The Job Application as Ultimate Writing Prompt

January 29, 2020 § 9 Comments

applicantBy Julie E. Ferris-Tillman

I’m a writer but pay the big bills with a senior leadership job in communication. I was recently laid off from said job and am now over 40 and on the job market. Friends and colleagues all expressed hope and care when saying “well now you have time to write.” True, but my writing has been dozens and dozens of cover letters, resumes and phrases engineered to meet character counts for talent management software systems. I am proof that you can exhaust “Tell us why you’re qualified in 250 characters or less” as a writing prompt.

My new narrative is my own life, but in a less interesting format than the memoir I’m crafting. I’m suddenly writing some of the most formulaic nonfiction of my life for voiceless, faceless machines on the other side of application systems. My cyborg self has embraced a new prose shaped as follows:

Dearest hiring manager,

[Please note, I searched for who might be the hiring manager for this job and spent an hour on social media hunting down executives of this company and cannot find the right one. The only email is so I want you to know I did my due diligence and tried, but here, you get only a generic hail. Apologies.]

I write you a clever lead here about how much I love your company or connecting to some jaunty phrase in your job ad, maybe even matching your recruiter’s prose exclamation point by exclamation point. Then, per age-old form, I explain where I learned of this specific job [enter title here like a MadLib: Manager/Director/Vice President [of] Public Relations/Marketing/Storytelling/Communication].

I am of course, qualified. The reality is I’m over qualified but your job ad asked for no less than 23 bulleted skills and to address each of them, not knowing which may be your or your talent software management system’s favorite, I will try to touch briefly on my experience with each without making it clear to you you’ve asked for three distinct professionals to absorb one role. Lucky for you, I’m a generalist and have done all of these things. Managing people is also my superpower. And I’m a woman, something very good for your diversity hiring initiatives your website proclaims and a useful weapon in battling the cries of “old boys’ network” on company review sites.

Then, there’s something light I meant to tell you about my history with your company or your product. I’m sure I’ve used it or your company was something my grandpa told me about or once your product saved me in a pinch and now, in the grand circle of life, I write prostrate before you, asking to again be a part of your brand.

And, to wrap up this homage to my skills and beg for some sort of human interaction with feedback and voices and nonverbal cues so you can meet me and like me and we can talk and you can see my business professional dress and my table manners, I will add that I also have far more education than you asked for, am able to start immediately and will propose a couple of pathways for your [MadLib #2: content generation/social platforms/community engagement/news making] in the new year.

I am able to discuss this further at your earliest convenience.

Please see attached resume to learn more.


Julie E. Ferris-Tillman [MadLib #3: Ph.D./      ]

Julie E. Ferris-Tillman, Ph.D., is a writer, comedian and dog rescuer who lives in Milwaukee, WI. She teaches at Marquette University and blogs at She’s been the writer-in-residence at the historic Pfister Hotel and has been creating content and writing copy for ad agencies for more than a decade. She’s currently an ethnographer of her neighborhood dive bar.

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