It’s Not Just All About You

Earlier this year, my wife received a job application from a singer with a master’s degree who had not only sung professionally across the United States, but who made that very clear in her vita. She also knew my wife… and made a point of noting that in her cover letter.  In fact, my wife had taught the woman for the majority of her undergraduate years, but what was most interesting about the application was that the applicant’s vita never listed my wife as ever having taught her.  Yet my wife had spent more time teaching this singer than had several of those the woman had listed as her teachers – and the position the woman was applying for was to teach voice students on the undergraduate level under my wife’s supervision.

By comparison, such world-renowned singers as Rene Fleming and Kelli O’Hara make a practice of recognizing their first teachers.  Yet this applicant not only failed to acknowledge her undergraduate teacher, but had the nerve to apply for a job from her with a resume that didn’t even list her as one of her teachers.  If this applicant did not happen to be favorably disposed toward my wife – and that does happen – why would she want to work for her?  If she happened to be desperate for the position, why did she not at least acknowledge her former teacher?

It’s also possible that the letter and resume were “merely” general and sent to many institutions, but whatever the reason for such an oversight, the result suggests either a focus just on the applicant alone or a lack of care on the part of the applicant or a certain lack of respect – not any of which are exactly characteristics an employer prefers in an employee.  What was also somewhat amazing is that the applicant was not someone just out of graduate school, but a singer with professional experience in her forties.  Was the approach the result of having been a diva… or just stupidity?

I’d like to say that this happened to be an isolated incident.  I can’t.  I cannot count the number of times either my wife or I have run across similar cases – such as the time when I was guest of honor at a science fiction convention and I introduced myself, at the request of my editor, to an up-and-coming young writer.  His first words to me were, “I’m sorry.  I don’t know who you are.”  That was despite the fact that my name was on the front of the program.  Needless to say, although I never mentioned the fact, until right now, to anyone but my wife, the once young author has up and come and largely departed the scene.  I had nothing to do with his career path.  Like the singer I mentioned above, he took care of it all by himself.

At the higher levels of any profession, whether it be politics, writing, music, or anything else, the communities are comparatively small, and sooner or later, everyone tends to know more about everyone else than most of those entering the field have any idea or understanding.  Ability and even genius alone are usually not enough to succeed.  In the end, like it or not, we all need other people in order to succeed in what we do… and actions that offend or insult people, whether intentional or not, are less than career-enhancing moves.

Not matter how talented you are, it’s not all about you.

13 thoughts on “It’s Not Just All About You”

  1. CG says:

    I found this article more interesting than most I have read of late, primarily because it deals with an area of employment about which I have no experience whatsoever. I work in a technical field, not the arts, and it would NEVER have occurred to me to list a teacher on a resume. I suppose it’s different in those fields.

    My overwhelming tendency wouldn’t even be to list former managers. Patents and employers, sure. Proficiencies, without doubt. Even significant projects would be listed, but not the people I worked with. I would relegate those to the “References” page. Listing your wife there would seem redundant. After all, she would hardly need to list the prospective employer as a reference. Or would she?

    1. Actually, to determine skill in teaching singing, knowing who someone studied with is a far better indication of technique and skill than a list of publications or even past employment history. It also provides a reference based on experience with the person’s technique and skills.

  2. Joshua Blonski says:

    That’s similar to one of my friends who played violin at a professional level. Having trained under certain teachers is often as much an accomplishment (if not a bigger one) than having played for specific orchestras.

  3. jks9199 says:

    In assessing someone who wants to be a teacher — who taught them in many areas is important.

    But I also want to see who they have taught.

    I teach martial arts. Knowing who my teacher was tells you a lot about what I learned. Knowing how long I studied with him tells you more. But if you want an idea how well I pass on what I was taught — look to my students.

    But applying for a job from one of your teachers, in this day and age where the resume/c.v. is easily updated for each application, without acknowledging their teaching — that’s just classless.

  4. Joshua Blonski says:

    It is classless, but I think it’s sneaky and shows negative character if you include the reference on just the one application (the one you send to the person who taught you). You’re right saying that other job-related accomplishments (in your case, the students you have successfully taught) are also important, but apparently this individual still included those. In some circles though (perhaps your martial arts circle too, as you suggest) it is just as important to note your teachers in your resume as well.

    Think of one of the most prominent instructors in your martial arts. Imagine the boost it would give you to mention if you were trained by him or her. But now, think also that giving credit to your teachers is more than just for your own purposes. Say it’s a tradition, and that by not giving credit, you’re insulting those people who have helped get you to where you are. In certain circles, if you upset the wrong people, they can make working in that field considerably harder. It’s like slighting the people you’re supposed to be networking with. They’re not going to raise a finger to help you when you need it. If you shirk your responsibility of respecting those in your network, you’re putting yourself on the outside. It sounds like that’s what this woman is doing.

  5. Sam says:

    Just to throw in my two bobs worth I don’t know the full context of this situation but it seems to me the question is what was going through the job applicant’s head.

    Was the slight intentional or unintentional?

    I can’t know what the applicant was thinking but I could imagine a circumstance where I could make a similar mistake. These days a lot of people tailor their resume’s to their prospective employer. The primary purpose of a resume in my view is to provide your prospective employer with information about yourself they do not already possess. I could imagine a person working on their resume to send to a former teacher and deciding it would be redundant to list that former teacher on their resume as it is information the former teacher already possesses.

    Perhaps in the same way as if you applied for a job with an employer who you had worked for before you would not see the need to list them as a reference since they would be contacting themselves for a reference.

  6. Lailoken says:

    I can see the omission of a teacher as a error made to avoid redundancy or a ego motivated mistake.

    MANY students (applicants, whomever) assume that it’s clear to others how instrumental their teachers were/are to them. I’ve been guilty in the past of that flaw, and it’s only recently (last 5 years) that I realized that I need to verify with those that were important just HOW important they are…

    The question I have is this: Did your wife ever mention this to any of her applicants? Have you yourself ever inquired to the…offenders?

    I know it may be seen by some as an egotistical move on either of you, but I think it’s a safe assumption that two can make it plain which angle you’re coming from. I’m really interested in knowing the responses to this one!
    The suspense is making SERIOUS efforts to stop my breathing…

    1. My wife always points out to her students in voice studio classes the importance of acknowledging past teachers. It’s also a common topic in a wide number of professional books on career advancement in the classical music field, where failure to do so is listed as a serious mistake.

  7. Brian says:

    Is it possible that the applicant thought a reference to your wife would have been akin to asking for special treatment? It’s not my field (I know the arts are socially different than high-tech), but I would consider it classless to reference a personal connection in a resume or job application.

    To me, the sub rosa text would be, “I know you remember me, but here is what ELSE I’ve learned.”

  8. It’s unlikely…since the applicant listed as teachers others to whom she was applying [as my wife discovered, because the field is very small when one gets to who makes decisions at the university level].

  9. Brian says:

    Thank you for clarifying. Wow.

  10. annuaire says:

    I like this very much. “J’aime beaucoup” like we say in French.

  11. Tim says:

    I don’t know which would bother me more:

    If the slight were unintentional, it indicates a thoughtless and tactless person (neither of which have any place in most areas of business or teaching),


    if the slight were intentional, then the woman is a shows a remarkable lack of judgement… which also has no place in most areas of business or teaching.

    Frankly, I would have to take on faith that the applicant is an idiot and she would not get as much as an interview.

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