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Life Lessons

Why Call When An Oblique Email Will Do The Job Of Making A Prospective Intern Spiral Into A Panic?

Computer room and workers ca. 1980. (Photo by: HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

There are countless books and YouTube videos available to answer questions on proper business etiquette. Also, LinkedIn exists? But the lead account manager for Ohio's largest heating and cooling company is not an authority on email etiquette. We are.

To take a step back: Today is Abigail's last day as an intern at Defector. It is a special time, a moment for fond memories, some sort of gift card, or, as was the case on Kathryn's final day as an intern last summer, an overly large chicken sandwich and a legally purchased espresso martini. In saying goodbyes over Slack to the assembled Defector team, Abigail mentioned the incredibly cruel way she initially learned she had gotten the internship:

When Tom emailed me all the way back in March saying he wanted to have a 'quick phone call' about the internship, I was SO nervous to hear if he was going to offer me the position that I slept only a couple hours the night before our planned call.

This set off a massive debate about whether you should call or email to schedule a call to discuss a job offer, and—more importantly—how long is too long for an employer to leave a potential hire waiting to know if they got the job. Opinions were heated! Big Cool Tom was promptly renamed Big Cruel Tom, which feels like a step in the right direction. We thought it was only fitting to bring this debate to you, the reader.

YKX: Obviously I feel a sort of kinship with Abigail, down to our baby photo profile pictures, so I'm inclined to sympathize with her regardless. But when Abigail included a screenshot of the actual email that Tom sent her, it jolted a long-buried memory—trauma, if you will—of my own experience being at the receiving end of a Big Cruel Tom email.

AS: We at Defector are transparent with our readers, so I will share with you the critical evidence I sent to the group:

Tom Ley <> Mon., March 13, 2023, 5:35 p.m.

Hi Abigail!

Tom Ley from Defector here. I was wondering if you would have time for a quick phone call tomorrow regarding the summer internship? I can call anytime that works for you.

Abigail Segel <[redacted]> Mon., March 13, 2023, 5:58 p.m.

Hey Tom! It's great to hear from you.

I can call tomorrow at 9:00am eastern—my number is [redacted].

Looking forward to it,

YKX: I immediately noticed that the first real sentence of the email was “Tom Ley from Defector here,” even as the email clearly came from a Tom Ley <>. I joined in the slew of screenshots of old offer emails, to proffer my own “Defector internship” email: 

Tom Ley <> Sat., March 12, 2022, 12:24 p.m.

Hey Kathryn!

It's me, Tom Ley, from Defector. Apologies for the weekend email, but I wanted to check in with you to see if you might have a few minutes to hop on the phone with me on Monday? I've got meetings until about 12:30 p.m. ET, but should be free after that.

Yueling Xu <[redacted]> Sat. March 12, 2022, 2:39 p.m.


Yes, that works for me! I have class until 3 p.m. on Monday, but I'm free to call anytime after that.


I will say, opening up with “It’s me, Tom Ley, from Defector,” is already hilarious and devastating. And that’s without even getting into the emotional suffering caused by the timing and phrasing of said email!

AS: It’s one thing to have a hard experience on your own, but it’s another to know that the same offense has been directed at another fellow young person. In my case, Tom’s evening email left me a wreck. I could not function properly the rest of the night, I could barely go to sleep, and even after I drifted into a fitful slumber I woke up at 4:00 a.m. in a cold sweat, unable to go back to bed. Good thing I was behind on a few episodes of The Bachelor and could watch that as I eagerly anticipated the arrival of 9:00 a.m. Nothing like observing the bumblings of a clueless man to distract me from the torment of anticipation. 

YKX: Attentive readers will realize that March 12, 2022 is a Saturday. After I received this accursed Saturday email, in all of its non-revealing neutrality, I immediately texted a friend to workshop my response. The texts reveal my state of emotional devastation: i hate this can’t you just tell me whether or not [i] got it :(, followed immediately by the first draft of my reply. Upon seeing these texts, Maitreyi asked why I was workshopping a one-line email with a friend. In my defense, I was a nervy little 20-year-old, barely more evolutionarily developed than an earthworm, and desperate to make a good impression!

AS: As a frequent email-draft collaborator, I firmly stand with Kathryn here. Both of Tom’s emails were unnecessarily vague, leaving us to wonder if he had even made a decision at all! What if we didn’t send the perfect reply and that was the deciding factor between Defector triumph and blogless despair? Even worse, what if he had planned on offering us the job, but saw our shitty email reply and decided he would be better off getting hit by a bus

YKX: I was held in limbo for the entire weekend and my Monday classes, including my computer science lecture that ended at 3:00 p.m. and was 15 minutes away from my apartment. I paid no attention in class, and on my way back home, I took a last-minute detour in order to pick up bubble tea that I immediately stuck in my fridge. This was a dual-purpose, post-call treat: consolatory if rejected, celebratory if accepted.

AS: You were thinking much further ahead than me. I had scheduled my call at the earliest acceptable hour of 9:00 a.m. without much thought for my 10:00 a.m. French class that day. So, after I got off the phone with Tom, I walked my bedraggled-yet-ecstatic self to campus and entered my French class, where I’m sure I spoke French far worse than Joey Tribbiani

YKX: All right, I know what you’re thinking: Why would Tom ask to call if it were bad news? This sentiment was echoed by a few people in Slack, but only a semester earlier, I had received a phone call from someone who had called only to tell me I hadn’t gotten the job! (Sure, he offered a different one after, but look—the emotional damage was already done.)

AS: Kathryn, that is terrible. No wonder you didn’t trust that Tom would deliver good news! I personally have no such defense for letting myself dip into misery. All I can say is that I was a clueless 20-year-old who had never gone through a real job application process quite like this. 

YKX: Our colleagues were split into two camps. In one camp, there were those who believed that Tom’s emails, from their strange introductions to their lack of any indication toward a positive outcome, were a wild way to extend a job offer. 

AS: In the other camp, there were those who were wrong.

YKX: We are now opening this question to you, readers. Is this a normal email? If you think it is normal, do you also stand for normalizing ominous emails sent to young college students who are only hoping for a modest stream of income throughout the summer? Is all truly well that ends well? Feel free to send your opinions to Big Cruel Tom. We eagerly await your correspondence, which will no doubt be in solidarity with us.

AS: And what does the boss in question have to say about his actions?

That’s a normal email. Every email I send is normal.

Tom Ley, editor-in-chief of Defector
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