoom meeting from home. And since you can mute your microphone or walk away for a few minutes, it definitely doesn’t warrant getting a babysitter.

  15. WS*

    in my field recommendation letters from previous supervisors carry a LOT of weight in deciding who to interview

    You’ve answered your own question there – it would be weird for the applicant not to provide this letter, so they’ve explained, honestly, why it would not be possible. You should look at their other recommendation letters and neither use this one nor consider it a missing recommendation.

  16. TeapotScientist*

    I see the pile on regarding OP1 but I think I can understand this.
    My university offers colloquium presentations on the science of Teapots. The purpose of these presentations is to review and offer commentary on new papers in Teapot Science and while these are open to the public, the intended audience is other Teapot scientists. Seeing a large group of any sort of non-Teapot scientists at this sort of gathering would be well…weird, especially if they came with large groups of kids. While the event is technically public, it’s not pitched for the general public. And when the general public becomes a majority of the audience, it’s easy to get distracted offering explanations and commentary that aren’t necessary for Teapot scientists.
    The best analogy I can come up with is that it’s like having your mom come to your dissertation defense (at least at my university), or having a large outside group attend a specialty work conference. It just kinda feels odd.

    1. Double A*

      But this was a “serious topic that was cosponsored by student life,” which doesn’t connote a particularly technical event or event implicitly limited event. Sounds like it was aimed at a general audience.

      1. TeapotScientist*

        This is still a gray area for me. If the topic was “Racism on Campus” and it was co-sponsored by student life, I would still presume that it was aimed at members of the campus community, even if it was open to the public. It would still strike me as strange to see a large public group there.

        1. Violet Fox*

          It would feel a lot like someone’s office having a meeting about racism in the field, or workplace harassment, and then having a lot of the general public show up.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            If Racism on Campus was a topic presented during the Literature Department’s monthly staff meeting, then yes it would be strange. But at least at the university I attended (very large top-20 US university, for context), if it was something like “Student Life and the Business School present a lecture series ‘Racism on Campus’ each Tuesday at 7pm in the auditorium” it would be decidedly not strange to see non-faculty/staff/students attend. After all, if I live in a university town and they’re talking about racism on campus, that might have some impact on off-campus life as well.

            1. Firecat*

              Same here. General public attending, including “that guy” who is Loud and Proud was very common so a mom group wouldn’t even register as a disruption TBH.

          2. FridayFriyay*

            In a small town, it’s entirely possible that these women (and their kids) are indeed part of the “campus community.” Some may even live on campus. I think it’s worth examining why the assumption is that they aren’t part of that community, or how we define that community.

      2. allathian*

        Usually attended by staff, faculty, and students who are bribed with extra credit for attending. So yeah, in these circumstances, someone sharing the invite meant that they had a whole group of attendees unaffiliated with the university, and the LW objected to that.

      3. Jane*

        When I read that phrase, I assumed it was something like resilience or mental health – something definitely useful and needed by academics, but that outside people would also think would be useful and relevant to them.

    2. Zoe*

      Agreed. It would strike anyone as odd, despite the gaming up in this thread. I would just ask the coworker and say something like “it was cool to see people outside our usual crowd, did they find the lecture interesting? What do they think of the topics coming up?” I’d be genuinely interested since it’s an atypical group to attend!

      1. Name Required*

        It can strike someone as atypical without their reaction being, “Should I stop this from happening again?” or commenting on how unprofessional mommy’s groups are or how distracting children are. It’s the latter part that is causing ire, rightfully so.

    3. ULife*

      I’ve worked at a bunch of universities in a few different departments, and it was/is normal to have parents at dissertation defenses. So this really varies! Which I think is part of why it’s difficult for us to comment on the LW’s situation.

      I think there’s a possibility it was an odd thing for the coworker to do – but whether or not it would be odd enough to look “bad” is impossible to know from here, and I think in general it’d be considered weird at worst (and uh, that’s a lot of academics already honestly) not such a faux-pas the the LW needs to inform them.

      1. BatGirl*

        Whew, glad you said that. My parents came to mine and this thread made me worried I commited some major faux pas!

      2. PostalMixup*

        Yep, it was very normal at my university for family to attend a thesis defense. The first 2-3 background slides were usually targeted at a general public level, further background at a general science audience (because it was pretty common for the whole department to attend, and for people outside the department who thought it sounded interesting or relevant to their work), and the rest was basically for your field.

    4. Practical Criticism*

      I used to run the seminar series for my department. Similarly, it was public but most attendees were grad students and faculty. However, sometimes the topic would be especially appealing and we’d get quite a few local people turning up – usually teachers, retirees, some high school students. It didn’t make a difference! Maybe they got all of it, maybe they didn’t – I’ve learnt not to assume anything about what members of the public do and don’t know. But they mostly listened politely, had a glass of wine and left. It wasn’t odd. I enjoyed being able to give our speakers more of a crowd.

      Since the series has gone online and I was on maternity leave, I attended several times “with” my baby. We muted and turned off camera, which is usually etiquette for any large talk online. OP, if you’re not enforcing that, I would start there.

      OP, I think you and your colleagues need to rethink the purpose of the series and what you want from it. If you want a space for high level discussion/critique of research, don’t make it public. If you want to build a sense of campus community, accept what that community will look like. Those mothers and babies are part of it. I don’t think you need to chat to the colleague so much as take a sense in the department of what you want the online programme to do and if it’s working.

      1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

        Yes! Generally the organizers of the events are happy to have more attendees. Unless this was explicitly limited to the on-campus community, this would not be a problem at the college where I work.

    5. Jenny*

      I mentioned this below but I worked as event staff in college and it was super common to have seniors groups show up at random presentations. They were public events so we just rolled with it.

      1. Ana Gram*

        I know several folks who retired to small college towns specifically do they could take part in the events offered by the school- auditing classes, attending talks and concerts, taking classes at the school’s gym. If the talk was open to the public, I really don’t understand the LW’s concern.

    6. Annie Moose*

      There’s a difference between “weird” and “a problem”, though, which is where I come down on this. I agree that it sounds unexpected and unusual, and LW’s surprise isn’t unwarranted, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an actual issue that needs to be addressed.

    7. Blackcat*

      “The best analogy I can come up with is that it’s like having your mom come to your dissertation defense (at least at my university)”

      I think this is location specific. Every single defense I attended at my PhD granting institution (>20) had parents either physically present or present by web conference. They never said anything, but it’s a public presentation of years of work, not unlike a graduation. And it was the norm for PhD student + family + committee to go out to a meal afterwards (often lunch after a 10am defense).

      1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

        Definitely location specific. At my PhD university the defense was not at all a public event. You met privately with your examiners and not even your supervisor attended.

        1. Blackcat*

          Yeah, this is a common US/Europe divide. I have to admit, I’m jealous of the countries where it is customary to be gifted a sword upon successful completion of the defense.

          I had 60 people at my defense for the public part. We had to move to a bigger room.

          My dissertation research was pretty accessible to multiple audiences and I had a reputation as an excellent speaker. I booked a 25 person room thinking 15 was the most I’d ever seen at a defense.

        2. DarnTheMan*

          Same; my dad drove me to defend my Master’s thesis but he went and had a coffee at one of the on-campus shops since the actual defense was closed to me, my supervisor and my examiners (one of whom conferenced in due to living in a different province.)

      2. Urban Prof*

        I’d say this is not something one can generalize about.

        I attended about 10 defenses in three different departments at my PhD-granting university in the US, and it was remarkable that at one defense, the candidate’s father was present. He was an extremely high-profile scholar in the same field as his progeny, so with the express permission of the candidate, he received a courtesy invitation from the committee.

        Normally, family were not invited to attend. And not all defenses ended happily.

    8. Observer*

      And when the general public becomes a majority of the audience, it’s easy to get distracted offering explanations and commentary that aren’t necessary for Teapot scientists.

      If that’s what was bothering the OP, then they should have said so. They were not complaining that a large contingent for the “general public” showed up. They complained that a number or “members of a mommy group” showed up, and that the presence of “these women and children” was inherently “unprofessional”.

      The OP really needs to think about this. If they really are just concerned that having lots of members of the general public will cause the presenter to spend too much time on explanations that would not be needed for the expected and intended audience that a very different thing to bring up – and you don’t even have to ask the presenter to tell his wife anything. All you need to do is to mention to the presenter that you hope that they won’t allow the presence of a lot of members of the non-core audience to side track the presentation with explanations that the main audience would not need. MUCH easier and MUCH less fraught.

    9. Me*

      If it’s public then it’s public. If you don’t want the public attending and asking distracting questions then don’t make it a public presentation.

  17. Allonge*

    Hey LW2, so, just as a practical example of prioritising things other than flawless writing: you cannot believe how much time we spend justifying the effort it takes to publish our external and internal newsletters. In orgs where communication is seen as a necessary extra, it’s very easy to say: ok, you can have your newsletter but it cannot be proofread (using time and money better spent otherwise). We do have copywriters and proofreading contractors but their time is better spent on other things.

    And sometimes a typo is also just ok.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah. I agree that not every piece of prose a company puts out needs to be absolutely perfect, but I must admit that I very easily lose trust in companies that don’t prioritize correct spelling and grammar in their advertising materials. I’m a far from perfect writer myself, but my issues tend to be with syntax and flow rather than grammar or spelling. I’m also the opposite of a dyslexic, meaning that I can’t ignore spelling errors, they just jump at me and I can’t avoid seeing them. When I was learning Spanish and French, I learned to spell a word from seeing it written once, including diacritics, even if I didn’t necessarily know the meaning of the word. So while I realize that most people aren’t as hypercritical about spelling as I am, I take a very poor view of companies that don’t prioritize it at all. I don’t think I could work for an employer where communication is seen as a necessary extra they’d rather do without rather than a key factor in ensuring their success.

      This doesn’t mean that I go through internal emails or memos and nitpick spelling errors. I’m professional enough to keep my annoyance with bad spellers to myself, even though I’m lucky in that it’s indirectly a part of my job to ensure that typos are eliminated from our external materials, to the extent that I see those materials before publication.

      1. Allonge*

        Of course, that is fair enough – this usually drives our copywriters and editors nuts too, but they either get used to it or leave.

        On the other side it makes the SMEs twitch when writers insist on using common everyday terms to replace the technical ones that describe the thingamajig from the experts’ point of view. Cause, sure, the average human might understand it better but you are using the word wrong, wrong, wrong.

        1. TechWorker*

          We had some technical details as part of marketing copy up on a website where the final editors had gone through and added the meanings of all acronyms, except with ‘the first thing on google’. It was awful. (Some of them were acronyms very, very commonly used in our industry (like basic terms customers would know), others things where the meaning of the acronym doesn’t really add much and the technology is just referred to by acronym in all references, and probably to be fair a third category where adding the meaning would have been an improvement.)

          1. Bob*

            For some reason this reminds me of the Burger King ad that activated Google home to tell people what is in the whopper from Wikipedia, so people changed the Wikipedia entry.

          2. Kippy*

            Reminds me of the time the director in charge of HR/recruiting/marketing at the law firm I used to work at kept pushing the attorneys to write blog posts about their practice areas. One attorney wrote a post about current trends in asbestos law. HR director changed every instance of “meso” (short for mesothelioma) to “memo” assuming it was a typo.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes, spelling is very important. I read somewhere that when people visit a website for the first time, they will tolerate up to five spelling mistakes. When they see a sixth, they’ll exit the website, saying that it doesn’t give a very serious vibe. They are mostly unaware of the fact that it was the spelling that triggered that feeling.
        As someone who writes for a living, I’m especially attuned to this and I exit after two mistakes because they hurt my eyes.

    2. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Yes — no writers are immune to typos or mistakes, and with some projects fast-delivery is going to be the priority.

      Your letter mentions marketing. Given the sort-of writing jobs you might be applying to, I would advise you to move your focus away from grammar and more towards brand-voice/tone. That’s going to matter a lot more as a selling point for entry-level writing work.

    3. Jenny*

      I know I send out documents with typos, but my organization expects me to produce 8-10 long documents a day. I don’t have time to make them flawless. My boss straight up told me to just accept mistakes and move on.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, it’s like the old saying about no artwork ever being finished, only abandoned. Sure, at some point you need to be able to just let it go, and these days, it’s a lot easier to fix errors when they’re found, because most publications are in an easily editable electronic format, and the ones that are published on paper often get more stringent quality control than e-stuff.

        That said, your own internal quality requirements have to be in line with your employer’s, because if you find yourself constantly producing what to you seems sub-par material, it’s going to affect your job satisfaction and motivation sooner or later.

        I’ve been through this myself. When I started in my current job our workload was much lighter than it is now, and I became very quality-conscious even in cases where it didn’t really matter, like news bulletins posted on our intranet. But it was doable because our workload allowed it. But when it got more intense, as it has done every year, I had to almost get burned out before I realized that some things aren’t my responsibility and I need to let it go. I still have high quality standards for my own work, but I no longer try to claim ownership of stuff that isn’t my responsibility to handle.

        1. londonedit*

          Definitely. I work as hard as I can to make sure there are as few errors as possible in the books I work on, but that can’t be at the expense of deadlines. It’s a balancing act between trying to do as good a job as possible, and getting everything done on time. I cannot sit there and read every book I work on line by line over and over again – I simply don’t have time and it’s not my job. I have to trust that the freelance editors and proofreaders I work with will do their jobs, that my authors will also take the time to check their work properly, and in between I do what I can to make sure everything’s as it should be. But the most important thing is hitting the deadlines at each stage of the process, so the proofs are available to sales and marketing when they should be, and so the books are published when they should be. There’s no point having a 100% perfect book that’s missed its publication date by six months – I wouldn’t have a job if that happened.

          1. Lore*

            This! And also–you see writing that’s imperfect, and you think someone didn’t do their job. Possible, but speaking only for book publishing, here’s a whole bunch of other things that might have happened:
            1) an author made heavy changes when reviewing a late stage of proofs, and there wasn’t time to do another full round of copyediting or proofreading
            2) the entire book was operating on such an accelerated schedule that compromises had to be made (I am working on something now that is an anthology with contributions by 20 writers; the contract was signed mid-December and the book goes on sale in April).
            3) this year, one major problem is that virtually all proofreading shifted in an instant from being done on paper to being done on screen, which is more challenging in a lot of ways
            4) a writer who’s more important than me insisted on overruling a copy editor or a proofreader
            5) conversely, a copy editor or proofreader got so doggedly literal with the style sheet that they completely trampled on the author’s voice and new problems were caused by trying to solve that one

            I could go on, but let’s just say I’m in full agreement with londonedit that perfection isn’t always the top goal, whether we’d like it to be or not.

            1. londonedit*

              Ah, you’re speaking my language! All of your examples have happened to me at least once over the last year!

              1. Lore*

                Mine are mostly from the things that are on my virtual desk right now! The other important thing: any writer or editor or proofreader is working on multiple things—I’ve got something like 60 active titles in various stages—so we’re putting in two hours on edits here, then switching to hiring freelancers for three other projects, then going to a meeting about inclusive style guides, then reviewing copy edits for another two hours. I almost never get to sit down with the same project from start to finish at one go, which doesn’t help with perfect consistency.

          2. Caraway*

            Yes! I am a grant writer, and the most important issue is always deadline. Clarity and meeting the technical requirements are critical, of course, but there’s no point to them if you don’t submit the proposal by the deadline. I too am one of those readers who always spots the spelling or grammar mistake in others’ work, and yet I would guess that almost every grant I write gets submitted with at least one error (sometimes many more!) still in place. I’m a successful and good grant writer despite those errors, because I understand that it’s more important to prioritize other things. In a perfect world, I’d have all the time necessary to carefully review and fix all errors, but that rarely happens.

    4. LQ*

      I think that it’s easy when you are a Writer to miss that professional communications isn’t about Writing at all. It’s about …whatever the company is trying to do. Getting people to buy your product, helping staff understand their health insurance benefits, making the Giant Corporation seem like a small family friendly company, letting people know that their is help available, making people aware of their legal rights, whatever.

      A very very VERY small piece of that is perfectly polished spelling and grammar (and a secret is sometimes that’s actually not beneficial to your message), almost all of the communication of the message is about the other elements of the writing.

      I know that typos, spelling, and grammar issues bug people (almost never me to be fair) but we all have to deal with stuff that bugs us. And I would always rather have a newsletter that gives good accurate information than well spelled inaccurate information. You can say that you can have both, and sometimes you can, but if errors are going to happen and they are, we are all human, I’d far far rather have the 3rd check be one for factual accuracy than for spelling. People make errors, obsessing over them won’t help you find the job you need.

