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What You Can Learn from that Ridiculous Email to Rejected Job Applicants

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Last week Brazen Life shared an excerpt of an email that was sent out to a list of 900 rejected job applicants. That email, originally posted on Gawker, is going viral, stirring up a ton of controversy  because of the hiring manager’s condescending and abrasive tone.

But if we can get over that for a minute, there’s actually some good stuff in the email, even if this guy does come off as a tiny little you-know-what.

So, pitchforks down, everybody. Below are my four major takeaways:

Observation #1: Competition for jobs is extremely fierce

I know what you’re thinking: duh. But this is important to remind yourself, especially if you’re out there trying to get hired in this competitive market. It’s easy to think you’re perfect for a job… and then feel totally rejected when you don’t get it.

This hiring situation is a great example of an extremely competitive applicant pool with overly qualified applicants. About 900 people applied, and only 50 made the short list? That’s less than 6 percent!

Also, the email drops names of major pubs that some applicants had written for in the past. That being the case, what are these people doing applying to a startup online news journal’s job posting on Craigslist?

These are the odds we’re up against each time we apply for jobs. It’s rough out there.

Observation #2: The first step in getting ahead of the competition is coming up with a decent application

Here’s where the advice actually comes in handy. Though the email did have decidedly snarky undertones, the suggestions in the bullet points were actually solid (and the majority of Gawker’s commentors agree).

Some applicants were committing rookie mistakes, like not attaching a cover letter, not following directions and not using spellcheck. Other problems were more stylistic, like “Don’t start every sentence in your application with a ‘I’.”

My personal favorite bullet point was the “Do give a good reason for why I should hire you.” If you think about it from the company’s perspective, a hiring manager has no reason to care about why the job is a good fit for you. Their priority is to fit the right person for the job description. As a result, hiring managers only care about why you are a good fit for the job – so tell them how you can help them, not vise versa.

Observation #3: Rock stars get hired

It’s no secret that hiring managers want to hire people that stand out from the pack. However, let’s back up for a moment. Say you’ve never written for NYT, HuffPo, WaPo, or any of the other name-dropped newspapers. What is one to do? Two things:

1. Brag about what you can. Maybe you were editor of you school newspaper. Maybe you wrote a blog post that got noticed and re-tweeted by a well-known influencer. Maybe you just have sick skills, and your writing speaks for itself. Be confident. A cover letter is no place for self-doubt.

2. Keep building up your rock star status. If you didn’t get this job, continue building up your portfolio by submitting your best freelance pieces to any online pubs that will accept them – so you’ll be more qualified and experienced next time around.

Observation #4: Job-hunting is not the right time to be overly sensitive to criticism

Looking through those 42 bullet points of gripes, I can’t help but sheepishly admit that I’ve committed one or two of those infractions at some point. I’m okay with the criticism; nobody’s perfect. Admitting when you’ve made a mistake is the first step to writing a better cover letter next time.

Though this hiring manager appears to have a major superiority complex, I can’t hate on the email too much because the advice does seem earnest. So take it for what it’s worth – and maybe it will help you down the road.

Tina Mercado’s career in project management and strategic marketing has taken her as far and wide as Spain, Mexico, South Africa, DC, and Boston. Tina is the author & illustrator of “You Can Do It, Bunny!” a picture book story about staying persistent while job-hunting. 

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

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  • Mike

    A reminder to us all – job hunting is selling what the individual can do for the employer (bringing a skill set or saving money or fixing problems); not what the employer can do to make the individual feel good. Don’t start a sentence with “I”, rather use an action verb. In place of “I reorganized filing system” state “Reduced time searching for files 25% by implementing a numeric filing system”. This demonstrates to employer a time savings (money) and skill sets in the management and clerical areas.

    • Tina Mercado

      Thanks for your comment Mike. I’ll admit, I used to make this mistake when applying to jobs: “Dear Hiring Manager, your job is perfect for me because … blah blah blah” Note to readers: don’t do that!

  • http://www.facebook.com/morana.medved Morana Medved

    I might get some serious backlash for this, but I love this rejection letter. I might have written it myself a few years back when dealing with multitude of job applicants at a small firm I worked at. I was a fairly junior only employee and I needed to help the owner hire someone slightly junior to me, or maybe of equal experience, to take over some of my workload. I had a full time overwhelming job and got over 100 applications for that one position. I felt compelled to read every application and respond to everyone (the economy was horrible at the time, people needed jobs), although I did use a template response with little personalization.

    More than 50% of people did not follow application format we requested so I actually told them to re-submit in correct format to be considered. I got flamed by one applicant for sending a “form” response and he chewed me out and told me how much better he is than to work for a company that sends “form” responses (his application was incomplete). Next time we were hiring I just sent a one liner response “your application was received” and junked applications that did not follow the format.

    The author of the letter was probably immensly overwhelmed by the huge response and frustrated by the amount of rambling or incomplete applications. He was trying to be helpful and he was actually being helpful since I could not find a single comment that was not valid.

    I think a good way to summarize his letter is “wasting potential employer’s time will not get you a job” and it’s a valid point. And for the rejected applicant who sent the letter to gawker: “you are wrong – these are things you should be told early in your career, not after you’ve been rejected for dozens of jobs as the point of it is to teach you how to get hired.”

    OK, I’m off my soapbox now.

    • Deadhedge

      I agree with you completely. I found the rejection letter to be really helpful for new graduates since some folks are clearly missing some key points. I also found it entertaining to read.

    • Tina Mercado

      Hi Morana – thanks for your comment. I personally thought the advice was overall very sound. However, I think this particular hiring manager could have been more sensitive to the very charged emotions that arise from rejection letters in general. Friends of mine in the job-hunt phase felt that this letter was akin to “kicking people while they’re already down.” I have a hunch that if the letter were worded more delicately, more job-hunters would take the advice seriously, resulting in improved applications the next time around.