M.B.A. Recruiters' No. 1 Pet Peeve: Poor Writing and Speaking Skills

So say recruiters in the Wall Street Journal’s career site:

"It is staggering the frequency of typos, grammatical errors and poorly constructed thoughts we see in emails that serve as letters of introduction," says Mr. Aisenbrey. "We still see a tremendous amount of email from students who are writing to the recruiter like they are sending a message to a friend asking what they are doing that evening."

It’s a balancing act: while you want to maintain some level of professionalism in communications, you also don’t want to bounce to the other extreme which is MBA jargon-speak.

If I think of the evolution of my own writing style, it started with casual, IM kind of talk (not good), then when I started my business I bounced to the lawyerly / ultra professional tone (also not good), and now I strive for somewhere in the middle: casually authoritative.

I write as if I’m wearing jeans and a collared shirt, not a ripped t-shirt and shorts, or tuxedo and bow tie.

5 Responses to M.B.A. Recruiters' No. 1 Pet Peeve: Poor Writing and Speaking Skills

  1. Chris Yeh says:

    Ultimately, except for the tortured syntax of specific specialties (the legal profession, scientific papers, literary criticism), writing is writing.

    The best book on this is Zinsser’s classic:
    link to amazon.com

    My favorite quote from this book is: “Leave myriad for poets and their ilk, and leave ilk for whoever will take it.”

  2. Dave Jilk says:

    It is an error to think of jargon as the opposite of casual writing. Formality is the opposite of casual writing, normally including fully proper grammar and usage as well as politeness, and never any jargon.

    Jargon is essentially a foreign language. In a (good) hotel or restaurant located where many languages are spoken, the desk clerks will begin speaking in the local tongue and then switch as soon as you begin speaking another language. Similarly with jargon, you leave it up to the “customer” whether to use it or not; as soon as he/she does, you feel free to do so as well, but until then you assume that the exchange is to be conducted in English. I should point out that English itself contains no acronyms.

    I like your clothing analogy. When I am sending a “cold” message to someone, if they are not particularly “high ranking” I write as though I’m wearing chinos and a buttondown shirt; usually their relaxed response brings me to language that is closer to the jeans and collar you use. If the person is particularly high-ranking, I’ll probably throw on a blazer… but never a suit, because that means I’m a lawyer or a salesman, and then they won’t want to talk to me. The tux, as in clothing, is reserved for social occasions, such as formal thank-you notes or invitations.

    By the way, there was a time when Mr. Aisenbrey’s quote (“… from students who are writing to the recruiter like they are sending a message to a friend …”) would have been considered questionable grammar (“like” is a preposition, not a conjunction). See the Winston ad.

  3. Dave Jilk says:

    I almost missed it: Mr. Aisenbrey also uses “they” as a singular pronoun (the second usage – “what *they* are doing tonight).

    Two grammatical errors in a quote about grammar: apparently he is of the “do as I say, not as I do” school.

  4. Rob says:

    “I write as if I’m wearing jeans and a collared shirt, not a ripped t-shirt and shorts, or tuxedo and bow tie.”

    What about a tuxedo t-shirt? It says I want to be formal, but I’m here to party.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Dave Jilk: That’s not a grammatical error if you interpret the sentence to mean that multiple students worked on a single letter that asks what the senders are doing.

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