      1. Six Feet Under Par: A Chip Driver Mystery*

        Yes, grammar and spelling are important, but not the only thing. We’ve had good writers who didn’t succeed in our organisation because they couldn’t change their style to fit the requirements of the task; everything sounded like it was written by them for an audience of them. Or they don’t make the effort to understand what they were writing about enough so they could translate that into something that’s interesting to read.
        And pure writing jobs are pretty rare and depending on where you are applying, you might get pipped by people who can write well and have other skills the organisation needs, eg SEO or basic photoshop or something like that.

  18. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    LP2, many places laid off their proofreaders years ago (newspapers in particular) and rely on other staff and computer programs. Where I worked, we had a publications division, and they’d proofread for content and also have articles vetted by relevant professional staff. But they used a group of detail-oriented secretarial and administrative assistants to proofread for spelling and grammar.

  19. PspspspspspsKitty*

    LW 1 – Zoom has a webnair feature that allows only the speakers to have access. One person can control the meeting and sets who can and can’t speak. The webcams should be set to off for all attendees while still showing who is speaking. There isn’t a thumbnail of all the attendees like a normal zoom meeting. Please bring it up to your workplace to use the webnair feature.

    With saying that, yes, you can bring it the it was distracting to see kids move around, therefore let’s use the webnair feature. However, don’t repeat what you said in your letter because this will read poorly to a lot of people for multiple reasons.

  20. Bob*

    Lw2: Its obvious that you are very frustrated and I totally understand why, but driving yourself nuts is not going to help unfortunately. It’s actually counter productive.
    I do hope you get a break soon but don’t get so cynical that you shoot yourself in the foot.

    1. Phoenix*

      Thanks, Bob. It’s just so incredibly frustrating. I’ve been at this job search for 10 months. I know it’s a pandemic, but at some point I begin to wonder if I’m just unemployable, or that I’ll never be good enough to do anything other than lowly receptionist work despite graduating with a high GPA and receiving praise and awards from English teachers and professors all my life. Sure, you could say the professional world is very different from the academic world, but somewhere along the way I’ve begun to feel like someone has fed me a bunch of lies about writing careers as well as my own abilities.

      1. londonedit*

        Well, I started out with ‘lowly receptionist work’ despite having a BA in English from a respected university. I did my lowly reception job for a year, working at a small publishing house and absorbing information about what the other departments did. My lowly reception job was how I came to discover that one of the senior editors was trying to hire a new editorial assistant, because CVs started to arrive and a couple of weeks later said editor remarked to me that none of them had been up to scratch. And that’s how I asked whether I could throw my hat into the ring, and that’s how I got my first editorial job. In creative industries, the ‘lowly’ jobs are often precisely how people get their foot in the door.

        1. 867-5309*


          And even if it isn’t, have you seen career receptionist? They run they office. Full stop.

          There was an amazing team at the local Taco Bell I would drive through occasionally (okay, more than occasionally but that is not relevant here). They were some of the best customer service people I have ever encountered and I joked with them that if I ran a call center or anything customer-facing, I would steal the entire team to come work for me. Let’s stop calling any work “lowly.”

        2. Kali*

          Yup. The best way to screw yourself is to be too proud to take a “lowly” entry level position, since that’s where a huge number of people get started.

      2. 867-5309*

        Phoenix, I know you are frustrated but I would strike the phrase “lowly receptionist work” from your vocabulary. The “lowly receptionist” at the global agency where I worked in NYC knew everyone in the office, answered on the phones and was well-loved by clients and visitors. Denigrating other work as less important than the work you do or want to do is a hallmark sign that your assessment of work is a least slightly skewed. All work matters – even if it is work you do not want to do.

        1. Frank Doyle*

          Uhh yeah, 100% agree. If your disdain for work that you feel is “beneath you” is coming across in interviews, that could definitely be a problem. I agree with Jenny, all work matters and is respectable. Don’t be a jerk.

          1. Fieldpoppy*

            1000%. I graduated with an MA in English many years ago and realized that the only thing it technically qualified me to do was either do more schooling or try to learn some sort of field. I started as a *secretary* (literally that is what I was called then, I am old), took it seriously and recognized I didn’t know anything about the field, was promoted three times within two years, moved laterally to a client for double the pay, and within another two years had a subject area combined with competent writing/communications skills, and have been running my own successful business for 25 years from then. Good writing is like a net in which to catch useful ideas; you still have to learn about the ideas, why they matter in any particular context, and how to make meaning of them.

            1. Jenny*

              I graduated summa cum laude, but in 2008 and my nice shiny job that I got from all those nice shiny internships went *poof*. The company I was supposed to work for laid off hundreds and canceled all new hires.

              So I pivoted careers and honestly, best decision ever.

        2. LilPinkSock*

          Thank you. A candidate recently emailed me to ask who their phone interview would be with–if they’d be speaking to a hiring manager, a peer in the department….or “just some secretary”. Apparently my title of Executive Assistant was too lowly for this person to take seriously. Unfortunately for them, part of my role is to conduct all first-round interviews and the way they spoke about support staff (as well as people of a certain ethnicity, which is another story) guaranteed a blacklist from our company. Whoops.

        3. EventPlannerGal*

          Yep. At my first receptionist gig after uni, a guy got frustrated when I wouldn’t put him through to the head of IT, who was in a meeting, and said that I was “just some receptionist”. I thought that was pretty funny and told the head of IT what the guy had said after he came out of his meeting. Turns out the guy was in the middle of trying to sell us a very expensive system that the head of IT wasn’t especially keen on, and he didn’t see the point in doing business with someone who couldn’t leave a phone message without being a dick. So we didn’t buy the system. If you can’t get through a sentence describing the kind of work you don’t want to do without being a dick, that reflects on you more than on the work.

        4. DarnTheMan*

          At my org the executive assistant who supports all the C-suite staff could be viewed as “just” an assistant but she’s adored by the whole org and every member of the C-suite will be the first to admit that she’s the one who keeps them organized and on schedule (to the point when she takes her regular summer vacation, I think they have about four contingency plans in place).

      3. Observer*

        What the others said.

        And yes, anyone who told you that your degree and your good grades were the ticket to a lucrative and / or glamorous degree mislead you.

      4. Kali*

        This probably won’t make you feel much better but 10 months isn’t that long to be looking for work in a competitive field, especially during Covid times. I was out of work for a year in the before times before I found a new job in my field. I was hired out of a volunteering position that I held for several months. It does indeed suck, but that’s my experience.

      5. Bananers*

        “Lowly” receptionist work? And how well do you think all these offices and organizations would function without their receptionists? Every job at the places you’re applying, from the janitors to the receptionists to the executives, is an essential cog in the wheel. So it may be that you have an attitude that is putting off potential employers. And getting praise and awards from your English teachers is not inherently indicative of whether or not you’re employable in the roles you want. Maybe your professional future lies in writing or maybe it lies somewhere else, but if I were you, I would recalibrate my attitude.

      6. No Name #1*

        For starters, I think that using the phrase “lowly receptionist work” indicates some level of elitism that you might want to reflect on. A lot of receptionists and administrative assistants read and comment on this website, and denigrating an entire profession as beneath you is insulting to people in this line of work, which believe it or not requires a lot of skill. It might not be for you, but that does not make reception work “lowly” or inferior.

        I understand how frustrating job searches can be when you feel like you check off all of the boxes yet aren’t getting interviews, but the attitude that you are too good for certain types of work will not serve you well professionally or personally. We are in a pandemic and you are looking at job opportunities that are competitive in normal times. While it might not seem like writing jobs would be impacted by COVID, a lot of fields are seeing less revenue because so many people have either lost their jobs or had to leave work to care for children. I went to a small college that attracted a lot of aspiring writers and I took a number of non-fiction courses myself. One of my professors who has written several well-received books told us that if we wanted to become professional writers, we had to be prepared for a lot of rejection. She said that writing professionally takes a lot of time and dedication with potentially little payoff. While you seem to be looking more at marketing jobs, as other comments have mentioned, you will need to have a portfolio of published clips/samples and freelancing will be the best way to become a competitive candidate.

      7. oranges & lemons*

        I get the frustration, but unfortunately it does take more than good grades and talent to break into a field as competitive as writing or editing. I also had good grades and good feedback in university, but I only got into the editing field through a combination of taking on several (paid) internships where I cheerfully did a lot of grunt work, freelancing, and basically luck and good timing.

        It might help to be strategic about what kinds of work you look for. Technical writing and editing tend to have more demand (and pay better) than, say, freelance writing or book publishing. And they can be rewarding for someone who favours precision and accuracy.

      8. No Name #1*

        I also just wanted to add that as someone who studied English in college (though it was not my major) and received As in those courses as well as in high school English, which is not relevant by the time you graduate college. Getting good grades and being professionally successful are two extremely different skills, first of all. Also, high school and college English courses mostly focus on literature and professors evaluate students on their ability to write academic papers and do thorough research. Hell, even the creative writing professors did not base their evaluations on how likely we were to get hired as copywriters or marketing professionals. It’s a mistake to assume that your success in college will translate directly to employment, and honestly your letter and comments are coming across as entitled (ie “lowly receptionist work”, believing you deserve to be hired by a company because you found typos in their publications).

      9. Bob*

        I’m so sorry to hear this. I had graduated when the great recession started, no one was hiring. Like then this is not about your abilities, its about the job market and luck. There are more job hunters than jobs and getting your first professional job is the highest hurdle. You need the job ASAP and employers are extra choosy right now because they get so many applications they could heat their house with them (metaphorically of course since paper resumes are not common anymore).
        Also when you are employed its easier to find another job (as Alison keeps saying), plus its not as time sensitive because you can take your time moving on which you can’t as easily do now (plus by then you have experience). So triple whammy against you at this point. But once you do find a stable job in your field this trifecta won’t follow you to your next job.

        My best advice is to try not to get bitter. Easier said than done. This is about the crappy job market but as you only see your side of it, the ads you apply to and the radio silence on your end, it feels personal. But bear in mind that if there were more jobs than workers, employers would be beating down your door to offer you employment and you would be the exact same person you are now.

        My second best advice is to spread your net wide, you can apply outside your geographic area since because so much is WFH right now, and you want to build yourself a reputation, get some work samples published or start a blog and be active (and technical, opinions about TV shows don’t matter much, opinions on niche areas showcase your skills). My current job came from being known to the employer and them knowing my expertise before they advertised a position, which was luck. They liked what i had to offer and they happened to have the funds to bring someone else on. So skill plus being in the right place at the right time. And i was in no rush, if i had no income coming in and years of job searching later this job came along i could have been very cynical because it took forever to happen. But since it randomly came to me when i was not actively looking with a rapidly diminishing bank account i was never kicking myself because i was on no timeline.

        I wish you luck and keep plugging away at it. I hope things do work out for you soon. And don’t be afraid to take a job in a lateral field for now. Also if you do end up in an unskilled labour job outside your field don’t let it burn you out too much to apply for jobs in your field. This part is very, very, very, very important.

      10. TL -*

        I think this is also one of those situations where academia and the workplace don’t always match up. You can be a good writer in the classroom – meaning you follow or acceptably flex the essay formula, answer the prompt, provide evidence, use a logical structure & flow, and hopefully are also compelling in your voice – and not necessarily be a good writer in other arenas, where those are important skills but not the most important skills.

        Writing is not a monolith skill. Doing well in English classes doesn’t mean you’re at the level of writing you need to be for many profession arenas. It does mean that you’re likely to have the skillset to develop good writing skills in other contexts, but you have to be able to flex and adapt that skillset. (not everyone is able to do that!)

        If you’re getting interviews, then people are seeing at least potential in your writing, which is excellent! But try to separate out your writing skills from your identity, or at least to hone in on yourself as a good writer in the English classroom context. You’re now developing your writing skills for other contexts; it will take a while for them to reach the levels you spent ~16 years working on.

        On that note, how often is your work edited by someone other than yourself? Everybody needs an editor and if you’ve got a friend who can do decent edits on a piece every now and then for you – bonus points if they can edit to a specific audience – that will help improve your writing samples a lot.

      11. biobotb*

        Was one of the lies that writing for an English major bears much resemblance to the kinds of writing that people get paid for? Because the style and tone of college essays are generally very very different from journalistic writing, advertising writing, technical writing, etc. Grammar and spelling are only two of many skill sets needed by someone who gets paid to write. The ability to adapt one’s tone and style to the writing task at hand is much more important.

      12. Des*

        You might want to cast your net much wider and look at jobs that are adjacent to the field you eventually want to break into. That will give you experience you can put on your resume.

  21. hallucinating hack*

    LW2, I’ve been a professional writer for 15 years: journalism, marketing copy, advertorials, general content development, even (at one low point) event blurbs and invitation letters.

    It’s a very common mistake for new entrants to focus on the presentation (grammar and spelling) and not realize that for companies and clients, the content comes first. While good spelling and grammar are assuredly a fundamental requirement for the profession, it’s far more important to demonstrate a working knowledge of the subject matter and the ability to code-switch for your audience. If, for example, you are applying to write for a corporate newsletter, you must at least have some familiarity with the company, the industry, the product or service, the clientele and their expectations – or be able to show that you can quickly acquire that familiarity. If you are applying to be a journalist, you must be able to show that you know what facts go into a news article (egregious example I just saw this morning: if you write a story about the findings of a survey, you’d better make sure your story includes details of who conducted that survey!) And if you are applying to be a marketing writer, you must be able to show that you understand the difference between “hard” and “soft” language, how to utilize tone, what approach is appropriate to connect with your audience…the list goes on and on.

    As aggravating as it definitely is to see spelling and grammar errors, you simply can’t compete on the strength of your linguistic accuracy. There is a reason why you’ve had people say they want someone with a marketing degree to write marketing materials; there is a reason why they want paid experience; and these, I am sorry to say, are not in fact trivial reasons.

    If you want to break into the profession, you need to demonstrate that your writing skills are not just about spelling and grammar, but about your subject matter knowledge (and speed of acquiring it), your ability to cater to your audience’s expectations (see just about any best-selling author) and your ability to produce as consistently as a manufacturing facility stamping out circuit boards. People really will ask you how many articles you can write in a day, if they haven’t already. So if you want to get a little bit ahead, you have to find a way to communicate all that.

    Of course, you may be doing all this already, in which case I wish you the best of luck, and hopefully this long screed of mine will be useful to someone else!

    1. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Yes, yes, yes. OP, think of it this way. If you produce a piece of content, how easy will it be for your manager to review and distribute it?

      If there is a typo or two, that’s not a major problem. Most readers won’t care about a few stray typos, for one thing, and it’s also fairly easy to fix them if someone spots them…..But if the content is bad (like you use a serious tone when they’re going for jovial, or the product details are wrong, or you’re too wordy) then they’ll basically have to re-write the piece. You want the focus in your resume and cover-letter to indicate that you’ll pick up on the company culture, the brand tone and won’t require a lot of hand-holding to create workable content.

      1. LQ*

        This is a really good point. If your manager has to spend a huge amount of time rewriting all of your content in a fundamental way then it doesn’t matter how well it’s spelled, you’re not doing your job, and anything that gives a whiff of that is problematic. That’s the thing they’ll look for in interviews. Is this person someone I’m going to have to teach that it doesn’t matter how correct “whom” is in this case, writing it when you are talking to this population is going to make the brand/organization look like pretentious jerks. You can chose to write it “wrong” or you can chose to rewrite the sentence so you don’t need it, but you can’t use it.

    2. Phoenix*

      Hey, thanks for the long reply. I do focus on content first and my writing skills in general, rather than just grammar and usage. It just really makes me wonder why I still can’t get even the most menial job in the field, if so many people (including employers) have praised my writing samples AND I make sure that the spelling and grammar is flawless. I write about many different subjects and send the most relevant samples to the company I’m applying to (for example, I’ll send my article about how electric guitars work if I’m applying for a technical writing job, rather than my article about nightlife in my city). How am I supposed to break into the field if they require paid experience but no one will hire me? I’m giving them everything else they want (according to them). It seems like the only way to break into the field is wait for someone to just offer me a chance, but I have no control over that.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I mean … that is professional writing for you. It’s like any other highly competitive field (like acting, for example) in that there are way more people who want the jobs than there are decent jobs available. It sucks, but it’s the reality of it.

        If I were you, I’d consider other jobs that have a component of writing to them. Good writing is highly prized in many fields where the job isn’t “writer” but still is a really useful skill to have.

        (But no matter what you do, drop the focus on spelling and grammar. It just does not matter to employers in the way you think it does.)

        1. Fieldpoppy*

          And drop the notion that any entry level job is “menial” — they are all an opportunity to learn a field.

          1. Wintermute*

            Yup! I started as a “lowly” frontline call center grunt, which is basically some of the lowest-paid, highest-stress and highest-turnover work there is in office work. But because I didn’t think it was beneath me I was in central IT ops in three years, fully trained by them.

