The Internet howled when I sent 3,000 words of job-hunting advice with a rejection letter. Here's why I did it
I’ve had an interesting week. On Monday morning, I sent a BCC email response to 900 people who applied to a job listing I posted on Craigslist. I’m starting a clean-technology news site and am hiring writers and other editorial staff. By Monday evening, my email had been posted on Gawker along with a headline calling me a “dick” — and a big pile of comments with even worse names.
But it’s cool. It was worth it.
Let me back up a bit. The email that I sent to those applicants included a list of 42 job application dos-and-don’ts that I wrote after seeing so many different people make the same mistakes. It was frustrating to see people unknowingly sabotage their chances of finding work by making easily avoidable errors. So I wrote my email and sent it to all of the applicants. My list contains mostly common sense things like “check your spelling” and “don’t talk badly about your current or past employer.” (You can read the entire thing here.)
The initial response was a mixed bag. Some people were upset about receiving my unsolicited critique; others thanked me for my feedback. Here’s one of the many positive messages I received (shared with the permission of sender Kyle Mizokami):
I read your email this morning, and to be honest, I was a little irritated at first. I didn’t particularly want to know that there were 900+ applicants for the position. The email looked lengthy, and I wasn’t sure where you were going to go with it. For sure, it didn’t say that I was hired.
I gradually realized that this is the sort of advice that every writer looking for work should read. I don’t think I made many of the mistakes that it mentioned, but I do I wish I had read it years ago. It’s also a rare thing that people applying for work should get anything out of it at all, especially something so useful.
I felt bad that my email had caused some hurt feelings, but figured that a few bruised egos weren’t a terrible trade-off for helping a lot of other folks improve the way they apply for work. By Monday afternoon I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing.
Then Gawker jumped into the story.
Gawker writer Emma Carmichael titled her piece “42 DOs AND DON’TS FROM A DICK” and posted my entire email along with quotes from an applicant who was upset about being passed over. Her post went live at 7:43 p.m. Monday and quickly became their most popular story. Within an hour of being published, there were hundreds of comments calling me every name in the book. I was not only a dick, but also a douche, a tool and a scumbag. I was a crappy writer, an unprofessional bitch and I smelled bad. I deserved nothing short of perpetual unemployment.
Soon after, my Facebook, Twitter and Flickr accounts were picked over for any angle that could be used to make fun of me. They took aim at my name and the fact that I play ultimate Frisbee, and even ridiculed me for having a beard.
The Internet hate wagon was hitched up and ready to ride right over me. My Twitter feed was filled with tweets like: <em>@sheagunther Condescending dickheads like you are a dime a dozen except I wouldn’t spend 10 cents on your advice. #asshat #gawker
Emails arrived saying: “People like you should have their mouths sewn to the anus of Rush Limbaugh.” (I actually had to cut most of this email for being over-the-top vile. The bit about Rush was the least offensive part of the message.)
I’ve been around the Internet long enough to have developed a pretty thick skin, so the wave of negativity didn’t get to me much. I was also heartened by the fact that for every person knocking me down, there was another person thanking me for the tips.
Right now the comments on Gawker’s post run around 50/50 between commenters who think I’m a terrible person and those who found my email helpful. Those aren’t bad numbers.
In the end, Gawker’s story generated over 150,000 page views and has been shared over Twitter, Facebook and email by thousands of readers. That’s a lot more people who think I’m a jerk than before Monday evening, but it’s also a lot more who might be helped by the advice.
And that’s the most striking thing that I learned this week: How hungry job hunters are for feedback on how to improve the way they apply for work — and how little of it they actually get from recruiters and HR representatives. Applicants learn nothing about their approach when the only response they receive is “Thanks for applying, but the position has been filled.”
It’s just not possible for businesses to give custom feedback to every applicant who applies for a job. And as I saw this week, trying to give more generalized advice to an entire cohort of applicants can blow up in your face.
Maybe the world just needs more dicks.
Shea Gunther lives in Portland, Maine, and writes about the environment for MNN.com. His clean-technology news site is set to launch in May. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter. More Shea Gunther.
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