Hermits Rock

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Many of the applications I send I never hear word about, so now you can play HR director for me. On the merits of the cover letter, would you accept it, reject it, or forget about it? This one was for a job called “Assistant Scoring Director,” and it is unique among all of my applications to date: I actually was offered this job; then, three weeks later, it was pulled from beneath me. Had it not been pulled, I would have been directing the scoring of a new essay that was this year made required-writing on a major college-entrance exam.

To the Manager of Scoring Resources:

I am writing to express my interest in becoming an Assistant Scoring Director at [Your Standardized-Test Scoring Center]. My resume attests to my ability to assist the management team in the planning, organizing, monitoring, and controlling of the scoring process, and it also reveals my qualifications as a language arts teacher. More importantly, however, I believe I am suited to the position because I can successfully set and communicate to others the exacting standards of essay scoring.

As [Your Company] endeavors to evaluate student writing, it must score both fairly and consistently. To maintain fairness and consistency as well as to ensure high scoring standards, the project management team not only needs to develop a clear scoring rubric but also needs to communicate that rubric successfully to individual scorers.

I know how detrimental poor communication can be to a scoring project. In May of 2005 I worked as a scorer for a special project at [Your Company]. (It is because of the brevity of the project that I do not include it on my resume.) Our task was to score several hundred essays. During the project I was asked to review an essay I had previously scored. By my analysis it was an essay that could reasonably be scored two different ways because its quality according to the rubric as well as to the control set was borderline. I explained this in detail to the person who asked me to review the essay. Unfortunately, he dismissed what I had said, and he repeated the rubric to me. Several times, in fact, he repeated the rubric without listening to what I had said. Of course like every scorer I kept the rubric in front of me as reference. I did not need it repeated; rather, I needed it to be explained. Quality control, in this manager’s view, was not explanation. It was dictation. Worse, because his intervention did not give me a better understanding of my job, I could not improve my scoring. Therefore, I continued to do as I had done.

Maintaining fairness and consistency and ensuring that scoring standards remain high is done not through heedless repetition but through clear communication of those standards. This I can do well, and for that reason I can be instrumental in helping to maintain the integrity of the scoring process.




to me, this is a pretty gutsy letter.

i’m actually surprised that they gave you the job.

and, i’m surprised that they then had the very bad form of turning you down.

personally, i don’t know that this is the best cover letter to put up for critique because a)it was a successful letter as far as that goes, and b) the reason gb did not end up with that job didn’t have anything to do with the strength or weakness of his application but rather with the episode that inspired the “gutsy” part of the cover letter…

i would agree with kathy…

i guess, i’m still surprised that this would’ve been successful. if i were the one reading it, i would’ve thought that the person writing it was a contentious person (now, i know greg isn’t…unless, of course, he’s been reading too many really poorly written essays…but i can say this because i know g…not knowing him, i would’ve thought he was contentious)

that it was successful leads me to think that the person in charge knew that there were problems with the manager…that g was then turned down leads me to think that the other people on the team convinced the reader(s) that g is a pot-stirrer.

thus, i actually think it a poor cover letter. because i would want, in my first encouner with someone, to know their strengths rather than having this person tell me my weaknesses.

again, i’m only projecting what i think a cover letter reader would want.

and i agree with jeremy with the possible exception of the whole contentiousness question. let’s just say greg’s mom must not have stressed the whole “playing nicely with others” concept when he was young. now i have to do remedial instruction, and it’s hard because i don’t play particularly well with others either. take this as a lesson, you parents out there.

anyway, i guess the guy who initially hired gb for the job must have figured that he wouldn’t have mentioned the bad interaction with that manager-type if he really were likely to be contentious as a rule. but still, it’s probably pushing the envelope too much.

Only half-seriously do I mean what comes after this colon: you are both overly-cautious.

First, there’s a positive argument here that reaches beyond contentiousness. Sure, it’s done through a negative example, and it happens that the negative example stems from the same company. But what the letter reveals about its writer (me) is that he will endeavor to be one sort of supervisor and not another. Fairness, consistency, and high standards are met by walking down the path the writer will walk is the argument on which this letter concludes. To me, that’s the sort of conclusion every letter should have: it reveals something positive about its writer that another person might want to learn more about. That it does so by means of a negative example, while perhaps unorthodox in the overall context of cover letters, is nevertheless a legitimate rhetorical move. I think the letter worked because it avoids being both overly-critical and beside-the-point, and for that reason it reached the ground it wanted to reach.

Realistically, though, it’s risky. Looking back, I was not thrilled to be applying for this job. I think that these were the only terms on which I was willing to work for this company. So long as I wasn’t asked to compromise how I felt others should be treated (which I think the company encourages its supervisors to do by the way it exploits temporary labor), I would work for them. This letter to me was a statement to that effect. If I had approached the whole as simply a job-to-be-had, I doubt I would have written as I did.

The story of the rug-pulling is another one altogether.

okay, okay, i accept that, including the charge of over-cautiousness, which we know can actually be quite pathological in certain people… :)

well, you´re still being contentious

convinced of your own superiority and all that!

you must acquiesce…capitulate…whatever to your readers observations and critcisms…

no defending yourself.

you´re right, you need to say positive things about yourself…and this would largely be positive…except that this wasn´t you as manager handling something well, but you as a subordinate…and, again, the exemplar was the company in question.

do you present yourself in a good light…yeah, sure.

but, could it be read as you being snippy (or whatever)...quite possibly.

well, and the fact remains that this wasn’t part of a “failed job application” and should therefore be removed from the public’s consideration…which brings up another question entirely: why does the author submit this letter for public perusal after all? hmmmmm….????

Because I didn’t in fact get the job, it feels like a failed one.

and now your wife and a good friend

are just berating you…or at least bugging you! and i don’t know that we can affirm with bono that we don’t mean to bug ya!

how does it feel to be greg?

hope you have a good weekend.

I, on the other hand, would totally hire someone who wrote a cover letter like this one. For one thing, it’s written in sentences (really, you’d be surprised how many things aren’t—then again, given what you’ve been doing for a living these past years, maybe you wouldn’t). But it also demonstrates that you had a detailed understanding of what was going on in a particular job and that you care about things being done the right way. Those are things I’d want in an employee.

I, however, am not an HR director (and can’t quite imagine being one) and am myself a writer of many, many, many failed cover letters, so I’m not the best source of judgment on this sort of thing.

my final thoughts on this topic are as follows: since greg is obviously too contentious to be hireable, and, as laura rightly points out, the ability to demonstrate one’s facility with complete sentences should be a prerequisite to hiring (and yet is just too tiring for a loser such as myself), i’ve decided that our only option is to exploit the tremendous beauty of our two cats, jane and mr. bingley. bingley is of the typical catfood-box gracing variety—that is to say, orange (but supercute orange). jane is more exotic, what with her chin freckles and cow-spots. so as you can see, with all the money we’ll soon be raking in from hollywood and purina and 9lives, etc, there will be no more need for cover letters whatsoever. what a relief.

LC, your presence, and support for the letter, is welcome, even though I know part of it is because you are a sucker for a well-wrought sentence. Kathy’s question whether this actually qualifies as a failed application-letter is right-on and all of y’alls positives and negatives probably explain the whole mess successfully. What I dread now is writing a cover letter for the cats!

keep in mind, too, that cats are edible,
i mean, if things get really bad.

gross. and let me tell you, jane would barely constitute an appetizer. bingley, on the other hand…

yeah. that one’s got good haunches.