          2. hallucinating hack*

            Oh goodness this! If 2020 taught us anything, it ought to be that no job is to be looked down on. I get the frustration, but I hope LW2 isn’t bringing this feeling into interviews. Quite frankly, if I were hiring for a writing position (and I tend to work in niches where it’s actually difficult to lay hands on a writer with subject matter knowledge) I would find it very offputting if someone came in giving off the vibe that an entry-level job was below them. No matter whether they had 10 years, 1 year, or 0 years of experience – writing, like other communications skills, is one of those fields where if you look down on the role, it is visible in your work. Not to pile on, but the use of words like “trivial” and “menial” is a case in point.

        2. HR Exec Popping In*

          Yes, almost all professional jobs have a writing component. Look for a staff-type role, even receptionist, and then leverage your writing skills in that role. I’ve had someone in a receptionist role in my department that was looking to break into a corporate communications job. I was able to provide them with projects that allowed them to use and further develop those skills which eventually led to them transferring into our communications department to an entry level job there.

          I would additionally say, that most corporate writing jobs include a lot of project management, verbal and interpersonal communication skills as well. So be sure to focus on those skills during your interviews as well Hiring managers are looking for more than just about writing capability.

      2. OyHiOh*

        Like Alison suggests, you may have more luck applying for jobs where writing is going to be a key piece of the role, but not the only piece.

        I’m an office manager in an organization where, among many other things, I write (and edit!) newsletter content, write and present reports to our board of directors, and manage all of our social media content.

      3. DarnTheMan*

        OP, I don’t know if you’re still reading but two pieces of advice; first off, try a writing sample for a couple of different companies and have someone else read them to see if they can ‘hear’ the brand voice; one of the hardest things I had to learn as a writer but that I now get praised for with my portfolio is my ability to shift my writing ‘voice’ to match different companies and even different departments within companies (you can be a great writer but the ability to craft copy while disappearing into the brand’s voice is a highly desired one). Secondly and this may seem obvious but as Alison and others have suggested, don’t get hung up on looking for jobs that only have writer in the title/only focus on writing. Only one of my five jobs has actually had the title ‘writer’ in my job name but at every single one, I have done a lot of writing, ranging from emails to reports to social media copy. Even at my current job, which is supposed to be for digital communications, I help a lot of other departments with general wordsmithing almost every day.

      4. boo bot*

        I’m a bit late here, but if you’re not already doing this, I would suggest pitching articles to sites that publish the kinds of articles you write.

        At this point in your career it’s worth it to do some freelance work for low pay or even for free, because your samples will carry much more weight if they’ve been published by someone else than if they’ve only been published on your blog. That has nothing to do with the quality of the blog; it’s because if you’ve published elsewhere, that shows you’ve been through the professional process: not just writing, but being edited, accepting criticism, and revising your work as required, all of which are key skills.

        Ultimately, though, there’s no answer other than what Alison has said – it’s a competitive field. It’s also not the kind of field where people offer you chances (if such a field exists). You have to make your own chances, and in a lot of ways, writing is one of the easier fields to do that in: you’re not allowed to try being an engineer by building random bridges for people to drive over, but the way you try being a writer is just to write, and put your work out there for people to read.

        Please stop describing jobs as lowly or menial, though. I get that you’re probably expressing how you feel about yourself, but when you do that by putting down a job, you’re putting down all the people who do that work (and jobs described in those terms are usually pretty crucial work).

      5. biobotb*

        You might want to see if there are internships you can apply to. That can get you a foot in the door at specific companies, as well as help you make connections with the people who hire writers, as well as enable you to produce content on deadline that has been edited by others.

      6. Reluctant Manager*

        One of the challenges of good grammar and spelling is that they’re invisible. If you do it right, nothing sticks out as cringe worthy–which is great but not necessarily enough.

        OP, I found my greatest success and most interesting challenges by getting interested in something else and finding writing/editing roles related to that rather than focusing on the writing or editing as a goal. I have written copiously, sometimes well, and edited some life-changing work as well as a lot of dreck that I improved. I make grammatical errors, and I can also spot a misplaced modifier at 30 paces. It was all because I cared a while lot about a very nerdy subject. Definitely write for someone else, ask for feedback, ask to see their edits, and don’t argue about them except over points of fact.

      7. Carol*

        My spouse has a graduate degree in writing and he only has his writing job because he started at the company doing something “menial” and completely non-writing related, and as the company grew (over years) they asked him to write things because he mentioned his degree once. It’s now his job, but it’s not because of his grammar/spelling–it’s because he is very, very, very good at marketing content, in addition to having a wealth of industry knowledge and experience. Compared to the many other writers I know, he really has a knack for it, in a way that’s hard to quantify.

        He was extremely qualified, but totally lucked into it, and only kept it because he has that special something for his particular role and industry.

        It might work to get a more all-purpose job at a small place where you have to wear a lot of hats, as you’ll get varied experience and maybe you’ll be able to use your writing. My most recent jobs have required quite a bit of writing at the core, and none of them had “writer” in the title. Do you want to “be a writer” or is it also acceptable to find a job that leans heavily on your writing skills? Those jobs are all over the place and they’re not specific targets for everybody and their brothers.

        You could always get your lucky break, but the reality of the field is that it’s unbelievably competitive, and a lot of it is going to be even more subject to chance than any other given field.

    3. Smithy*

      I work in fundraising, and while my specific job certainly includes working on grants/reports – it’s also radically different from those who are truly grant or fundraising copywriters. Being able to code switch from the tone for digital copy vs different types of institutional donors (government, foundations, companies, and may variations within) is more important to find, because it’s clearly a more difficult skill. To such an extent that in many larger places, it’s quite common to see someone hired either full time or on contract with a focus specifically on copy for private audiences vs government/technical audiences.

      As this is 100% not my talent, I also have to note that when I’m hiring for it….I’m far more focused on “I know what feels right when I’m reading” than a more concrete evaluation of technical skills. Certainly there are many jobs where more experienced professional writers are hiring team members – but I do also wonder if part of the larger challenge is when the hiring manager isn’t a writer themselves.

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes. Employers are (or should be) always thinking about how much work they are going to have to put into the new hire.

      The LW just needs to keep plugging away and look at things through a wide lens. It is hard not to stray into “Why them and not me?” but that’s not a helpful view of things at all. I chose a writing-adjacent path when I realized how difficult it would be to get a writing job, and I found my writing skills were of great value in that other position…and every position after.

      I doesn’t sound as if the LW mentioned the errors to potential employers so this might be a gratuitous comment, but never point out the problems you’ve seen with a potential employer’s content. I once had a person applying for a technical job harp on a typo in the correspondence he received from the company, stating “Obviously you need my skills since no one here seems interested in paying attention to details.” (It’s shocking, I know but we chose not to hire that guy.)

    5. MsChanandlerBong*

      This is excellent advice. Grammar and spelling are important, but they’re not the only considerations. You need to be able to write in the company’s preferred tone and style, follow internal style rules, understand SEO (if you’re working on digital content), and know how to sell with your words. A degree is great, but degrees are a dime a dozen (and I include my own degree in this statement; I am not trying to be mean or dismissive of the OP’s credentials). If you’re not getting offers due to a lack of experience, I’d recommend freelancing. Partnering with an SEO/marketing company would be especially beneficial, as you’d be able to show potential employers that you have done SEO copywriting and written for companies with different products/target audiences. Make sure you negotiate with your clients to be able to show potential employers the pieces you wrote for them.

  22. Quidge*

    #1 – In this small university town, what makes OP#1 think these women can’t be both working for/studying at the university* AND part of a local parent’s group?

    I started my PhD when my kid was 18mo; this was a much-discussed, classic manifestation of sexism in academia 10 (20, 30…) years ago. Schedule meetings, trainings, seminars and contact hours for when working/student parents can make it during childcare hours, and don’t side-eye them for using the flexibility of academia (and Zoom calls!) to do things differently than their child-free colleagues.

    *From home. Without childcare. Because pandemic.

    1. Myrin*

      I think you answered your own question – OP and all of these people live in the same “very small town” where she “know[s] the scene” (by which I assumed both the social and work-related scenes there might be – I certainly know that I know the same regarding my own very small town). If she didn’t recognise any of the women from her university but at the same time recognised them as member’s of colleague’s wife’s circle, it’s not unreasonable to assume that she knows for a fact that none of the women are working for/studying at the university.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Not necessarily. Eerything is only so these pepe could.habe started in spring or summer. The LW wouldn’t see them around campus because no one is on campus. And even if it’s a small university in a small town (city really small towns to me are less than 1500 people with 1 gas station. You don’t have universities in truly small towns) I find it unlikely that the LW knows for sure that these people from the mommy group are not students. Unless the LW knows their full names and looked them up in their directory.

  23. Dr.Wise*

    In addition to those who have already questioned your discomfort with mothers attending “serious” talks, I think you need to reflect on the purpose of those talks, and the role of family in your academic community.
    I’ve been through many academic programs in my life, and their attitude has spanned from incredibly welcoming towards the spouses, partners, and children of both students and staff, (even having actual children attend appropriate presentations in person!) to basically pretending that you have no family the second you enter the ivory tower. Maybe you’re used to the latter, and the inclusion of a broader aspect of your colleague’s life came as a shock.
    I’ve always felt more connected and supported in the programs that considered family as part of the community they are bound to support. I’ve also seen an eleven-year-old show more interest in a presentation than the undergrad cajoled into being there. I would take this as an opportunity to reflect on your program’s position in regards to its scholars and its broader community.

    1. anonymous 5*

      Also, especially in a small college town, the responsibility of the College to engage actively and enrichingly (for want of a better term) with the “outside” community. It’s bad enough when a school expects its scholars to pretend that their families don’t exist; it’s even worse when a school also takes a disdainful and exclusionary attitude toward people who aren’t [perceived to be] school affiliates.

  24. Liina Land*

    I would really like an update from LW1. I need to understand for my own sake if my reaction of disbelief and unjustness was reasonable or not :/

  25. caps22*

    LW3 – I’m in a sort of similar situation. My line manager from my last job is now my ex-BF. We didn’t date or anything at all like that when we worked together, and he left that company about a year before I did. We reconnected only after I received an offer from my now current job, so no issues there, either. However, going forward, he’s likely to be a reference, and a reasonable one since we worked together for almost 10 years (line manager only for 1.5 years though). We broke up amicably, and still are in touch professionally, so I personally have no issue with him being a reference for me. Do I have to disclose that he’s an ex though? I honestly don’t think it has changed his professional opinion of me, and he’s not the only reference I can provide.

  26. TimeTravlR*

    OP2 – Perhaps consider getting into a writing/editing-adjacent position? My field is in support (started out as a receptionist 100 years ago) and over the years has grown and evolved to the point that I do a lot of writing and editing work for my agency. Not that you need to start out as a receptionist but perhaps another role that might lead to what you are seeking?

    1. Workerbee*

      Excellent point! I started out in finance because that was an available job, and made my way to marketing, website content, social media management, et al, by making it known that I was available for writing, editing, content, and so forth. Even something as arguably small as editing an internal newsletter starts the good vibes flowing.

    2. Phoenix*

      I’ve started looking for jobs like this because I’m at my wit’s end. I’ve applied to administrative jobs that need someone to also write newsletters or run the company’s Twitter account. I’m even applying to jobs in other fields that need someone with strong editing and proofreading skills (such as legal secretary jobs). Still nothing.

      1. Sandman*

        Have you reworked your resume and cover letter following Alison’s guidelines yet? It’s a really tough time right now and it sounds like this is a very competitive field, but I haven’t seen if you’ve mentioned that yet. Job hunts can be brutal (I’m in the middle of one, too, NOT fun). Try not to internalize the rejection inherent to the process too much. This doesn’t reflect on your value as a person or your potential to do good work.

      2. NancyDrew*

        Have you looked at corporate communications jobs? Internal Comms is very writing-heavy (I too have an English degree, started as an Internal Comms Coordinator, and am now a VP — most of what I do is write and strategize what else to write!).

        Since you’re making a bit of a career switch, I think you’re right to try and get some clips under your belt. Try the Freelancing Females group on Facebook (if you’re female-identifying) and/or the various Binders Full of Women Writers groups on there.

        1. DarnTheMan*

          Seconding this; I went back to school to get a 1 year degree in Corporate Communications and now writing is almost all I do, and I love it.

      3. Tussy*

        Oh, legal secretary is a whole career trajectory. You’d be up against career legal secretaries and those who have legal qualifications. It’s a ton of learning about legal principles and procedures if you don’t have that background and if you are planning on it being a “just for now” position.

  27. Jenny*

    I used to work at a venue in college and we very commonly had seniors groups (as in older adults) show up to various presentations. Particularly on Zoom, if you want attendance limited, you have to make that clear. Otherwise, mute everyone else during the presentation section and move on.

  28. Myrin*

    #1, I’m reading something quite different in your letter which, as far as I can see, no one has really brought up yet although I think Alison picked up on it as well.

    I’m getting the feeling that the crux of your problem can be found in your last few sentences. It reads to me like it’s grating on you that things aren’t like they used to be and like you’re craving a sense of normalcy within your regular circle. And of course you can’t keep up an illusion of normalcy if there are a bunch of people attending a talk who you’d never expect to be there during normal times – I feel like the focus on the mummy group is actually a bit of a red herring and you would’ve been equally as distracted (or maybe even annoyed) by members of the local firehouse or the Pastry Shop Association.

    So really, I think THE question your letter is asking is “Or should I accept that this is the way the world is right now?” and my answer to that is “Yes, probably”. I very much like Alison’s suggestion of waiting and seeing – I could indeed imagine that depending on what exactly that “serious topic” was, at least some of the group might self-select out, or who knows, maybe they thought this was some huge presentation for their friend’s husband and wanted to show their one-time support.

    But yeah, in general, I think you will have to come around to changed conditions at your place of work and for the time being make your peace with them.

      1. Kiki*

        Yes, also got that sense. I have personally seen an increase of what would formerly constitute non-issues being treated as issues because a lot of folks are looking for ways to channel their frustration. This definitely felt like that. Unless I’m misunderstanding and this lecture isn’t something that is open to the public, this is just kinda how things are now. Embrace the increase in participation, even if it comes in an unexpected way.

    1. Shenandoah*

      Yes, agreed that there is an element of covid-exhaustion here. I also think the LW should really sit with themselves and genuinely think about what their reaction would have been to members of the local firehouse. Or to a student who is also a parent and holding their squirming child.

      Anyway. LW1, I hope you get some more coffee and sit with these things. This also really is just the way the world is right now, and I hope accepting that can move you past some of the frustration with it.

    2. FuzzyFuzzyCat*

      This is very insightful, thank you for sharing this perspective! I had a feeling there was more to the letter than what I was initially interpreting.

    3. joriley*

      I’m in a similar role to LW1 and think this is a good point. Zoom events are different than in-person ones, and one downside is that you lose some of the intimacy that comes from an in-person discussion. BUT the flip side of that is that you can reach a broader audience. LW1, if Myrin’s point resonated with you at all, try thinking of this not as a weakening of the on-campus equivalent, but a strengthening of it. You’re broadening the college’s ties to the community! If an event is open to the public, then more non-students attending is a plus. (And if it’s not open to the public, well, there’s your answer: Make that clearer and require a college email address to sign up.)

    4. Elliott*

      Yeah, I think this may be a good point.

      I think in some ways, Zoom audiences can be more “visible.” You see people’s names and glimpses of their home, you get an impression based on their setup (curled up on their couch with their phone in a dark room vs. sitting at a desk), and you see distractions like pets and toddlers. It can feel more personal than being in a room where everyone blends in, and that might make the presence of unfamiliar people more noticeable.

    5. Observer*

      I think that this is a very good point.

      It also speaks to a larger issue – I think the Covid fatigue can make it harder to recognize when you are being unreasonable or veering into *ist territory. Everyone is tired and frustrated and the normal filters are just not kicking in as automatically as they might have been under more normal circumstances.

    6. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      This is a good point. I could especially see it if these events are usually a small group of people who all knew each other pre-Covid, and the LW was looking forward to a certain amount of socializing with them on the Zoom call before or after the actual event. I’ve been thrown off by a wider group attending some meetings now that they’re online for similar reasons. It’s good for the sake of the actual meeting purpose, but was an adjustment in terms of the adjacent socialization I was also used to getting from the meetings (which is harder on Zoom regardless).

