Human Resources News & Insights

Should HR tell rejected candidates how to get a job?

The owner of a new tech website decided he’d pass along some suggestions on how to apply for jobs — to the 900 people he was turning down.

A recent story explained how Shea Gunther, who had advertised for writers for his new “clean tech news site,” decided to notify the 900-plus applicants who were rejected.

Gunther went through the normal rigamarole about not everybody being a good fit, how some people looked promising but didn’t have quite the right experience, and blah blah blah.

But he also included a list of 42 — count ’em, 42 — suggestions he called “writing job applications dos and don’ts.” He said he “couldn’t help but jot down ideas on how some of you could improve your job hunting email skills.”

Just a few ‘don’ts’

A sampling:

  • Don’t tell me how great this job would be for you.
  • Don’t send me your picture.
  • Don’t ask me questions.
  • Don’t write badly.
  • Don’t use the word “passionate.”
  • Don’t challenge me and my writers.

There’s more — lots more — but you get the idea. And as you can probably imagine, more than a few of the people who read Gunther’s email didn’t take all that kindly to the unsolicited advice.

“I don’t find it helpful,” one rejected applicant told Gawker. “I just find it arrogant.”

Gunther defended himself on, saying he was just trying to help.

A question occurs to us: If he was really trying to help, why didn’t he lay out his 42-point plan when he advertised the openings?



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  • Sam A

    Kudos to him for doing so – I’ve often wanted to do the same thing. For the ten percent of people who may not need the advice or are arrogant enough themselves to feel they don’t need the suggestions, the 90% of applicants that I quickly toss into the round file could probably use his advice.

    I’ve written well-received articles on best hiring practices for employers, but it’s the job candidates who could use the flip side of the advice I give to employers.

  • HR Kansas

    I guess with near 50% unemployment among recent college graduates a little help isn’t all bad. Too bad with some applicants you have to start at the basics – show up for your interview on time and on the right day, shut your G** D*** cell phone off before coming into the interview, know the name of the company you are interviewing with, and don’t spend half an hour telling me how your fraternity or sorority was the best on campus but draw a blank when I ask about specific courses you took.

  • Doris

    He didn’t do it prior because his expectations were higher. Those of us in HR see this on a daily basis. As competitive as the job market is these days, I still see people who don’t prepare themselves properly whether it’s their resume and the way they present themselves.

    When I have an open position, I receive 250-300 resumes on average for each one. By the time I have excluded the bad grammar/typos and the unqualified, I end up with less than 10 I would consider for an interview.

    It’s painful. I’m betting that Shea Gunther was gobsmacked with the sheer volume of poor candidate presentation and wanted to offer sincere advice.

  • Iowa girl

    How about a rejected candidate writing a nasty letter back to the person who didn’t hire them? And not a well-written letter, I might add …. We were looking for an intern and interviewed several. We hired one and I notified the others we had selected another candidate. I received a reply from one of those we didn’t hire chastising me for our poor decision. I forwarded it to his college advisor and suggested they counsel him on his interaction with prospective employers.

  • Joanna G.

    The truth is that virtually all job hunters put in their cover letters so much idiotic stuff just to get an interview. Virtually all use empty words i.e. passionate. How passionate can you be about “executive assistant job” or “receptionist”??? you need a job to pay bills. Or you say “how great is this firm” – there is nothing great about it, it’s a “company.”
    On the other hand HRs ask lots of very stupid questions that often have nothing to do with work qualifications, position or true talent. And what’s worst is that this HR is a “gatekeeper” who makes decision based on own “chemistry” and dislikes.

  • Karyn

    GOOD FOR HIM!!! after reading some of the responses I’ve gotten to ads… you almost can’t help but want to correct typos, etc. Applicants should be thanking him and moving on to the next opportunity better prepared.

  • If I were hunting for a job and was rejected, I personally would welcome any advice or constructive criticism that would help me improve my presentation.

  • KLW

    And being those on the flip-side, I would welcome advise. As a job applicant you often wonder, “What did I do wrong?”, “How could I do better?”. It would not insult me AT ALL to get some good advice from someone who has passed over my resume, or chosen someone else after interviewing. HELP!!

  • Linda

    I read his comments and thought they were great. Why shouldn’t he offer this advice? It was short, sweet, and to the point…exactly what he asked his applicants for. I learned from it, so after a few people get over their anger, maybe they’ll read it again and decide there is some good information in there they can use in their job search.

  • Diane

    I have often wished I could go to the college and speak to the kids, from my experiences with applicants. The job posting states no fax or phone calls, first thing is a phone call and can I fax it?
    I have 400 candidates for an open position where we stated the salary range and benefits, I get people looking for 100K and have a PHD. They are demeaning themselves by applying and will never be given the opportunity to interview. We are looking for someone to do grunt work not create a new marketing program.
    REad what you are applying for before hitting the send button.

  • MMAN

    O.K. I’ve seen a million different dos and don’ts about resume writing. Is there any one correct way to write them? No doubt there are obvious don’ts i.e. do not use bad grammar, or do not reference a different job that you applied for at another company because you did not update the cover letter. But saying to not use the word “passionate” to me is just being plain picky. Come on people it is just a word. I actually used the word passionate in a cover letter I once wrote in applying for a job and I said I was passionate about “Equal employment opportunity” because I am and it was not empty.

    And who is Shea Gunther to give advice on resume writing? I mean what are his credentials? Could he be giving bad advice for people to use that could cause someone to not get the job at the next company they apply with?

  • Pearl

    There is an over-abundance of ego and an apparent dearth of humility among applicants who would take exception to such sound and helpful advice. I am, frankly, amazed at the lack of the most basic skills shown by our college graduates. They think these don’t count if they are proficient in some specific area, but the need for basic skills cannot be ignored. What may be the most fatal flaw is that attitude that blatantly says, “Don’t offer me any constructive criticism; love me or leave me alone”. Hiring such a person is just asking for grief.

  • Marathoner

    I agree with Pearl, to give this advice to an applicant just opens the door for debate with the person who may just be disparate for the job. One size does not fit all. In this litigious society it’s best to stick with dis -positioning the applicant on their Knowledge, Skills and abilities…just my thoughts

  • I read his 42 points. They are well written, kind of funny, and right on point. I have often wanted to give some of this very same advice to applicants. I also want to give advice to some of the drivers I see on the road, but that is another issue. Well done Shea.

  • As an HR Practitioner, I would love to give some candidates advice on how they could have won the job. However, fear of discrimination lawsuits prevent me from helping some folks who just don’t meet the cultural fit. They may have the skill set but would be so out of place in our company I know they wouldn’t last long. Those are the hard ones. I will try to help those who ask why, if I can.