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This story got me out of a temporary blogging hiatus. I just had to write about it…

Shea Gunther, writer and owner of a new clean-tech website launching in May, sent out a mass email to 900 applicants who wanted to write for him. 900!! Instead of the sober, formal reply writers often get that basically say, “Unfortunately we decided to hire another writer,” this one included a 3,000 word rejection letter stating in detail why each and every person didn’t get the job.

This sparked a ton of anger for the recipients as well as for the commenters who read the letter in its entirety on Gawker here. Called, “Here’s How to Condescend to 900 Job Applicants With a 3,000-Word Rejection Letter,” it included 42 writing do’s and don’ts that were not well-received. Here’s a small sample of the letter:

“When you have a pool of 900+ applications, you can be picky, and we passed over many worthy people simply because they don’t have enough experience in clean technology and green media. I would advise anyone without enough of the right experience who wants to break into environmental writing to start a personal blog and write about the things you want to get paid to cover. You are welcome to get back in touch with us in the future after you’ve built a more focused portfolio.

Beyond those two groups, there were applications that were skipped over after just a quick read—the brutal truth is that the very worst applications got less than a few seconds of consideration. Often I could tell from the first few words of an application that it would be passed over. I was helped by the fact that we are hiring writers; if a person can’t craft a good email applying for a writing job, she’s unlikely to be the kind of writer we are looking to hire.”

Points like spelling correctly and headings like, “Don’t waste my time by telling me you’re not going to waste my time” were also included and made the applicants feel that the negative, condescending tone of the mass email wasn’t just well, rejecting, but rude. (They used harsher words by the way.)
In his defense, on Salon.com, Gunther explained that he was only trying to help the 900 applicants. Saying:
” It was frustrating to see people unknowingly sabotage their chances of finding work by making easily avoidable errors.”
And he added that he did receive emails from writers who thought his feedback was helpful. It seems that while he’s also gotten pretty harsh, offensive replies via social media, ultimately he believes the response will help those that need the help. And if he’s regretful, he only sort of alludes to it in his last few sentences:
“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.”

But then he ends with this, “Maybe the world just needs more dicks.”

What do you think?

As someone who also received this letter, I can agree with both sides.

Had Gunther double-checked his own work, he might have been more sensitive to the fact that 1) emails read differently than in-person communication 2) sending a mass email comes off as impersonal and cold to the recipient. If he had been aware of that, his message may have been more warmly received.

  • Crystal Schubert

    I went and found his email, and I didn’t really think it was all that mean. It was probably a smack in the face for people who haven’t ever had their writing criticized, but it does seem like he was trying to do a public service and ended up flamed relentlessly. Personally, these things all sound like common sense to me, even if they are written in a slightly condescending tone…

  • buyemura

    Crystal, I completely agree with you. One thing I didn’t mention in this post was that I actually found one of his points helpful and it made me rethink how I write. I think that because it was sent as a mass email and that it wasn’t in a pretty package, it offended a lot of sensitive (writerly) people. I think maybe his good intentions got lost in that. And they are all points that writers like you already know about, but probably he thought it would be helpful for the beginning writers who may not know about it. Interesting though huh? Maybe the fact that it was common sense could have been strewn as condescending to the writers who read it.

  • I first heard about this over at Jake Pointer’s Dr. Freelance blog. It’s all in the delivery. I bet if he put it in a blog post about his recent experience with 900+ applicants, it would have been received much differently. Email is more personal somehow.

    But, we can only control our own response. We can be adults (like you, Brandi) and find the constructive, let go of the rest, and move on. Not worth the energy.

    I do wonder how individuals justify that name-calling and throwing out disgusting insults is somehow more constructive or better than what they viewed as an offensive 3,000+ word rejection letter. Rise above.

  • buyemura

    Lol! So true Cathy. Didn’t even think of it, but you’re totally right. One doesn’t equal the other, nor does it make it right. To me, I read the email and thought, “Oh glad I didn’t get this job.” I took something from it and then moved on. It didn’t seem worth taking it personally. And funny what you said about turning it into a blog post. I was thinking the same thing. Mostly, I wondered who would spend that much time writing to 900 people of why they didn’t get hired by him. But I guess in the end, it did bring attention to his new website. =)

  • Mahesh Raj Mohan

    Wow, this is a tough one. On the one hand, I sympathize with the 900 (!) writers who submitted, but on the other hand, he was trying to be constructive. I think this is partially just a culture shift. I’ve been submitting work (fiction and non-fiction) since I was 16, and it was previously a private process. You maybe griped to family or friends, then dusted yourself off (as Cathy said, “rise above”) and submit again. After the Internet, it was like the Fight Club rules: “nobody talks about rejection.” It made you look amateurish. But nothing everything is open. A 42-point rejection is going to get blogged about, whether as professionally as you did it, Brandi, or more snipishly by less professional types. So he should have expected it. But some of his points were definitely valid. I’ve been in the position of being someone who helps hires writers or editors and seeing poor grammar in a freaking cover letter would always flabbergast me.

    Anyway, sorry to write a mini-novel here, 😉 Thanks for bringing up the subject!

  • buyemura

    You’re right Mahesh. It may be because we’ve gotten used to all of the rejection as writers (go figure it comes in handy right?), it feels less personal than the other writers who received the email. And it’s true, it could have been written out of frustration for bad grammar and misspellings (yikes!). But I have to say that I’ve been guilty of all of the above. And have been the receiver of such as well. Having a little compassion on both sides of the coin is the only way we can keep moving on. =) Thanks for your comment!

  • Mahesh Raj Mohan

    Compassion on both sides is definitely the way to go!

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