  29. Erika22*

    #2 – I originally went to college for journalism, started on the school newspaper as a reporter and copy editor. I also managed to secure a couple good internships – one in book publishing, one at a home decor magazine – so I was pretty on track to secure an entry level writing gig if I wanted to. For ages I’d only write in AP Style and was very overbearing when it came to using punctuation and grammar correctly. It took all of these internships (and a change in degree) to understand that yes good grammar and spelling is important, and, in certain kinds of writing, are important to effectively communicating nuance and maintaining a level of precision. However, writing style and grammatical rules can also be misused to act as gatekeepers for different groups of people, even unintentionally. Unless you’re required to use a specific writing style for a certain reason, there’s far more value in ensuring your writing is accessible and easily understood rather than nitpicking a semi colon or something. (Also, the fact there are several styles of writing – AP Style, CMS, APA, others – highlights that there’s no one correct way anyway!) I still enjoy informal editing in my current role (which is still in publishing, just not as an editor) but have found far more satisfaction in ensuring what we publish is accessible, inclusive, and diverse. So in addition to everything Alison noted in her response, maybe take a look at your portfolio and see what kind of content you’ve written – is the audience of your samples too narrow, or does it make assumptions? Do you need a wider variety?

    Also, try applying to adjacent jobs – I currently work in the publishing side of a business with a lot of different products, and I started here by working in a branch where although producing content was only a small part of the job, I was able to use that and pivot to my current role. I also have a friend who started at her company as a general admin but always volunteered to do work on the company’s social media page and eventually used that to secure a promotion to the marketing department. Very few career paths are direct, and it’s good to get all kinds of experience because you never know what you may need!

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      “Very few career paths are direct…” Yes, absolutely. Job seekers cannot know what jobs are out there as there are many unique positions in different workplaces. The assumption that there is one set path to one specific goal can be problematic, as it blinds people to opportunities that are right in front of them.

      I was once at a college alumni event where students came to ask working alums about their careers. One student asked what internships I had prior to getting my first post-grad job. I replied “I never had internships. I had jobs. I worked full time while in college and had a second seasonal part time job.” This student said “That doesn’t make sense. Why would they hire you when you didn’t have experience related to the job? That doesn’t seem fair to the people working to get internships.”

      My response was rather lengthy so I will spare everyone here, but it involved explaining what “experience” actually means.

  30. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    OP1, those moms were probably more interested and attentive than the “students who have been bribed with the promise of extra credit”.

    Does it matter that they were “women there with small children, none of whom I recognized from work”. If they had been your colleagues, or there were no kids around, would you have had the same reaction? If they had been men with small children? I understand the squirming and fidgeting might have distracted you, but you can turn off the incoming video or drag another window over the video gallery.

    I understand your craving for the illusion of “normal”, but excluding people who are trying to get a bit of “normal” themselves, sounds a bit mean-spirited.

    1. allathian*

      I just think that the OP is annoyed that one of the attendees (or the presenter) shared the invite with his wife, who shared it with the mommy group. If in fact during non-pandemic times the meeting would have been limited to university faculty, staff, and students.

    2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Yeah, which segment of your audience is more likely to be genuinely interested-the students who had to be bribed to attend or the women who showed up because they wanted to listen to the topic?

  31. Snow Globe*

    LW4 – There definitely should be information on parental leave posted and available to everyone. But I wanted to say that I’m not surprised that the HR representative didn’t answer the question directly in that meeting. Parental leave policies (even good ones) can be complicated, and may depend on how long you’ve worked there, job grade, full-time vs. part-time, etc., and I’m sure the HR rep wouldn’t have wanted to try to explain all of that off the cuff and maybe get something wrong. Bringing it up in a big meeting again will likely get a similar response. Maybe just email HR and ask if there is a handbook that would explain policies for absences and personal time off -then you could find the information there.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      My HR person has told me they will intentionally not describe a policy verbally. Instead they will point the person to the written policy and answer specific questions if there are any. They do this because they don’t want to inadvertently give incorrect or imprecise information.

      It also makes total sense that the company’s wording is what it is. If they only adhere to the state minimum, then there’s no reason to restate what that is, as there would be a risk of getting out of sync with the state law.

      I get the feeling that the LW is looking for a different answer to the parental leave policy vs. finding out what the policy is. In other words they are looking for or hoping for leave other than the state minimum.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        I’ve had a few experiences where the policy pretty much only said “we do what is legally required and nothing else” but then when we got into the details, internal HR was actually out of date in terms of what was actually legally required vs what they thought was legally required. Because of that I totally get why the LW really wanted them to have something more specific in writing.
        I’ve also seen wording that’s something like “our policy is ABC – except when otherwise required by law and then whatever the law says”. They do that to not have to rewrite it constantly, but again, in that situation you’re at the mercy of HR being on top of this, which they often aren’t. And then you’re stuck in the super awkward situation of sending them links to legislation that proves them wrong….it ain’t fun.

    2. SarahKay*

      Agreed that just re-submitting the question direct probably won’t help. If LW4 wants to ask again, I think it needs to be really specific along the lines of “The company handbook states that everyone is entitled to our state minimum for parental leave; does the company provide anything above the state minimum for non-salaried workers?” That’s a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question so they might then get an actual answer. Granted, if the answer is ‘yes, we provide more than the minimum’ then they’re going to have to follow up, perhaps in person, but at least if the answer is ‘nope, state minimum is all we do’ then they know where they are.

  32. Jennifer*

    #1 Did the parents forget to mute themselves so the kids’ noise was distracting? Was the topic scary or too dark for kids? If so, I agree that it probably wasn’t appropriate for the kids to be there. If that’s not the case, I can kind of understand being a bit thrown. I am not the best public speaker and one thing I do to reassure myself when I have to do it is remind myself that I know everyone in the audience and that they all have an interest in the topic. Seeing some unexpected faces and squirming kids may have been distracting or thrown me off my game a bit. I get it.

    But ultimately, Alison is right. They may just be stuck with kids all day and need some intellectual stimulation. If they were the only parent in the home at the time of the lecture, and they have toddler-age kids, I get why the kids needed to be in the room. Hopefully, they gave the kids something to distract them, like a game or toy, and they likely weren’t even paying attention.

    I wouldn’t say anything now, but if a darker topic is discussed in the future, you may want to mention in the invite that it’s not appropriate for small kids.

  33. Nope.*

    OP 2, I would take a hard look at your soft skills (that sounds funny …) and try to really objectively, harshly evaluate them. You say you interview well and your resume isn’t the problem, but … you’re not getting the job, so something is. You’re too focused on one part of the game, your technical skill. Delve into WHY you want these types of jobs, what makes you stand out beyond being a good writer and editor. Look at how you’ll fit in on a team, as a contributor, as a resource to help things move forward. It is not enough to rely on pure skill for one task set unless you’re a rocket scientist or a doctor.

    1. V*

      “You say you interview well and your resume isn’t the problem, but … you’re not getting the job, so something is.”

      I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. Given that Alison says she has had up to 600 applications for one writer post, the interview skills and resume might be great, but being great isn’t enough. There’s an element of luck / numbers game at play here as well.

      That said, I do agree with the rest of your comment…

      1. Sunglass*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t assume that was true either. I’m an editor at a publishing house, and the last time I advertised for an editorial assistant we received almost 1000 applications. There was only one open role! We were absolutely rejecting extremely polished, well-qualified applicants who would have done the job very well, and there was nothing they had done wrong. When an industry is competitive and difficult to break into, sometimes it’s just a matter of the numbers being against you.

  34. Raldeme*

    Based on letters 1,3, and 4, (plus my own life experience) being a woman in work environments is brutal and exhausting. So much hand wringing! So many obstacles. So much predation… And yeah I know the gender in letter 3 wasn’t specified but come on.

  35. I'm just here for the cats*

    LW 1. I’m not sure based on your letter, but is the issue is that these women were community members and these events are closed to only faculty, staff and students. If that’s the case I would 1. Double check that these people are not students (they could be.) And then talk.tonwhomever makes the events in turning on privacy for the eve t. I work at a university and what we’ve done is hidden the link in out events calendar. If you want the zoom link you have to log in with your University email first. However that might be a problem if the person you work with gives them the link first.
    If the issue was that you could see/hear the kids just turn off video and mute everyone. I’m thinking there is a raise hand feature in zoom I’d someone wants to ask a question. Or questions could be put in chat or whatever.
    If your answer is because these are women who are mom’s and part of a mommy and me group, I would ask yourself why you have a problem with them. If you didn’t know they were part of a mommy group would you have an issue with them? Why?
    You need to think carefully about your reasons behind your feelings and/or investigate what you can do to help.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I expect the wife shared the zoom link with that group in good faith not realising that they were not really invited, but I’m not sure why the colleague shared with the wife in the first place!

      If your answer is because these are women who are mom’s and part of a mommy and me group, I would ask yourself why you have a problem with them. If you didn’t know they were part of a mommy group would you have an issue with them? Why?

      Can’t speak for the OP of course but my answer to this would be yes. Regardless of if they are a ‘mommy group’ or have children squirming on their lap or whatever — I think the main issue is that the talk has been essentially “gatecrashed” by non-university people (it sounds like when this kind of talk happened in the “before times” when it was in-person, it was university people only).

      Not sure what was meant by a ‘serious’ topic – whether it’s something like content not really suitable for children, or more in the sense of being highly technically/academically pitched for example.

      If it’s the latter I can see being annoyed at this outside group deciding to attend our event as ‘free entertainment’ in the way that people attend social events in Meetup groups etc (these are all virtual now of course but I used to go to a number of them in-person – not to lectures though!) and that wouldn’t really depend on them being women, men, parents, non-parents but rather just not part of the university.

      Can zoom meetings be set so that someone has to “admit” (or not!) people who aren’t on a pre-defined list? That might be a technical solution to it.

      1. kt*

        As a mathematician who spent, oh, 19 years in university environments… I’d be tickled to have math talks gatecrashed by the general public!

        It’s one thing to have the local crackpot who is squaring the circle show up and ask antagonistic and nonsensical questions. No, that’s not fun. But a mom who wants to learn about symmetric groups? Let’s do it!

      2. Observer*

        Yes. Decent video conference software can do it, so that is definitely a solution for many types of situations.

        But ONLY if the real issues is that the general public is REALLY not invited. Do NOT do this as a way to keep the “mommy group” out.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Yes, totally. As mentioned above I got the sense that it just happens to be that the wife’s social circle is the ‘mommy group’ (and in some other situation it could be ‘the people I go to the bar with’ or whatever) rather than being the specific point of the OP. When they referred to “these women” it could just as easily have been “the bar crowd” or whatever.

          As a childless person myself I don’t know anything first-hand about ‘mommy groups’ but I do have second-hand accounts from numerous colleagues (mostly male, as I am in a male dominated industry!) who mentioned that their wife/partner/etc’s main social group had become the ‘mommy group’ after becoming a mom for the first time as it was an instant way to connect to people of a similar stage in life regardless of background.

          I guess the common ground of (e.g.) specific challenges, milestones and high points of parenthood are more easily identified with by a cohort of people on the approximate same timeline that you are, even if different ages etc. A group like that could have people with 15 or more years age difference between them and at about the same “stage” in parenthood! e.g. my friend who is 23 and my other friend who’s 41 have each just had their first child…

    2. Rebeck*

      There’s nothing in the letter that says this was closed to the public. The way it’s described sounds exactly like a public lecture/seminar series to me.

  36. Anon for this*

    LW2, I’ve had a successful writing career in corporate America. The way I entered was by taking a temp admin job that became permanent and establishing a reputation for being a strong writer through that work.

    Truthfully, while there are tons of people who want to write, few do it well. Once you’re inside, you should have opportunities.

    1. Ryn*

      This is how I got my nonprofit writing gig too. Part time admin, got to work on special projects for the exec team, built a reputation for myself as a strong communicator, and then when they opened up a writing role I was invited to apply. Not very actionable advice but I do think my soft skills played a large role in being asked to apply. Plus then the bit of institutional knowledge id built up really strengthened my app since was already familiar with the org voice.

  37. DieTrying*

    LW1: I’m a professor at a large and wretchedly “elite” institution (… think “Top 10”). Before joining this department, I was at another institution rather like it in a different part of the country. Both jobs have entailed organizing lecture series, in person and on Zoom, that tend to bring in bigwig speakers from other schools as well as local faculty who are showcasing a project. And because I teach in a field that is “of interest” to a number of non-specialists, these talks inevitably attract an audience from beyond the university.

    I really, really understand and sympathize with the need to build community within departments right now, especially inasmuch as that community includes students. This has been a tough year, and there is for most of us no end in sight just yet. That being said, “gate keeping” is not the answer to this need for community. It is rather, I think, to embrace the ways in which the current (shitty) situation allows us to expand that concept. The lecture series I am curating right now are attended by individuals from all over the globe. By scholars, students, those who just really care about the topics at hand, and those who are fan-girl/boy-ing over a particular speaker. And, truly — who cares about their motivations, as long as they are present and non-disruptive (… and in my department you would see a lot of squirming babies in the laps of faculty and grad students, so we’ve adapted to the distraction that is cuteness)?

    Look, so, so many academic institutions are in crisis. I’ve got friends who had their tenure revoked, their departments dissolved, all their lecturers fired … And so much of this is because our work is perceived as irrelevant. Your visitors are not only expanding the scope of your events, they are taking your topics into the “real world.” That’s worth celebrating. I’d be tempted to think about ways of including them rather than keeping them away.

    Addendum 1: Last Friday, the mother of a very senior colleague of mine showed up 15 minutes early to their Zoom lecture. Did she follow the finer nuances of Topic X? Probably not. Did she care about the work that is so important to her offspring, and about which she had no doubt heard in one form or another for decades. Definitely. We were honored to have her.

    Addendum 2: In the blessed pre-zoom days, I at times suspected some of these attendees “from the community
    ,” many of them seniors, to be at talks/reading groups/etc. primarily for the free snacks. That was particularly the case for a certain, rather disheveled looking — but always very quiet — couple that would, after every talk, scarf and run. And then one day a friend of mine pointed out that this couple happened to be THE major donors to the center that was co-sponsoring the series. What was that old adage about assumptions again?

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Wow! Standing ovation, beautifully said with many valuable points covered, and I now wonder what the school is and how to call into the lectures :)

    2. katertot*

      +1 to Addendum 1- I recently joined a Zoom webinar where my Dad was the main speaker- we rarely get to see him speak since he’s normally talking at specific conferences, and this was something he’d worked really hard on. Perhaps this coworker’s wife was doing the same thing- just trying to support her spouse.

    3. LDN Layabout*

      I feel like academics/departments/universities that try to gatekeep their research or make no effort to share it beyond academic borders are effectively smothering themselves to death and it’s so sad and frustrating to see.

      The work done in universities SHOULD be influencing society, public policy, media (fact AND fiction), industry, everything and anything. Sometimes it just feels like there are too many people happy for it all to remain in their own little bubble.

      1. Observer*

        If you want this work to influence society, you need to let society in. Because academic work that is divorced from reality can range from useless to toxic. And if you keep the public out, it IS divorced from reality.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          Exactly. The most successful academics and former academics that I know got to where they are doing this. And there are so many different ways of doing it.

          But if those worlds merged more, it might get harder to keep post-docs/junior faculty happy with the low pay they get…

    4. Jay*

      Thank you. Clear and empathic.

      And you remind me of the first time I gave Grand Rounds (a very big deal) as a grown-up doctor. I told my dad (also a doc) and he immediately cancelled his day of appointments and told my mom they were driving down to hear my talk. There was a mortifying and unintentionally hilarious moment when they arrived early. I was delivering an unrelated talk to the residents about taking a sexual history (this was 1994). I was talking about the specific risks associated with specific activities when I looked up and noticed my parents. I stopped talking mid-word and did a credible imitation of a goldfish. I finally said “I know it can be difficult to discuss these topics, and if you want to know just how difficult, turn around and wave to my parents.”

      So I got a great story out of it – but even more than that, I got to share my passion for our shared work with my father. He’s been gone since 2006 and those moments shine more in my memory every year.

      1. DieTrying*

        This is a lovely story, and one with which I empathize so much. I am an immigrant, a first-gen college student — and my father is brilliant. For some time now, he has been reading books by colleagues in my field (in translation), and talking to me about them. I get incredibly choked up about this, not least of all since he is losing his memory, but continues to enthusiastically work at these minor tomes.

        I’m sorry your father is gone, Jay, but I am so glad that you have these memories of him.

      1. Fieldpoppy*

        1000 %. I said almost the same thing below. Not the part about my parents and sexual histories, but how gatekeeping knowledge has an entropic effect.

    5. Bricolage on the Brink*

      In addition to these fine points, the partners of academics are often also highly trained and educated, but may not have formal positions at the university/college. Dual career searches are difficult, especially as academic jobs (particularly tenure track) get scarcer and scarcer (especially at tuition-sensitive small colleges).

