What a former college instructor really thinks…

Letter from HR: The Impotence of an English Major

Dear Applicant,

We were not happy to recieve your application for position UNUD666 – Writing Supervisor, and we are kind of sorry to inform you that you are not qualified.  We said that you have to have a degree in english and you don’t have one.  Having that degree is the only way to become an expert in writing and grammer.  Everyone in HR majored in HR and we know for a fact that you can’t have skills you didn’t study in college.  Its offensive that you think you can supervise our writing.  We have a talented english person in our office who proof reads all of our e-mails and and websites.   You can’t do the job as well as him.




This post kicks off my new series on the joys of job searching.  I never received the above letter, but it resembles the attitudes and errors I am slowly getting used to.  Lots of English majors can’t write effectively because their professors were more concerned with filling their classrooms (a.k.a. keeping their jobs) and preaching on politics.  I’ve seen plenty of English majors who could not write nearly as well as their counterparts in other subjects.  Meanwhile, I’ve seen plenty of talented writers at WordPress and elsewhere who could never hope to obtain a writing job because they didn’t major in the “correct” subject.

And all of this begs a few simple questions: if HR personnel often can’t recognize correct grammar and spelling, what happens to the requirement that a resume be completely error-free?  Do job applicants have to guess what errors the HR worker thinks is proper English?  How often is correct grammar labeled as incorrect, causing a perfectly good application to land in the circular file?

6 responses

  1. J

    I recently had to go through the infamous modern “job search” and it is possibly the singular most frustrating experience of my life. The attitude that “you can’t do X unless you majored in X in college” is pervasive and ridiculous.

    While I haven’t graduated with a bachelor’s degree (I have around half the credits needed) I have learned that the only thing a college degree guarantees is that one can adequately jump through hoops.

    I hope you don’t have to go through the job hunt for too long; good luck!

    July 8, 2011 at 8:24 pm

  2. Thanks.

    One of these days, I will have to run a feature on companies that seem to understand what job applicants bring to the table. I suppose I’ll do that just as soon as I don’t have to worry about being crowded out by the competition…

    July 8, 2011 at 9:10 pm

  3. Employers either can’t be bothered to evaluate job applicants or don’t know how to, so it’s easier to resort to credentialism (itself meaningless when schools don’t bother to teach anymore) to get the job done, which is merely one more of many insane practices in corporate and business life.

    I made the mistake once of correcting an employment test that was embarrassingly chock full of errors. Writing test questions that don’t give away the answers is tricky, but this test was really pathetic, and yes, I did find myself second guessing what the desired answer was rather than the correct one.

    July 9, 2011 at 4:11 pm

  4. Yeah, that sounds so familiar.

    I think George Carlin had it right when he said that he wasn’t angry about the 10% (or whatever) of people who were unemployed. Instead, he was angry because of all the idiots who have jobs.

    July 9, 2011 at 8:45 pm

  5. Too true. Not even for graduate level jobs. Ive just been looking for summer work, it seems you have to have previously been a professor to work in a supermarket these days…

    July 12, 2011 at 3:38 am

  6. Nah. If you had been a professor, they’d think you are overqualified and would walk out as soon as something else comes along. To work in a supermarket, you need at least 15 years of experience of stocking shelves. And the shelf-stocker job will remain vacant until they find someone who has 15 years even though there are lots of people who can do the job who have never stocked a shelf.

    July 12, 2011 at 11:37 am

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