First Impressions and Letter Writing

A few months ago I watched an increasingly tedious exchange of comments on Twitter between people in the publishing world about the ‘hilarious’ things they had received by way of approaches by writers seeking their assistance.  Many of them seemed far from comical to me, in fact they more had the tone of one professional person introducing themselves to another;  for example sending some information and enquiring when it might be convenient to call to follow up, had them all squawking in exaggerated horror, at the audacity of someone who didn’t understand the proper role of the supplicant.

The temptation to tell them to stop reinforcing the impression of mean spirited, self importance was very strong; but fortunately passed.

I, too, at various times in my career, have been in the position of being the gatekeeper, usually for people applying for jobs. When faced with an enormous pile of applications you have to sift through them as quickly as possible, eliminate the obviously unsuitable and spend more time on the ‘possibles’.  In those circumstances spelling mistakes, green ink, block capitals, incomplete application forms and sheets torn out of exercise books would all go straight in the rejection pile.  Only when the pile had been whittled down would I read about experience and qualifications.

It’s being in a position of power, to have something that a surfeit of other people want, that allows us to be so discriminating, and so easily dismissive of those who don’t quite obey whatever idiosyncratic rules we have set for the particular competition.

I always thought though that it was a legitimate test in the context of the business world in which I was operating.  Our business was the provision of advice for which people paid, and on which they relied.  The least we could do was make it look as good as we could.

I thought about this last week when I received an unexpected letter from my doctor.  If it had been the covering letter for a job application it would not have survived the first cut: on a scruffy piece of paper, the surgery address was clearly applied with a skew-whiff rubber stamp using insufficient ink, and the body of the letter was too far up the page.  Yet because we are all supplicants when faced with the medical profession, instead of ignoring it, I had to respond to it.

Maybe I attach too much importance to appearance of the letter; it’s not necessarily a reflection of their medical competence. Is it?

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  1. I think if your doctor had sent a handwritten letter, it might also have been illegible. Or eligible, as a previous boss once insisted on saying!

    “The temptation to tell them to stop reinforcing the impression of mean spirited, self importance was very strong; but fortunately passed.” I don’t know about this, I think maybe you could legitimately have said something, especially since it was all on twitter and therefore out in the public domain. Sometimes people really stink, and they deserve to know 🙂

    • I’ve not seen the doctor’s handwriting as she does everything on a screen now, but ‘ineligibility’ would not be a surprise!

      I couldn’t quite bring myself to jump into an argument with the ‘stinkers’, I think they have their heads so far up their fundaments that they wouldn’t see what was wrong with their behaviour.


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