      Part of the beauty of the college town lifestyle is that it is attractive to a variety of people because of this exact kind of opportunity – to engage in the life of the mind! This is why retirement communities have really exploded in college towns across the country.

  38. Cabbagepants*

    LW2, welcome to the hellscape that can be entry level writing jobs. In my thankfully-limited experience, it’s usually less about crafting beautiful prose and more about volume of good-enough words.

  39. a nony mouse*

    While I would be the first to admit that Entitled Parents can sometimes be a Thing, I don’t see how that translates to a Zoom meeting, where attendees are muted, and you can focus exclusively on the presenter. Especially when you factor in COVID difficulties

  40. Lauren*

    LW1, I’m kind of stuck on your comment that the usual attendees are those “who have been bribed with extra credit.” I’m not sure why you think students who attend to get extra credit are better attendees than people from the community who are actually interested in the topic? For those who have been home with their wiggly children almost 24 hours a day since March, attending a Zoom webinar is a commitment that shows real interest and awareness. I’d take those audience members any day, and it’s a shame that you want to limit presenters to a small number of attendees who don’t actually want to be there.

  41. Phoenix*

    Hi Alison,

    Thanks for answering my email about writing jobs. I get what you’re saying about writing being more than about spelling and grammar, and that’s what copy editors are for, but that also begs the question – who/where are the copy editors who don’t catch those obvious kinds of mistakes? I find mistakes like these in published content such as newspaper articles and marketing collateral (I only gave the example of the casual email because I found it bizarre that it was written by a senior editor) and when I do, I find that it immediately discredits a publication or company. For example, if I’m thinking about buying a product or service and I see a glaring mistake in the description, I assume the way they do business is sloppy and they don’t care. Which, in turn, loses revenue for the company because I’m much less likely to buy their product or service. I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way. So it confuses me why the people who hire for these positions (and who should be hiring decent copy editors!) seems to just let is slide or not really care, because I see mistakes like this ALL THE TIME. I read a ton of material and I’m confronted with this almost every day. I understand that style and voice are important also and it’s not just about spelling and grammar, but again, where are the copy editors who are supposed to be doing their jobs? It’s tough not to be vexed over the perception that there are quite a few editors out there who (according to PayScale and Glassdoor) are making upwards of $50,000 to half-ass their jobs while I’m sitting here unemployed and I would jump at the chance to edit copy or just write it correctly the first time for $15/hour. Ultimately, I think this is a great example of how broken the hiring process is these days. But I also understand that it’s a very competitive field for exactly the same reasons you provided and I’ve heard it’s extraordinarily difficult to get into marketing or journalism if you’ve never worked in the industry before. I’m trying to be patient and I’m looking for any opportunity to get paid experience, but it’s so difficult not to feel bitter when I have no real career, no disposable income, and worry about the future, but the very same day I read an article in the local paper with missing words and punctuation, spelling mistakes, poorly written headlines, and an incorrect overuse of the word “literally”, all in one article.

    1. LDN Layabout*

      I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

      So…you know how scammer emails and calls seem really obvious and who would ever fall for those? In those cases, it’s a feature, not a bug. They want to deal with people who don’t get put off by those things because they’re more likely to go through the whole process.

      While those mistakes you’re catching are likely just mistakes and might be enough to put you off, the company has probably got good reasons to believe they’re not important enough to justify spending the time or money fixing.

    2. londonedit*

      Most newspapers and marketing companies don’t have in-house copy-editors (they may have done in the past, but not any more) – certainly not a small local newspaper. The revenue just isn’t there; they can’t afford to pay someone to sit there and edit copy all day long. So writers check their own work, or there’s one senior editor who checks everything. And there are tight deadlines, and last-minute copy, and things slip through. All the copy-editors I know are freelance, most doing it alongside other jobs or parenting, and none of them are making $50,000 a year. I’m an in-house managing editor (as I described above, I do less hands-on editing and more project management, working on 25-30 books a year) and I certainly don’t a) ‘half-ass my job’ or b) earn $50,000 a year.

      I understand that it’s frustrating when you’re job hunting and you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, but I don’t think you’re fully aware of how creative industries work in this day and age.

      1. cabbagepants*

        “The revenue just isn’t there”

        THIS. For better or for worse (mostly worse), writing, like many creative fields, is turning into a commodity. There are lots of people with degrees trying to break in who are forced to take what they can get, lots of people who love the work so much they’ll happily do it for free, and just not many buyers.

        Consider that newspaper article with grammar mistakes. Did you pay for it or did you read it online for free?

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yes. There is a HUGE difference between reading items one at a time while sitting on your sofa at home, and working in a fast-paced, completely understaffed business where writers have to do their own fact-checking (and they all know this is crazy) and proofreading. Plus, they have to do this on multiple projects at the same time.

    3. Jenny*

      The reality is copy editing is being cut or outsourced. For a lot of the stuff you’re seeing, there simply is no copy editor. I knew someone who worked for a major newspaper in Chicago and he was proofing articles from anywhere from Kansas to Florida (newspapers are often owned by one company).

      I understand it’s hard to be job searching but you 100% cannot let your frustration through to employers. It will kill your chances with them.

      1. Fieldpoppy*

        Yup. Even the NYT has *dozens* of typos in any given edition. Doesn’t mean the writers aren’t good writers or the writing isn’t important. It’s not the same thing.

        I’ll also note how many people here complain every time Alison links to one of her pieces on a paid site — people want all free content but then don’t understand that this comes at a price of lower and lower pay for writers and no money for copy editors.

    4. LQ*

      Don’t torture yourself by looking at the salaries and thinking that you could do their jobs for much less, you’re only hurting yourself by doing that. They aren’t going to suddenly stop being employed and give you their jobs because you could do it better, you know that of course, but it’s easy to end up in those loops and get bitter.

      It’s going to be hard but look at some of the notes that the folks here who have managed to break into writing as a career have given and take them to heart.

      You also need to stop assuming you know better than the people doing the jobs or it will start to come across in your cover letters and interviews. They may be lovely and eloquent, but that doesn’t mean that’s what people who are hiring are looking for.

      Sometimes people use the word “literally” in a way that is a more modern usage that gets people up in arms because the audience they are targeting literally doesn’t care.

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        It should also be noted that those editors making $50,000 are not just sitting and writing copy all day or copy-editing content all day.

        They are likely generating new ideas, cross-collaborting with different teams and employing a wide variety of skills. Grammar is usually pretty low on the list because most people are competent, and competent is all most companies are looking for.

        1. LQ*

          Absolutely. And a big part of that is that what they are likely to be tuning until the last minute isn’t grammar but other things. Hey we need to update the message to include this other piece of content. We want to change the style to be more hip, more formal, more compassionate. We just were in the news for Big Scandal so we need to not include any Scandal related things – chuck this whole section.

    5. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      What you’re describing doesn’t sound like a complaint about how broken the hiring proces is — it sounds like a desire for employers to value (and thus hire/pay) for a skill at a higher rate than they currently do.

      1. londonedit*

        I agree. Does it annoy me that editing and proofreading are the first things to go when a company needs to cut its budgets? Of course it does. Do I wish companies would place more value on editing work and checking for errors? Yes. Does it irritate me when I receive a marketing email from a respectable company that reads like they’ve asked the work experience kid to write it and not bothered checking it over? Absolutely. But I also know that budgets are tight, money has to be cut everywhere, and having someone whose entire job is copy-editing and proofreading things just isn’t realistic or sustainable for a lot of businesses these days. That’s just the way it is.

      2. Sigrid*

        I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, here.

        OP, one of the hardest lessons in my adult life was learning, and learning to accept, that what *I* value is not necessarily what *society* values, and certainly not what capitalism values. I had the choice of doing something that I love and being underemployed for the rest of my life, or pivoting into something that maybe wasn’t my dream but would pay a decent wage. It was a hard lesson. It took me eight years to finally come to terms with it. (As it happens, I’m actually far happier in my second career than I was in my first, but I didn’t know that would be the result going in.) The realities of what the market will pay for are sometimes brutal and very, very far from your personal priorities, but they are also the realities that we all have to live with. My best advice is to learn how you can adapt yourself to the market in a way that will make you, if not happy, at least content, and not send yourself into a spiral of bitterness and anger over the fact that the market doesn’t value what you value.

    6. EventPlannerGal*

      I understand that you’re frustrated, you’re job-searching in such a competitive industry, but you just can’t take it personally that other people have jobs and sometimes make mistakes in those jobs. Even if it’s a job that you really really want. I get it! I absolutely have had that feeling of “ugh, if I had [dream job] I’d do it PROPERLY”! But it just isn’t going to help you, and if anything stewing over it is going to make you feel worse and go into your applications with a chippy attitude. Nobody likes that. When you start feeling like this, go and do something else until it passes.

      You’ve been given a ton of constructive advice in the comments; I would focus on that, real things that you can actually do, instead of working yourself up over other people’s mistakes and unknowables. You don’t know how many mistakes were caught and corrected for every typo that slips through, and you don’t know if the number of people who are strongly put off by typos and grammatical errors is big enough for these companies to care about.

    7. Allonge*

      “where are the copy editors who are supposed to be doing their jobs”

      They are most likely writing the articles you are looking at and many many more, handling all the admin stuff that comes with a job, emailing, participating in meetings, strategising etc.

      They do not have unlimited time to revise texts until these are completely error-free. Their company does not prioritise having no typos over having actual texts published, because a sufficient number of their customers don’t care about good grammar as much as about their product.

      When you write your blog, do you keep going back to a text before you publish until it’s perfect? You would not have time to do that at a company like these, as you would have to write 5-20 more texts in the same day, no overtime allowed.

      Is this a way to produce excellent writing? No. The companies are not there to produce good writing, never mind excellent. Can this be totally frustrating to somebody like you? You bet!

      1. Jenny*

        I’m actually training right now, which involves editing others’ work and spotting errors. No joke I look at at least 15 documents a day and that is in top of other work I do. We simply don’t have time.

      2. TechWriter*

        Yep. I work as a technical writer for a software company. When layoffs came a few years ago, the editors and architects were in the first few rounds.

        Our business unit looked at the budget, said “we can afford to pay for X hours of work”, looked at the deliverables, and said “we need writers to create this content.” They determined that higher level editors, who could massage the content to levels greater clarity and ease of reading, were an added bonus that we couldn’t afford. As long as our customers could understand the product and how to use it, technically perfect prose was secondary.

        So we do peer-reviews (when there’s time) and try to catch typos, but hey, they still sneak in. And yeah, my stuff could definitely be structured better and more clearly if our experienced editors were still here. And they would catch the typos too, though that was only a minor part of what they do.

        So the reason you see those mistakes is because of the reality of doing business. There is no budget for perfect writing. Good enough is good enough, and the powers that be value developers, sales, and consulting more than they value perfectly-written doc.

      3. inspector parker*

        Yeah. Years ago I went from a job where the aim was to produce *flawless* and highly creative text to a job where the aim was to produce solid speciality content and no one really cared how nice it sounded otherwise. Error free was good to have, of course, but we had hard deadlines and the bulk of my job was politely chasing the writers and reviewers, whose day job a) wasn’t writing for us and b) paid them a shedload more than we did. If I had spent my days obsessing about perfect SPaG (having previously woken up in a cold sweat about an erroneous full stop) then I would have failed hard at my job.

        Some of the copy we produced still secretly pains my soul, but no one buying it is bothered. So. *shrug*

    8. theletter*

      I have been there and it is hard. Then I finally got a copywriting job at a small, very toxic startup, for $9 an hour (in 2010) that after some firm conversations was raised to $12 an hour. I was harassed by my awful bosses for not doing the illegal stuff they wanted me to do, and I had to manage cohort after cohort of unpaid interns (at times I felt like I was running a camp). The young, cheery, complacent employees who were willing to jump to more client-facing work quickly eclipsed me in status, and the day came when the writing was on the wall: I wouldn’t be working there much longer, they figured out how to get someone’s cousin to work for free on the weekend.

      I took a job at another start-up, this time as a tester, for a measly $12.50 an hour. I eventually turned my writing skills into software engineering skills, and I’m paid well enough for what I do. My writing time is now my own to write my novels and take jabs at query letters.

      You won’t ever know what’s going on at a company until you start working there, and if spelling and grammar errors are rampant, you might find that you don’t want to work there. Does anyone dream of mangling a TV show fan theory on an ad-ridden site that exists for clicks? I know I don’t.

      My $.02: freelance the heck out of your skills. Edit aspiring writers’ bad mystery novels. Edit students’ graduate papers. Offer classes in cold-calling. Tutor children. Do a deep dive into some critical yet esoteric subject. Learn SQL. Research chatbots and VUI. Find a short graduate program that will deepen your knowledge in some specific aspect, like copywriting or publishing.

      I’m not kidding about SQL. It’s easy and free to learn, and there’s a lot of surprising things you can do with it.

    9. Allison K*

      I’m a professional editor (freelance) and the general agreement among my colleagues is that an incredible accuracy rate is about 95-98%. There are going to be errors because we are human. As an author, my first book was laboriously edited and proofread by myself, the house editors, the design and layout guy who has a strong eye, and a couple of beta readers. But sure enough, when I opened that first printed copy to a random page, the first thing I saw was a typo!

      LW, if you’re interested in freelance and want to get a foot in that world, you might want to join some editing and writing FB groups. Show up and listen, and you can get a sense of how it all works, which can help you with future applications, too. Look for Editors Association of Earth, that’s a good and welcoming group.

    10. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

      I’ve been working in marketing and communications for 20 years; I’m now in a fairly senior role in higher ed, at a top-tier institution. I am, at my core, a writer and editor…but I wouldn’t be where I am now if I weren’t also a diplomat, a negotiator, and a good manager (both up and down). Copy is rarely produced in a vacuum–at almost any company or organization, it’s going to go through at least a couple layers of approval, which means you’re going to be getting edits and feedback from multiple people. Most of those people will outrank you. Many of their edits will contradict each other. Some of them will make no sense, but did I mention that they outrank you?

      You’ve got to have soft skills and a tough skin to succeed in these kinds of roles. You’ve got to be able to accept and apply feedback that you don’t agree with, or get good at making your case and convincing your bosses that you’re right and they’re wrong…without torching them and destroying working relationships.

      Your letter and your comments here struck a chord with me, because I had a similar attitude when I was starting out. I thought I was the smartest person in the room, AND, dear lord, I thought that was a selling point. I didn’t know what I didn’t know (and boy was there a lot I didn’t know); I still don’t, entirely, but at least I’m aware that there’s a whole lot I can still learn. If you’re going in to interviews with the attitude that the current staff must be incompetent, stupid, or half-assing their jobs, that’s going to come through. If you go in with the mindset that you’re going to save these incompetents from themselves with your superior skills, that’s going to come through too.

      When I make hiring decisions now, I am looking at the whole person: not just their technical skills, but their attitude, their willingness to learn, their ability to accept feedback and acknowledge mistakes. I’d rather have someone on my team who misses the occasional typo but can talk a tenured professor out of sending a fundraising email that is 17 paragraphs long, and be able to laugh about it when the end result is down to a mere 10 paragraphs.

      1. Sylvan*

        If you’re going in to interviews with the attitude that the current staff must be incompetent, stupid, or half-assing their jobs, that’s going to come through. If you go in with the mindset that you’re going to save these incompetents from themselves with your superior skills, that’s going to come through too.

        Oh, yeah. Yes.

        Also, if you really have the superior skills to do that? Use them when you’re getting paid for them, not for free.

      2. Caraway*

        Oh, hello, are you me? Am I you? I am a writer in higher ed, and I’m a good writer, but I absolutely would not be where I am today without my top-notch people/diplomacy skills. It has taken me years, but I finally understand that even people who I think are not as “smart” as me have valuable knowledge, understand their job better than I am ever going to, and if it looks like they are incompetent or half-assing their work…well, they might be, but it’s more likely there are considerations there I’m simply not aware of.

    11. Sylvan*

      I get what you’re saying about writing being more than about spelling and grammar, and that’s what copy editors are for, but that also begs the question – who/where are the copy editors who don’t catch those obvious kinds of mistakes?

      Busy and overworked ones, in my experience. Some have also been newspaper editors, not newspaper copyeditors, who became editor-copyeditors when newspapers laid off the copyeditors. They didn’t have time to do both jobs extremely well, and they prioritized editing. (I wasn’t always too happy about the results of this, because there were mistakes in the newspapers! I hate that! But I understand where editors’ priorities lie — and where responsibility for the problem lies. The errors demonstrated financial struggles and poor management, not poor editing or copyediting skills.)

