Editing Another’s Work: Your Opinion Requested


Can I get your opinion on something please? I’d really appreciate it if you’d share what you think by adding a comment when you get to the end of this piece. The issue I’m raising is whether not it’s helpful in the end to write or edit a cover letter for a job applicant; when that job applicant is applying for a job in an office setting where they will be doing a great deal of letter writing. What do you think?

Yesterday I received a lovely email from a woman who recently went for a job interview. She was telling me that she and another woman I’d been helping were both up for employment with an organization where they’d be working in an office setting. She attached a thank you letter she was about to send and asked me to look it over for any errors she had made; acting on my suggestion to follow up interviews with a letter of thanks to separate herself from other applicants who do not.

Now the interesting thing to me is that one the one hand, I applaud her wisdom in getting another pair of eyes on her document in order to make the best impression possible on the potential employer. On the other hand, the employer is going to look at the cover letter and base part of their hiring decision on her ability to communicate clearly; so should the sample they read truly be her own or her thoughts with my editing abilities? I want to give the woman the best shot possible at getting the job, but I empathize with the employer too, who is trying to come up with the very best new employees they can.

In her typed cover letter, I found 4 mistakes. The most glaring perhaps was right there at the top of the page where she had entered the date as, “December 29, 2015 2015”. I was disappointed to see such an obvious lack of poor proofreading. I wondered had I been the employer if I’d continued to read her letter or stop at that point and reject the rest along with her as the applicant. Yikes! After all, it’s a mistake to enter the year twice, but it’s a second mistake to miss correcting this. It might even be a third mistake if she failed to proofread the document herself – especially one so important. Or was she just asking me to be her proof-reader?  I won’t be able to help her out should she land the job!

By now you are starting to form your own opinion on this matter. Remember, I’m hoping you’ll add a short comment and let me know which way you lean. When working with someone face-to-face, I’d point out these things by asking they read the date and hope they catch things on their own. If they find the mistake, I’d hope they correct it and learn from the proofreading. However, knowing that people often miss their own errors, sometimes I have people read out loud what they’ve penned, and then they either catch it themselves, or they actually read what they intended, not what they actually wrote; thereby missing the error a second time. In such a case, I have them re-read it again until they do catch it.

However, in the case of providing the second set of eyes using email, I chose to correct the document in the four places I noted mistakes, and sent it back corrected with my comments. I mean I applaud the cover letter effort itself which not everyone puts in. I want to encourage her to have someone else check her writing too; it’s just that I don’t want to misrepresent herself to an employer. So I guess it’s an ethical dilemma.

Now to be sure, this person has great interpersonal skills, a lovely attitude and I imagine would be very good in many respects for the job she is competing for. Aside from the mistake with the date which is clearly something she’d normally not do, the other three mistakes had to do with phrasing sentences as English isn’t her first language. I can clearly tell what she intended to communicate; it’s just the actual sentence structure that was off. This is a tougher issue to help with.

So were you in my position, (and perhaps you are if you like me, help others with their employment search), what do you think? Would you have done as I did and corrected the mistakes, pointing them out? Would you have told her that four errors exist, told her where they were and asked her to find them herself? I’m curious. By all means, chime in!

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2 thoughts on “Editing Another’s Work: Your Opinion Requested

  1. Kelly, I think you have highlighted an ethical dilemma for all of us who assist people with their job search.

    Like you did in this example, I choose to highlight errors, spelling mistakes and typos to my clients. I see it as assisting them to learn – especially if English is their second language.
    Some employers may ask them if they developed their own CV or not , or have some other form of assessment, if their written English is important for the position.

    The selection process is so much more than the CV and Cover Letter – however, people need assistance to get to talk with the employer, so it is a very important first step.

    I also assist people with interviews. Interviews, in my opinion, test a person’s ability to verbally present themselves and their skills in a positive light! I admit to some scepticism about the interview process, as some people do not interview well – yet let them do the work required and they will be excellent. Employers need to have a number of ways to assess whether the person is the right fit for the job – I see that as their responsibility.

    As a person assisting people to find employment, I err on the side of supporting them in any practical way I can…and that may mean correcting CVs; encouraging them to talk more slowly (especially if they speak with a strong accent); having difficult conversations about personal hygiene and encouraging them to use many different job searching strategies.

    I’m interested in what other people think of this dilemma.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an interesting problem. I can see your point, being able to write well-written and grammatically correct correspondence and being able to proofread it are part of the job. However, if you follow this logic to its conclusion, nobody applying for office jobs should receive any help with their resume or cover letter because all the skills needed to write these are necessary to have for the job they are applying for.

    Liked by 1 person

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