Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Flashback: Dear Whoever

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

Dear Whoever
Word Count: 599
Published: 9/27/13

“Hey, Dave,” said Alan, knocking gingerly on the cubicle wall.

“What’s up?” asked Dave.

“Did you look through that pile of resumés, yet?”

“Yeah,” said Dave. “I left them on your desk.”

“Right,” said Alan. “I saw that, I just didn’t know if you’d sorted them or not.”

“I did,” said Dave. “Was there anything else?”

“Nah, that’s it,” said Alan, biting his lip. “Actually…”

“What’s up?” asked Dave.

“So, I checked out the resumés you looked at, and I was a little confused about how you sorted them.”

“Something wrong?” asked Dave.

“I wouldn’t say wrong,” said Alan, “but… well… okay, this one: Clive Denton. He was in the reject pile.”

“If you say so,” said Dave. “I don’t really remember.”

“He had a lot of what we’re looking for,” said Alan. “But you rejected him.”

Dave considered this for a moment. “Maybe I put it in the wrong pile… by mistake,” he said.

“Sure, accidents happen,” said Alan. “No biggie.”

“Anything else?” asked Dave. “Because I need to get this report—”

“Actually,” said Alan. “There were several other good candidates in the reject pile.” He held up a handful of resumés.

“Let me see that,” said Dave. He took the pile and looked over the first one. “Here we are,” said Dave. “Weak cover letter.”

“I didn’t think it was particularly weak,” said Alan.

“Sure it is,” said Dave. “Look at the salutation.”

Alan leaned over. “To whom it may concern,” he read.

“See?” asked Dave.

Alan stared at Dave for a moment. “I’m confused,” he said. “Was something misspelled?”

“No, it wasn’t misspelled,” said Dave. “It’s cliché.”

“It’s a standard salutation,” said Alan.

“It’s a standard weak salutation,” said Dave.

Alan bit his lip and inhaled. Then released his breath slowly. Then took another. “I’m still confused,” he said at last.

“Okay, let me break it down for you,” said Dave. “First off, it’s overly formal and antiquated. Nobody talks like that anymore. And nobody—nobody—uses ‘whom’ correctly. So, having gotten it right in the first sentence, any other mistakes are going to be amplified. You’re basically setting yourself up for failure. And it’s generic. I mean, it’s really generic. ‘To whom it may concern’? You’re basically saying ‘Dear Whoever’. That’s just weak and lazy. You see, it’s a shibboleth for me. If they can’t get the salutation right, it goes into the reject pile.”

“A shibboleth?” asked Alan.

“Yeah, like a red flag,” said Dave.

“I’m pretty sure a red flag is the exact opposite of a shibboleth,” said Alan.

“Whichever,” said Dave.

“What would you rather they open with?” asked Alan. “What would be acceptable? I’m curious.”

“‘Dear Mr. Saunders’ would work,” said Dave. “Or ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ or ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ or something like that. I’d give them a second glance if they changed it up and said ‘To whom it concerns’. I would even settle for the time-honored ‘Hello’.”

“Huh,” said Alan. “And that’s the first thing you look for.”

“The salutation in a cover letter is pretty much the first thing I see, yeah,” said Dave. “That’s my system and it works pretty well for me.”

“Didn’t your last interviewee have to be escorted out by security?” asked Alan.

“It’s not completely foolproof, I’ll admit.”

“Are you just trying to get out of looking at resumés?” asked Alan.

“Why, is it working?”

“No,” said Alan.

“Then I’m not,” said Dave.

Alan left.

Ten minutes later he returned with a pile of resumés. “Would you mind sorting these?” he asked. “Funny thing, though, I’ve lost all the cover letters.”

The neurosis described here is my own. I absolutely hate seeing any kind of professional correspondence that opens "To Whom It May Concern." Not an auto-reject, really, but definitely a point against. It's a good thing I don't work in HR.

I like this story, but if I were to write it today, I'd make one of two characters a woman. Men tend to be over-represented in my fiction. Alan would be the obvious choice, since HR departments tend to be staffed by females (... in my limited experience). Therefore, I'd probably flip Dave.

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