    12. Casper Lives*

      I’m trying to say this kindly. You’re focusing on the wrong things. You’ve gone down a rabbit hole on SPAG here, but you’re ignoring the practical advice from many commentators here that work in the field you’re trying to break into. Employers are giving you solid reasons for rejection. You’re ignoring those reasons. I get that you don’t like being rejected for lack of experience, no proof you can write to a deadline, no proof you can write content for someone else, etc. That’s reality! You need to get experience doing that. It’s more important to show those skills and that you can work with others than your pedantic, and somewhat annoying, focus on SPAG.

      I’m not a writer. I’m a lawyer, which means I’ve got to write a lot. Do I chuckle when I see a particularly bad typo in a filing by opposing counsel? Sure. But if their point is conveyed and their evidence is cited, no one mentions it. I write to a deadline and for a purpose. I’ll give my writing a once-over, but ultimately, my clients are paying for my expertise and speed within a number of hours they will accept.

      I used to obsessively care about SPAG in high school or early college. Then I got better people skills and realized most people don’t care. Newspapers are written on a 5th grade reading level for the general public. Please read all of the concrete, helpful advice here. Please absorb it. I wish you luck on your search.

    13. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      “Where are the copy editors?” all too often is “oh, we think proofreading and copyediting are the same thing, and there’s a spelling checker built in to the editing software, that’s all we need.” Or, less cynically, they can afford a local news reporter or a proofreader, but not both, and nobody buys a newspaper for the comma placement.

      I don’t like this, because I’m an underemployed editor and proofreader, but “they don’t care” often is “they care less about this than about X and Y that are in fact important.”

      1. londonedit*

        Absolutely. I did a bit of freelance work for a start-up magazine a few years ago, along with a couple of other people. We set things up for them and the first few issues were great, but after a few months they decided they’d got the hang of it all and wanted to use ‘undiscovered local talent’ to write their articles (i.e. they didn’t want to pay people to do it). They also decided to ‘bring the editing in-house’, which meant the marketing manager was doing it rather than professional editors. Unsurprisingly, the quality of the magazine suffered, but you can’t deny it was a hell of a lot cheaper for them to produce, and that’s what mattered more to them.

    14. NancyDrew*

      With all due…

      I work at a publishing house. You know the name. You love the products and books, I promise.

      We have entire departments dedicated to content — writing, production, editing, copyediting, design. And still, mistakes get made.

      Because the sheer volume of content is high, and people are busy, and budgets are tight. And, above all else, we are human.

    15. Observer*

      For example, if I’m thinking about buying a product or service and I see a glaring mistake in the description, I assume the way they do business is sloppy and they don’t care. Which, in turn, loses revenue for the company because I’m much less likely to buy their product or service. I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way. So it confuses me why the people who hire for these positions (and who should be hiring decent copy editors!) seems to just let is slide or not really care, because I see mistakes like this ALL THE TIME.

      It doesn’t seem to have occurred to you that many of the people who make the decisions what skill to hire have looked at this and decided that the cost / benefit ratio is not good enough to make it worthwhile. It also seems to not have occurred to you that even though you are not the only one who thinks this way, your reaction is FAR from universal. A huge proportion of people simply do not even notice these things. And in most cases, when they do it doesn’t matter to them unless there really are A LOT of them or are bad enough to interfere with their ability to understand or use the content.

      Look, there are a LOT of bad hiring practices out there. But when you see a consistent pattern of what people across many workplaces are hiring for, it behooves you to FIRST ask what you might be missing, NOT to assume that all hiring managers who hire writers stink at their jobs and don’t know how to prioritize.

      As long as you take that attitude you will NOT get a job. People do not want to hire folks who think they know better than everyone else how to run a business that they have never worked in. Especially when you don’t have relevant experience and you education is not really a great preparation either.

      I get that you are in a difficult situation. And certainly, the whole issue of not being able to get experience without experience is crazy-making. So, I’d suggest following the advice you are getting here. And lots of luck!

    16. Generic Name*

      I’m wondering if you aren’t having more success in your job search is because you say you are looking for writing jobs, and therefore you apply to writing jobs (regardless of field?) but all you are talking about is spelling and grammar, which is not the sum total of what writing is. Writing jobs aren’t interchangeable in that the writer’s background and education are irrelevant so long as the writer can produce text that does not contain typos. I do a vast amount of writing for my job. I am a scientist, and I write technical reports for regulators and sometimes the general public. But I’m not a marketer and I don’t do a very good job of writing in a compelling way to sell my company’s services. Both are writing, but my skills and experience are better suited for one and not the other. Even though I have about 10 years of experience as a technical writer, if I applied to a communications or marketing job, I wouldn’t even get a phone screen.

      My suggestion to you is consider changing the types of jobs you apply to, or rethink the approach to applications for the types of jobs you’ve been applying to without success. What you are doing now isn’t working, so you need to be flexible and change something. You can’t change hiring managers, but good news! You can change yourself.

    17. KayDeeAye*

      I am the managing editor for four publications (two print and two electronic). I am the only person on my small team whose job it is to produce these four publications. That is, people help me with some of the tasks associated with producing these publications…but it’s not their main job. Nonetheless, we do follow a pretty rigid editing process. Every single article in every single one of these publications is: edited by the writer, checked over by the primary source, edited by a copyeditor who isn’t the writer, reviewed by my boss, and edited a final time when the page it’s on is being proofread.

      And there are STILL errors. Not many, but some, because we’re all human and we all have maaaaaany other things that we need to be doing. Everybody who copyedits or proofreads for me has carved out time to do so – time that they could have used for the stuff that’s on their actual job descriptions. I am grateful each and every time they manage to catch an error, but…they are going to miss stuff! I am going to miss stuff. I hate that I do, but I do.

      And, Phoenix, when you are on the one doing the writing/editing, you will miss stuff too.

      I get that you’re discouraged. I would be discouraged, too, and I also share your habit of noticing every misuse of “literally,” every misplaced comma, every unnecessarily verbose sentence, every unnecessary capitalization, every extraneous apostrophe (apostrophes are not used to indicate plurals, people! cut that out!), all of it. But you will do yourself and your job hunt no good by assuming that everyone who allows an error is “half-assing” their jobs. It will make you miserable – yes, even more miserable than you are now.

      You’re trying to break into a field in which you don’t have much experience. That’s a fact. It definitely isn’t impossible – people with little experience get hired every day – but you don’t have much experience, and that means anyone who hires you is going to have to take a leap of faith. (I mean, hiring is always a leap of faith, but when you’re hiring someone without much experience, it’s an even greater leap of faith.) Asking people to take that leap while despising them won’t make you a happier person, and it won’t increase your chances of being hired, either. It will also pretty much guarantee that you’re unhappy even after your hired, BTW, because right now, I doubt that anybody can live up to your expectations.

      1. KayDeeAye*

        See there? I wrote “your” when I meant “you’re.” I hate it, but there it is. There will always be errors.

    18. DarnTheMan*

      I’ve left a few other comments about things you could try scattered about but the last point that I want to touch on is some of the attitude that is coming through in this comment and a few of your others. You’re frustrated and I completely understand that; I spent a year trying to break into the communications field before realizing I had to go back to school because I was lacking some of the core skills needed for a lot of communications jobs and despite my other skills and general pluck and can-do attitude, that wasn’t enough to convince people to hire me.

      But if any of this frustration is showing through in your cover letters/interviews/etc, it could very well be one of the reasons people are declining to hire you. Because if you think everyone who’s currently working in communications for a company is an idiot who can’t tell one end of the pencil from the other, how are you going to work with them if/when they become your colleagues – especially more senior ones, who you may just have to defer to, despite disagreeing with them? An anecdote from my own experience – two weeks after my director started, we got into a minor disagreement over a particular term; he thought the term was degrading towards those it was being used to describe, whereas I was coming from the perspective that this was a set medical/internationally recognized term that everyone in our field uses. In that case I technically ‘won’ by keeping the term in our publication but I didn’t rub his face in it, and had he decided in his capacity as my director that he wanted to use his preferred terminology, I would have swallowed my complaint, and gone and made the edit. As one of my mentors liked to say “feedback is like a gift; what you do with it is ultimately up to you” but this is one of those times where I truly do hope you take the feedback from Alison and the commenters in good faith, because you can learn a lot from it.

      1. Des*

        I’m adding my voice to this comment. While I don’t know how open LW2 is with people she interviews for/sends her info to, based on the discussion in this thread the attitude/negativity is coming across loud and clear. I would be very careful of how that carries across to people interviewing for the job.

    19. Djuna*

      I wrote a piece recently for work. It went through 6 different people for review before being handed off to our publishing team (who are usually great at spotting errors that get introduced along the way). There was a series of steps in the article, and one of them got cut at the eleventh hour, which meant that “skip to step 6” needed to become “skip to step 5”, and so on. No-one caught it until after it went live, but it was fixed as soon as someone did spot it.

      When you do collaborative review (in google docs or elsewhere) and you’re folding in comments, suggestions, and deletions, you can slip up. Things slip through the net. When you’re doing that under time pressure, because something somehow became pants-on-fire urgent, time to re-review is often a luxury you don’t have. As others have said above, errors get introduced along the way. This fixation on other peoples’ typos almost feels like a refusal to accept what people are telling you is a reality of many writing roles. Be like Elsa, and let it go.

      Listen to what people are telling you about tone and voice, and clarity and fluency. Pay attention to those who are talking about volume and pace, and the need to become a subject matter expert.

      I would also ask you to think really hard about how you will feel about being edited, because that matters a heck of a lot too. If you bristle at people presuming to tell you how to write a thing (or – gasp! – not caring that you had zero typos) then people are not going to want to work with you, and you’ll also miss out on opportunities to learn and improve your work. I’m bringing this up because you claim you could “write it correctly the first time for $15/hour”. That is a dangerous attitude, and one that would be a colossal red flag if so much as a hint of it came out in the interview process. Don’t sabotage yourself!

    20. Alianora*

      At my workplace (an administrative department of a university), things like website updates and newsletters are not written by copy editors or professional writers. It’s always people who have another primary job function.

      For instance, my coworker and I are updating a lot of the content on our website. My coworker isn’t great at grammar. She’s very organized and good at her job, but she doesn’t notice things like comma splices or subject-verb agreement. I try to proofread her work, but I’m not a professional writer either, so I’m sure I make mistakes too. And we both have full-time jobs on top of the extra work we’re doing, so it’s not our highest priority. Two of our coworkers are working on a newsletter, but again, writing is not their main function. It’s just a side project that someone has to do because our boss wants a newsletter.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if many of these mistakes you’re seeing come from workplaces like ours, where there are no copy editors on the staff.

    21. The Other Katie*

      I think part of the problem is that you may be over-focusing on the grammar and spelling mistakes you see, without understanding how the industry works. For example, editors aren’t “half-assing” their job if a book goes out with a typo in it, because editors aren’t copy-editors or proofreaders. You also need to consider that it would be very unusual for a company to lose enough business due to a dubious use of “literally” in their ad copy that it would make sense to hire you to catch those errors.

      Also consider that you may be over-correcting. One example is the term “literally”, which can be used, according to Merriam-Webster, in the following fashion:

      “In effect: VIRTUALLY – used in an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement or description that is not literally true or possible”

      The fact is, there’s more to being a paid writer, editor or copywriter than just grammar and spelling. You need to be able to work with language as it is actually used, to make a compelling argument, explain something clearly, or otherwise achieve a specific purpose. You seem very resistant to that idea, but it’s not going to make it any less true, or make any more of the now nearly non-existent proofreading jobs you seem to want appear. Maybe it’s time to start rethinking what you want from a career, focused less on your personal irritations and more on what is possible and desirable.

    22. Abby*

      You are very focused on grammar/editing over content&style. Pursue that, lean into your strengths (copy-editing skills) instead of the stuff that drives you crazy (i.e. the content of the article existing with typos).

  42. Lacey*

    OP 2: Part of your problem is that you’re hearing what’s important to employers and thinking it’s trivial. But if they’re telling you it’s important, it’s important! You would be better off finding out why it’s important.

    You have a blog and you’ve been working on your own marketing project, but that’s very different than working with a client and it almost certainly has not honed your work as well as working with clients would.

    I would recommend picking up some freelance writing gigs to build up your portfolio. Some friends of mine do this and it’s worked well for them (or helped them realized they actually hate that kind of writing). Some people even make a career out of just doing these freelance content articles.

    You’ll also want to do a lot of reading of the type of content you hope to write. If that’s trade publications, read trade publications, if it’s advertising, notice all the ads! What makes them good or bad? It isn’t the punctuation or spelling.

    Also, as someone who is not a writer, but who works with a ton of them, the worst ones are the ones who think every word they write is great and that nothing needs editing unless it’s grammar, spelling, or punctuation. You kind of come off as that kind of writer. Which doesn’t mean you are, but if you’re giving off that vibe, it will really hurt you.

    1. Phoenix*

      I’m just confused because I often hear or read about hiring managers complaining about the “skills gap” and “writing skills are lacking” and “college graduates these days are too lazy to write a grammatically correct sentence” and “too many new hires use automated spellcheck instead of proofreading their own work”. So I would think that, yeah, being able to spell correctly and write grammatically correct sentences are important skills that employers want and can’t seem to find. Personally, whenever I see mistakes like that, it looks unprofessional. Maybe it’s just a huge pet peeve of mine, but I certainly wouldn’t be hiring someone who doesn’t know or use basic language conventions correctly if I was in a position to do so.

      I also don’t think you quite understad what I’m trying to get at here. I do read plenty of copy that I hope to write, and such copy is engaging and gets the the reader’s attention, which I try to emulate. But that’s a moot point when the message is confusing or unclear because someone didn’t bother to proofread for correct grammar, for example.

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Phoenix, could you give some examples of the errors that you’re seeing?

        Because yes, if the grammar leads to a confusing message, that’s not good. But there are plenty of errors that wouldn’t cause that sort of confusion. And if you’re focusing too much on those minor errors, people may see that as a sign that what you value in your writing isn’t in alignment with what most companies value in their writing.

        1. Phoenix*

          I don’t nitpick spelling and grammar to employers when I apply. All I do is link my portfolio in my resume and when I email them or write a cover letter, I just talk about what my education and experience is, why I’m interested in the position, and how I might be able to help their company.

          What is confusing to me, ultimately, is the fact that employers demand certain skills or abilities when they hire candidates, but the people they have working for them do not seem to possess those same skills, or the employer doesn’t care that they people already working for them do not have them. So it turns into a situation where I’m really not sure what their expectations are. Almost every job listing I see for a writer or editor lists among their requirements (usually toward the top) “strong ability to write clear, error-free copy” or something similar to that, so I would assume that’s important to them. And that is what I demonstrate in the writing samples I give them. I will give them whatever they want. If they want a writing sample in a different voice or using a different style, I will sit down and write a new one and send it to them. But then they’ll reject me for things that weren’t even in the job lisitng (like requiring a degree in marketing when in the job listing it says “bachelor’s degree required” but doesn’t specify a field of study, or “bachelor’s degree in marketing, public relations, English, or journalism”, but then reject me for having a degree in English even when that was one of the degrees listed). Or they’ll ding me for using a sentence in passive voice that flows more naturally than a sentence in active voice, but then I’ll read articles from the same publication that are littered with passive voice.

          Here’s a good example of an error I can give you. A few days ago I was reading an article about a customer who had attacked an employee of a store because the customer refused to wear a mask. There were two employees involved, both female. One was a cashier and one was a manager who was called by the cashier. By the end of the article, it was unclear who was shot – the manager or the cashier.

          1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            Ok, so — it’s hard to gauge what sort of errors you’re bothered by with this example, because it doesn’t actually include any error the writer made, just the confusion you were left with. I can’t intuit if that’s because of the writing or the reading comprehension.

            I think with regards to the rejections, it sounds like you’re being a bit too rigid in your interpretations of requirements. Most job requirements are going to be deeply subjective. If a role requires strong skills in Excel, for example, that can mean any number of things. Companies will have very different standards on what ‘strong, error-free copy’ means. In addition, many orgs will have some default language they use, or the description will be drawn up by some HR person and not by the hiring manager.

            Of course they’ll want ‘error-free’ examples and they will probably read those quite closely, because those are a limited window they have into your work. But if someone has been working there for three years, producing copy everyday, they won’t expect everything to be a highly polished.

            You are unlikely to distinguish yourself from other applicants by focusing on your strong proof-reading skills (or, indeed, even strong writing skills). Instead you might benefit from focusing on other aspects of the role — collaboration, time management, ability to take/incorporate feedback, strong people skills with regard to managing the demands of internal clients — those are big selling points in my experience for many writing positions.

            1. Phoenix*

              The person who wrote the article kept referring to “her” but they weren’t saying who “she” was. I think that would confuse any reader.

              Can you give me some advice on how I can know what a company means in their job listing when they list requirements? I get the feeling that I need to be rigid in my interpretation for the requirements, because their requirements are already very narrow (or seem to be, anyway). Is there a way to tell what one company means when they want “strong, error-free copy” as opposed to the next company? Additionally, is there a way I can prove time management skills, for example?

              1. Allonge*

                I think it would be useful for you to read Alison’s advice on job-searching if you have not yet. You are looking for one magic trick to make it work and there is none – especially in a field like yours, especially in this job market, you can be really, really excellent and still not hired. It’s a question of luck.

                Proving time management skills: you completed X number of writing assignments on topics you are/are not familiar with within deadline with Z acceptance rate. You handled Y number of simultaneous assignments when there was time for Y-4 and delivered [result]. You correctly identified topics G, F and H as to be researched in advance of a larger writing assignment and followed them while managing your normal workload otherwise. You prioritised project C and renegotiated deadlines for projects S to achieve the best possible result. Time management is making the best compromises about what you use your available time for.

              2. Observer*

                The person who wrote the article kept referring to “her” but they weren’t saying who “she” was. I think that would confuse any reader.

                Except that it doesn’t sound like there is an error of grammar or punctuation, technically. Also, does it really matter who got shot? It is possible that the proofreader didn’t catch the problem because they already knew who was shot and so didn’t realize that other people would not see it the same way. Or it could be that the proofreader did not bother to fix the issue because it’s not really important WHO got shot, beyond the fact that it was a staff person not a customer.

                The narrower the requirements are the more important it is to be LESS rigid. But also, a general understanding of what people usually mean when they say certain things. Most hiring managers do NOT mean “the ability to produce 100% error free copy 100% of the time” when they say “strong ability to produce error free copy”. They know that this is not going to happen. Sure, there are exceptions, but even the one who actually expect that do not get it.

                There is also a WIDE difference between someone who can’t string together a grammatically correct pair of sentences and is totally dependent on spell check, which no one looking for someone who can write would tolerate, and someone with a near perfect record of error free copy. Smart hiring managers understand that.

                1. Beacon of Nope*

                  Also, does it really matter who got shot?

                  That’s an odd way to look at it. I would think it’s reasonable to expect a news article to make it clear who did what to whom.

                2. Observer*

                  @Beacon of Nope It’s not clear that this is a news article, though. For a news article it matters. If the article is about the kinds of violence that retail workers face, then the fact that it was an employee rather than a customer is the salient fact.

                  Which speaks to the idea that it really is important to know who you are addressing and what the real point of the piece is. Of course it would be better if it was clear WHICH staff person got shot. But when you are just trying to make the point that “people working the counter it this neighborhood are at risk” it’s not so crazy for someone to decide “Let’s just get this out the door.”

          2. Reba*

            Yeah, I hear the frustration about the stated versus unstated requirements. It sucks. These kinds of jobs are so competitive that often it’s like a lottery. They need some kind of reasons to reject a whole lot of applicants, so arbitrary cutoffs and yes, things that were not stated in the description will come up. You can do the writing, yes! And so can lots of other people. And maybe the people that currently work there can’t, and maybe they can but it’s actually not a high priority or whatever. There’s a lot that you can’t know from the applicant’s seat, and combing through the company’s written outputs is good preparation but can also turn into a kind of reading the tea leaves for meaning when there isn’t really any.

            It’s so, so hard, good luck to you!

          3. RagingADHD*

            Aha – I see some potential disconnects.

            Many people who hire for a skillset don’t have that skillset themselves. They either need someone to do it because they can’t, or they are managing a team of many different skills — their skill and primary focus are in directing the project or the department overall.

            The other disconnect is in desiring clean copy when you are seeing finished copy that isn’t perfectly clean. That’s because of the process involved between original copy and finished product. It’s going to go through several sets of hands, that may include an editor, project manager, internal client (like a department head), the marketing department, possibly the legal department, and the webmaster.

            Any and every one of those layers is an opportunity to introduce errors. They want the copy to start as clean as possible, so it will end with fewer errors overall.

            And if you’re looking to work inside an organization rather than for yourself, you’ll have to make peace with other people changing and creating errors in your work. It’s infuriating, but it’s part of the job.

      2. Cat Tree*

        Those skills are the bare minimum, not enough to make you the most competitive candidate.

        Frankly, the employers have told you exactly you need, which is more feedback than most rejected applicants get. There’s nothing vague here. If they want someone with a certain education and paid writing experience, you need to give them that if you want them to hire you. But you don’t want to hear that. Instead of dwelling on how they should have different requirements, focus your energy on meeting their existing requirements. They are allowed to decide what criteria they use to hire people.

        (P.S. It’s super exhausting to deal with nitpicky grammar police, even in a writing or editing context. So maybe lay off that a little, especially if the attitude is coming through in cover letters or interviews. The Level 0 skill that you need for employment is that your coworkers must be able to tolerate you during a typical work week.)

      3. Person from the Resume*

        I’m pretty sure that “writing skills are lacking” and “college graduates these days are too lazy to write a grammatically correct sentence” are generally said in reference to all students/people that age and not those trying to get a job as a writer, editor in particular.

        Typos are annoying but you seems to be taking any you find now as an affront to you since you’re job searching. I mean a typo in an email is just that a typo in an email. Those kinds of emails are not copyedited before they are sent out. I think you need to change your focus. Of course you are disappointed to be rejected. You’re in an extremely competitive field, but typos should not trigger thoughts in your head that say “I could do better, why didn’t these jerks not hire me because I would do a perfect job.”

        Thinking that you would never make mistakes and your work would be perfect seems unrealistic. Maybe something about that is coming across in interviews and concerning the interviewers. But realistically, you’re job hinting in a very tough economy for an extremely competitive field. You’re going to be rejected a lot simply because of the numbers.

        1. Phoenix*

          Sorry, but I would think that someone who’s paid to be a senior editor would naturally proofread just about anything they write for errors. You can say I’m nitpicking or maybe I’m just a perfectionist, but I almost always read anything I write (yeah, including these comments here) before I post it to be viewed by others. Part of this is a courtesy to others and part of it is I hold myself to certain standards. I do understand what you mean, but the problem I’m seeing is that I find errors very frequently. If it was once every now and then, fine. People make mistakes. But compare this to an industry where someone would need their numerical calculations to be correct, yet they hire someone who doesn’t bother to check their own work or even use a calculator? And it’s not just one or two people who make mistakes one or two times. It’s most people. So that really makes me wonder, why is it so hard to get a job, why do they demand so much but then don’t follow their own requirements? It’s like a double standard and it feels like they’re moving the goalposts (probably not intentional, but that’s certainly how it feels). I get that it’s a competitive industry – really, I do – but with the amount of poor writing I see, it doesn’t seem like it should be THAT competetive. Maybe I’m just missing the point.

          1. Casper Lives*

            Yes, I think you’re missing the point. Please read what the helpful, experienced commentators here are saying is important for the job. Let the SPAG go.

          2. Sylvan*

            Other people don’t share your preferences or timeline. Or they do, and things slip through the cracks. You’ve never held their jobs, so you don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes. You’re also getting hung up on having perfect SPAG when there are several skills that matter, and you really only need *good* SPAG.

            Look, I kind of get it. I don’t have your eye for detail or gift for catching mistakes, but I was taught to write in a very technically correct way growing up. My mom was an English teacher and my dad was a copyeditor. But I had to loosen up when I began working, and I think you might benefit from that, too. You’re going to be stressed out over your work.

          3. MCMonkeybean*

            I’m sure you know that it is easier to catch someone else’s mistake than to catch your own because you know what you meant to say. That’s ultimately always going to be a big part of why you find typos in other people’s stuff. At the end of the day you really need to try to just stop caring about that. It sounds like you are driving yourself crazy and focusing on all the wrong things.

          4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

            Senior editors are dealing with things like acquisitions and schedules. Those are different skills than proofreading, and even when the senior editor has those skills, proofreading isn’t a good use of their time. Or they’re doing developmental editing: there’s no point fiddling with the grammar is you’re telling the writer that a third of this chapter needs to go, and making suggestions on how to fix something else.

            Separate from that, some very good professional editors and writers can’t proofread their own, or anyone’s, work because they’re dyslexic.

          5. anon for this today*

            Hey, I’m a senior data scientist and in emails that aren’t company-critical I don’t really check my numbers. Sure, I try to be right, but it’s not really the numbers that matter in a lot of situations. I was hired for my ability to take in esoteric subject-matter knowledge and translate it into a model that is directionally accurate.

            1. LDN Layabout*

              ‘Around 250’ – quick analysis done for a colleague and communicated over Teams.

              Same analysis when it’s for senior leadership to take into a meeting with government and partner organisations? Source data, methodology, and copy/pasting into the email get triple-checked and QA from another team member.

          6. Allonge*

            I think you are missing the point. No company will pay you and another person to do your job. They don’t actually want perfect copy, nobody can afford that. They want somebody who will write about their product, on time, with reasonable quality. The rest is corporate speak.

            And all due respect: your frustration comes through loud and clear. They also don’t want somebody who cannot live with having some mistakes, and will always point them out.

            I have a dear friend and a colleague who have what looks like your brand of perfectionism. They are both a pain to work with. Companies don’t want that either.

          7. KHB*

            “Sorry, but I would think that someone who’s paid to be a senior editor would naturally proofread just about anything they write for errors.”

            I am someone who is paid to be a senior editor, and I can tell you that you’re wrong about this. Of course I do my best – and I’ve been told that I’m better at grammar than most people are – but sometimes my fingers type things wrong. Or I forget whether our style guide dictates that something like “biointerfacing” is supposed to be hyphenated or not. Or I edit a sentence one too many times and end up garbling it. And all of that is okay, because that kind of perfection is not what I’m paid for. For writing that gets published for real, we have copy editors and proofreaders to catch things like that. For casual emails and internet comments, they just don’t get caught. That’s life.

            I get that you’re frustrated, but you’re being told over and over again that the particular type of perfection you’re trying to bring to the table is not what employers actually value – at least not in the types of positions you’re looking for. No amount of being mad about it is going to change that fact.

          8. Annony*

            I think you are underestimating the amount of time it takes to proofread every single thing you write. Proofreading a rejection email to an applicant is not a good use of their time. Proofreading most emails isn’t a good use of their time. They likely have so much on their plate that something has to give. Producing more content is just more important than making sure the previous things they wrote are perfect. You may need to consider whether you would be able to give a little on your standards if necessary because you may be coming across as too rigid.

          9. Lore*

            I say this not to nitpick but to make it very, very clear how hard this is, and how things like autocorrect and buggy CMS interfaces and the imperfect markup tools in Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Word make it even harder: you have had errors that leap out at me (a professional editor/copy editor) in every post you’ve made here. I am 100 percent certain I have too. It makes me twitchy when I catch myself doing it, and it makes me twitchier when I see this sort of thing in the wild, but I have enormous sympathy and understanding for how it happens. When I collate multiple sets of marked proofs, I’m double and triple checking my work, and yet I mess things up that only get noticed in the next round. It’s an inherently imperfect science, because there’s just. so. much. data in a single printed page. If every character provides an opportunity for error, there’s 3,500 shots per page to get something wrong.

            And at the same time–I have vetted a lot of freelance editors in my job. No one gets 100 percent on our tests, and I’m going to be a lot more comfortable with the person who misses mechanical things that I can train or remind them about than the person who can’t hear the author’s voice and flattens style in pursuit of correctness. One recommendation: when you see something that strikes you as poor, take a step back and look at the broader picture. Find other articles by the same writer, or other pieces of content from the same company. If you see the same “error” consistently across multiple pieces of content, maybe it’s actually house style–whether you think that’s a good idea or not! If a writer’s work seems more polished at one outlet than another, that probably means outlet 1 slashed their copy desk more than outlet 2. But even if everything continues to seem inexcusably terrible to you, you’re learning valuable things about the contextual boundaries of acceptable writing–maybe “error-free” means “free of factual errors that will get us sued,” not grammatically perfect. You’re learning which brands value tone/voice more than spelling–again, whether you like that or not, it’s helpful.

            1. Phoenix*

              What? I’m reading. People are telling me to take their advice and quit “arguing”, which is what people accuse me of when I reply. Do I reply or not? If I don’t say anything it’s assumed that I’m ignoring them. If I answer with a question or ask for clarification or try to have a discussion, they tell me I’m arguing. What should I do? If I do one thing it’s wrong. If I do the opposite of the thing, it’s still wrong.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Sorry for not being clear — I meant that professional writers and editors keep explaining to you why you shouldn’t be focusing on spelling and grammar and why many of your assumptions about how things work in those jobs are wrong, but you don’t seem to be absorbing those comments. (It’s actually why I later suggested you plan to come back and re-read the comments in a few days, when they might hit you differently.)

                1. Phoenix*

                  I hear that loud and clear, but I’m not sure what they want me to say. I’m trying to figure out how I could make myself a better applicant by following their advice. Should I just throw out spelling and grammar altogether? I’ve been told by people in the industry that they like my content, they like the topics I write about, they like how it’s presented, they say it’s interesting and engaging, and so on and so forth. If I’m getting that feedback but ultimately not getting the job because I don’t have enough experience or I don’t have a specific degree they didn’t originally ask for, what else can I do to make myself a better applicant? The people commenting here say this is what they want, but how do I get that? If the problem is not enough experience, how do I get the experience? Again, I can’t go back in time and be an undergraduate again to put 5 internships on my resume. It seems that most of the people commenting here think that all I care about is spelling and grammar, which is not the case. I do think it’s very important, and apparently I was wrong to think that good content AND good grammar are what employers are looking for, rather than good content alone.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  People think that because you keep complaining about spelling and grammar in your comments here.

                  Again, I suggest coming back to the comments in a few days and reading them fresh.

              2. anonymous 5*

                To be as gentle about this as I can be, your tone has been pretty combative, sarcastic, and entitled in a lot of your comments here, which is likely to be why you’re getting recommendations to stop arguing.

                From your comments here, it really sounds to me as though you’re hung up on superficial things and ignoring content (both in your approach to job applications and your commentary here). If you hold a writing-intensive degree, then I would hope that you learned somewhere along the line that the content is always key–even if you’re also being graded on spelling/grammar/syntax/punctuation in particular courses. Good writing goes so much deeper than the things that you keep emphasizing, and I know for my own part I wouldn’t trust that you actually understood that if I came across a similar tone in an application.

                1. Phoenix*

                  I would really appreciate it if you read my other comments where I say I DON’T think the most important thing is spelling and grammar and I DO think the content is very important, instead of putting words in my mouth and making assumptions. But I’m sure you’ll just come back and saying I’m being sarcastic and combative again. And again for saying that. And again for saying that.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Okay — I’ve suggested this a few times but now I’m requiring it: Step away from the comments for today. You are at the point where you are arguing with people who are trying to help you, and this is no longer constructive. I hope you will come back and re-read in a few days or a month or whenever you’re up for it. But continuing to post new replies here is not useful and you’re becoming combative with people who are trying to help you, so please step away for now.

          10. Paris Geller*

            I think you’re missing the point, and I’m trying to saying this is kindly as possible–you’re really digging your heels in and I think that’s probably coming across in your applications and interviews.

            I graduated in 2013 with a BA in Professional Writing, and I was never able to land a writing job. I had done all the “right” things. I had clips, great letters of recommendation, plenty of soft skills experiences (I had a leadership role in a club on campus, for example, and was an editor on my school’s literary journal). Eventually I figured out that I didn’t necessarily want a writing job and now I’m in libraries, though my writing experience has undoubtedly help me.

            I’m sure you’ll find errors in this comment, because I won’t be proofreading it. I’m writing it on a quick break at work before I go back to my other crucial tasks. While I’m not employed as a writer and decided it wasn’t what I want, I do feel sympathy for your position, because that’s how I felt for a year. I applied to every single possible job, and would get so discouraged when I was rejected for what seemed like the smallest things. Now, I’ve been on the other side of the hiring table, albeit in a different industry, and I have so much more insight into all those failed applications.

            Being a good writer isn’t enough. Like others have mentioned, a writing job isn’t just a writing job–all jobs require some sort of soft skills. You may indeed have those! But so do many other people. Now, I will say it definitely sounds like a lot of these companies could do a better job at being accurate at describing what they want or need–and that’s frustrating! But at the end of the day, you can’t control how they advertise their open positions. You can only control your reactions, and your reactions right now tell me that employers are probably picking up on your frustration, which is never a good look in the time when most people are on their best, most professional behavior.

            1. Phoenix*

              This is what my emails to companies look like when I apply to a position. I am copying and pasting an email I sent from a few weeks ago for an entry level position. They said they required a degree in marketing, public relations, OR English and 1 year of experience preferred (identifying info removed):

              “Good Morning,

              My name is [First Last] and I am very interested in the Junior Copywriter position at [Company Name]. I have a bachelor’s degree in English from [University Name] and I have worked on independent writing projects over the last two years, including a blog dedicated to advertising local businesses in [City Name]. I am eager to take the next step toward my career as a marketing writer and I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak with you about this position.

              Thank you for reading and reviewing my resume. Have a good week.”

              My cover letters use the same tone, but flesh out the specific skills I have and how I might be a good match for the position. That’s fine if you don’t think the correspondence is convincing them that they should talk to me or if I am somehow otherwise unfit for the role, but what about it is betraying my frustration to the employer? Please tell me, I would love the opportunity to fix it.

              1. CheeryO*

                I think that the commenters who are bringing up that point are assuming that you’re getting interviews or at least phone screens where the interviewer might be able to pick up on the vibes that a defensive, frustrated person gives off. (No shade – I have been that person in the past, and I wish I had a do-over on more than one interview.) If you’re not getting any responses to your applications, that’s a good indication that you need to adjust your approach.

              2. Bette Davis Eyes*

                Honestly? That’s a very generic, vague cover letter and it could be the reason why you’re not getting more callbacks.

                Cover letters are the place to show your individuality, your skills, you accomplishments, what you personally could bring to the table that distinguishes you from Applicant #304.

                And look, I know cover letters are the worst. I HATED writing cover letters when I was job searching (I working in publishing now) and it took me time to figure out a good template that 1) highlighted my skills with specific examples (“As a personal assistant, I did X, Y, Z”) and 2) could be quickly tailored to a specific posting (“As a personal assistant, I did X, Y, Z and proved I could multitask/have excellent organization skills/successfully implement new initiatives/build social media engagement/etc.”

                I hope you can take a breather and come back to these comments because there is some good advice from people in the fields you want to be in. I know the job search can be frustrating and feel hopeless but no one here wants you to give up. They just want you to realize the obstacles you’re putting in front of your self.

                For example, I just pulled up one of my old cover letters and I have a paragraph where I talked about a blog that I contributed to, and had a line like ” I helped contribute content for social media postings for [BLOG NAME] and created the weekly feature [CHEESY HASHTAG] and as a result, our follower count on Instagram increased by 20%.” (And to add, increasing the followers from 20% was just adding 20 new followers, not like I single-handedly brought in a million likes and follows.) That’s much more interesting for a hiring manager to read versus “I wrote for [BLOG NAME] for X years.”

              3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Oh my goodness — this right here is a big thing you can fix. Please, please read the cover letter advice on this site; your cover letters should have a lot more content than that, should not simply summarize your resume, and are the place where you can make a case for yourself as a candidate. That is especially crucial in two situations:
                (1) When you don’t have a lot of experience and need to explain why you’d be great at the job anyway
                (2) WHEN YOU ARE APPLYING FOR A WRITING JOB (!) because the cover letter will function as the first sample they see of your writing skills.

                You are in both these categories. You absolutely will not get interviews with a bare bones letter like this. You must revamp it. Literally, when reviewing hundreds of applicants for a writing job, this letter would be a deal breaker for almost anyone, but especially for a candidate without direct experience.

                (And not for nothing — but if you haven’t read up on making your cover letter more effective, I’m thinking the same may be true of your resume too, so please read my resumes stuff as well. It will help.)

              4. Tussy*

                It’s the “independent writing projects” that jumps out to me. It sounds a little like you could be half way through a hobby novel and doesn’t necessarily say that the projects are applicable. That and the English degree comes across as inexperience and like you underestimate what is required or what the job is (even if you don’t – that’s just how it comes across). I think you should try to get some published writing (there are online publications where you can submit) and some freelance work (things via Upwork or similar where your blog will be a bigger selling point than on a resume) and then you can point to that instead of independent work.

              5. Des*

                I’m not in this field, and I don’t have much experience in cover letters because my field doesn’t employ them much (tech), but the first thing that jumps out at me is this:

                You are saying that you have at least once been rejected from a job because your bachelor’s degree is in an incorrect area. Then in your cover letter you are emphasizing that you have a bachelor’s degree in English. Maybe you need to reconsider having that as the second line in your cover letter, because that makes it sound like this is something you want to highlight, when it might in fact be removing your from consideration.

                People who are briefly scanning your email/cover letter are going to read the first 1-2 sentences and will already be making judgement about you. (Just like interviewers will evaluate you in the first 15 seconds they see you in person). Your opening should be strong, so that they want to read sentence number 3.

                I may be totally off-base here, but if I were in your shoes I would restructure this to emphasize the things they are looking for (which is not a degree in English, it sounds like!)

          11. Rose*

            Another editor chiming in (developmental with a background in copy, in a niche academic field). I used to have the same mindset as you when I started copy editing. It’s so satisfying to comb over a document until it’s perfect, it really is, but it’s not the most important thing. When I’m thinking about who I want copy editing my authors’ manuscripts, nine times out of ten I would prefer the editor who can respect and enhance my authors’ technical terminology but misses a comma or two over the editor who can produce grammatically flawless writing but makes changes that sound nice but dilute the authors’ original meaning. And others have brought up time. I’ve worked with one exceptional copy editor who was TOO meticulous; he took forever to produce his work, and his queries were so pedantic that the authors needed to devote way too much time to answering them.

            And on the writer side, in terms of which authors I can’t wait to work with again, I’m ranking the author who’s riddled with grammatical errors but writes brilliant, accessible, elegant prose WAY above the author whose writing is technically perfect but doesn’t have the right tone or depth of information. Most readers will be coming to the book/article for the substance, not the form, and that’s much more important to nail.

            I want to gently ask you to think about one of your statements: “I hold myself to certain standards.” Standards have to serve a purpose. With spelling and grammar, the purpose of standardization is generally to ensure comprehension, right, but this then depends on the readership and the purpose of the text. Some text will be aimed at readers who find that spelling and grammar errors really affect their experience with the text. Other text will be crafted for readers who are looking for the content of the piece more than the form. You need to have different standards tailored to your current goal. Higher standards are not necessarily better standards. E.g., if I have half an hour to write a job posting, it’s probably more important to use that time to convey the details of the job than to proofread my writing. It drives me nuts to leave in what I consider substandard work, it really does, but in a time-limited setting like writing and editing, your standards have to reflect your priorities just as much as the other way around. Learning to let it go saves a lot of anxiety.

          12. TL -*

            Ah, I write professionally and my comments here are consistently so badly written that I wonder if people think I’m lying about my job. And the more writing I do for a living, the less I care about well-crafted comments on a blog (minus topics that I really care about communicating well, which are fairly rare.)

            1. KHB*

              For what it’s worth, I feel the same way (on both counts). Part of it is that I’ve made so many ridiculous typos over the years that they just don’t embarrass me anymore.

            2. Phoenix*

              I think the difference is whether what you write is reflecting on the company or not. This is an anonymous comment section and no one’s getting paid to comment. No one is representing the company or client they work for by commenting (I hope). There is no risk of losing money for a company by commenting here. Typos in these types of environments are common and expected. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but in this is completely different than correspondence with clients or the public on behalf of a company (in my opinion, anyway, which apparently counts for nothing and everyone else’s comments count for everything, which is fine. Really. That’s okay. I’m an idiot, I know. But I’m wrong for saying that, too.)

              1. Observer*


                It’s time for you to stop reading comments. Seriously. You are NOT listening to people. And you sound like a child throwing a tantrum.

                I don’t believe that you ARE a child throwing a tantrum, but your response does speak to the fact that you are NOT taking what people say on board.

                So, the question is what do you want here? Do you want actionable advice to improve your chance of getting a writing job? Or do you want validation that you would be perfect at all of these jobs and the world is populated by hiring managers who are disrespectful incompetents? If the latter, you might as well stop wasting your time. Because you are not going to get that here.

                If you DO want actionable advice, come back in a day or two when you are a bit less sore. Come back with the knowledge that you are in for an unpleasant experience, but REALLY think about what people are telling you.

                People are NOT telling you whether you “matter”. They are telling you what is necessary for the jobs you want. And the reality is that these people DO know more about those jobs than you do! So really LISTEN to what is being said here and try to figure out if you want to / can adapt to the actual needs of these jobs rather than what you have always thought those jobs need.

                It’s not an easy thing. I really do sympathize. But if you want to have a shot at success, this is necessary.

              2. KHB*

                I’m not saying you’re an idiot. I am saying that I know more than you do about a position that I’ve held for the past 14 years and you haven’t.

              3. biobotb*

                Truly, the typos you’re spotting are not likely to be losing the companies any more money than the font they use (some people really care about fonts). I sincerely recommend finding some way to unclench about this. And to also stop taking the typos you see so personally–they’re not making them in order to rub your nose in the fact that you, a grammar/spelling perfectionist, did not get the job. They’re making them because they’re human.

            3. TL -*

              Honestly, if I have a typo in an email, as long as it’s still clear and understandable, nobody really cares. (unless it’s asking when the machines are going to start f*cking again, in which case, it’s getting memorialized as the best typo ever.)

              The hardest part of my job is explaining the science correctly. I can do that. I can do that really, really well. I can also write institute-wide communications that get read (or at least skimmed) by 90%+ of the recipients. Yes, my boss would prefer those be absolutely perfect, but since she has to make a choice – she’d rather my skillset with mistakes than someone who has perfect grammar and spelling without my skills.

          13. Observer*

            You can say I’m nitpicking or maybe I’m just a perfectionist, but I almost always read anything I write (yeah, including these comments here) before I post it to be viewed by others.

            Which is fine. But what you seem to be missing is that for many COMPETENT editors, that is not necessarily a good use of time. Saying “well I’m just nitpicky” or “I’m just a perfectionist” does not strengthen your case. Quite the reverse, in fact!

            Yes, some times perfectionism is useful. But more often than not, it gets in your way.

            So that really makes me wonder, why is it so hard to get a job, why do they demand so much but then don’t follow their own requirements

            The thing is that you are asking the wrong question. You are simply misunderstanding the requirements. There are places where 100% accuracy is necessary. There are others where it is most definitely NOT.

            What concerns me is that you are seeing this pattern of practice and instead of realizing that this is a reflection of the needs of the job, you think that people are being bad managers, not understand the needs of the jobs they are hiring for and generally just not bothering to meet their own requirements.

            Sure, if YOU send an email, resume, cover letter or writing sample with an error, you WILL get dinged. That’s not hypocrisy. That is recognition that you are trying to put your best foot forward *and* that this is much more limited that what most writers are dealing with. So if you couldn’t manage to get your work completely error free in that context, they have some reason to fear that under the pressure of a normal workday it will be a disaster.

          14. LQ*

            You’re really overly focused on this one requirement and it seems like you’re saying that if 100% of stuff that you see isn’t perfect then they don’t care about this requirement or any requirements. Which is a really black and white way of thinking about it.

            It may horrify you but people in the financial sector make mistakes too. Even when you set up tools built to check you. You still screw it up. It happens more than people would like to think. It happens everywhere. Job requirements aren’t 100% perfection, they are have that skill because we know you are a human and you’ll make that error on the job, so we want you to start out at a fairly good spot so you aren’t like LQ who can’t really be bothered enough to try most days. Writing to a deadline is likely way more important. Writing to the audience. Quick turn around, high volume. Those are where the skills are going to come in. If you are really excellent at distilling complex ideas, then there is a whole world of other jobs that aren’t writing jobs but where good writing skills are cherished.

            The other thing is, you don’t want a job that fires everyone for every little mistake. You really don’t, that’s a deeply, toxic environment.

          15. oranges & lemons*

            One thing that may not be obvious from the outside is that even for a professional copy editor, it is possible to be overly focused on precise grammar. My company has had to let some freelancers go in the past because they were so rigidly focused on absolute precision that they were either: 1) annoying the heck out of authors, 2) destroying the author’s natural style, and/or 3) taking forever to turn around any work.

            1. Lore*

              Totally. I said this elsewhere, but I can train or give feedback on fine points of grammar or consistency lapses. But if you can’t see that you’ve flattened tone or changed connotation when you’re “correcting,” then I can’t let you near a manuscript.

          16. Sparkles McFadden*

            I am just going to go ahead and say this outright:

            Even if you are 100% correct in everything you have written here, being right about that does not get you a job. Stop trying to figure out why people who are “half-assing it” have gotten a job. Broaden your job search. Look at adjacent careers. The only part of this you can control is YOU.

            This is what work is. Being the person who wants to be proven right results in people not wanting you on the team.

          17. biobotb*

            Trust me, if you were actually hired to do any of these jobs, you (yes, even you!) would accidentally produce copy with typos and grammatical errors occasionally. Right now you’re not working on the same deadlines and under the same workload as these people are, so it’s easy to judge their mistakes. But you would make them, too.

            And, it’s not a double standard. They need people who are generally good at spotting errors because then they’ll only have minimal errors, not the egregious number of errors that they’d had if they hired someone naturally sloppy. But there will always be errors.

      4. Lacey*

        Well, some of it may be that, while irritating to be without, those proof reading skills aren’t actually the essential parts of the job. Most places you’re going to have one to twelve people proofing your work (depending on it’s importance) so if you’re a delightful writer, but you’re a terrible speller… not the end of the world.

        Now, if it’s totally garbled, that’s something else. I do know someone who fired a copy-writer for writing unintelligible sentences and just not being able to figure out how to fix them. But the complaints sounds like more run-of-the-mill, “Susie always type ‘there’ instead of ‘their’ and spell check doesn’t catch it” stuff.

        And in that case, it may be more important that Susie writes well and also has a lot of knowledge about social media, marketing norms, and works really well with the company’s graphic designer. Those things outweigh the spelling mistakes and besides other people should be catching them when they proof.

        I’ll also say, I think copy-writers are super undervalued by a lot of companies, so you end up with scenarios where the graphic designers write the copy so they don’t need to hire a writer or they have a writing team, but the CEO overrides their recommendations. Which are some reasons why you may be seeing error riddled copy and also part of why it’s so hard to get a job in the writing field.

      5. oranges & lemons*

        Hmm, it sounds like you may have an unrealistically low opinion of the people you’re up against for these job postings. Chances are that you’ll be competing against people who have some kind of experience that gives them an edge, even for entry-level positions–likely extensive freelance writing or even in-house writing work. And from an employer’s perspective, the demonstrated ability to turn around a piece quickly or write to an assigned topic or generate tons of good ideas is probably going to be a much bigger factor than how pristine their portfolio pieces are. (And it’s possible that their portfolio pieces are written with flawless grammar too!)

        In general, in a highly competitive field, it’s safer to assume your competition is really good and bring yourself up to that level, rather than assuming your competition is weak and hiring managers don’t know what they’re looking for, which is a recipe for frustration.

      6. Tinker*

        The “college graduates these days are too lazy to write a grammatically correct sentence” thing ties into something I’ve been musing about a bit lately, and possibly it will be helpful to you too.

        When I was a child and well into my young adulthood, I was very invested in being a Good Kid and avoiding the fate that justly awaited the Bad Kids, and I tended to take statements like the examples you give fairly literally and seriously — that there were many kids these days who lacked discipline and attention to detail and practical life skills etc etc etc, and that I needed to both purge myself of such weakness and pay strict attention to acting in a way that would display my virtue so that the aged sages who were dispassionately contemplating my every move would go “aha, that is a Good Kid upon whom we shall bestow blessings” and I wouldn’t be unemployable.

        I can now tell you, having gotten to the point where these supposed sages are my approximate peers, that they are full of it. The “kids these days” stuff is essentially nervous chatter meant to make the speaker feel good about themselves and their situation in life — that they are ‘better’ than they were when they were younger, that they were ‘better’ when they were younger than people who are younger now, that ‘better’ definitely isn’t ultimately an arbitrary concept, and that bad things only happen to people who are in some way not ‘better’. Which is all, well, not exactly true.

        Unfortunately, this means that it is impossible to be a Good Kid. Fortunately, that means you are free to do all manner of The Weird Stuff that Good Kids are not allowed to do, should you want to. It also means that if things are difficult for you now, that is not a thing that reflects your value as a person or negates the fact that you have worked hard to develop these particular skills you have.

        However, reasonably, the question arises: “that’s cool pal but how do I get hired for jobs that pay money so I can live indoors?” and, while I don’t wish to oversimplify what is increasingly becoming a hard problem, thus far I have found that “when in doubt, prioritize being useful over being correct” is a guideline that seems to contribute to luck eventually breaking in your direction. People mostly aren’t thinking about you, they’re thinking about the problem they want solved, and if you are there with a convenient solution they will probably rewrite their ladder of virtue on the spot to put you in the top position.