What we can learn from the reply that p*ssed off 900 job seekers

Last year there was a huge hoo-haa online about a certain Shea Gunther who responded to wannabee candidates looking for a job with his organization, in a “3,000 word rejection letter” which many, understandably, found objectionable, condescending and patronizing.

Gawker.com replicated this letter on their own site so you can click through and read the whole thing here if you want to.

Needless to say Mr Gunther replied justifying his stance and you can read that here.

Now the dust has settled, did Mr Gunther have a point or two?

Much as I feel the pain of the rejectees, I think our Mr G did have some points to make. As I mention above, you can read his entire diatribe here … but in the meantime, these are my takes on some of his key points, and how job seekers could learn from them when writing CVs, job application forms, and covering letters…

Do read the ad and do exactly what it asks
Surely this is elementary, dear Watson? Evidently not. So read the ad and respond precisely with what it wants. Don’t assume they’ll be impressed with your golf handicap or your pancake flipping skills: if they don’t need those, they won’t give a toss (of a pancake or anything else). Stick rigidly to the brief in the ad copy.

Don’t talk yourself into being filtered out
This is music to my North American ears when contemplating British and other northern European job candidates. There is an old saying in sales circles that goes, “if you don’t think you’re good, why the hell should I?” Bear that in mind. OK, don’t invent achievements you couldn’t possibly have done, but don’t hide your light under a bushel, either. Now is the time to be realistic about your skills. Don’t be shy about describing them – you can’t afford to.

Don’t tell me how great this job would be for you
Face it, kid – the employer (or his/her agent) couldn’t give a **** whether this job would be good for you or not. They only care in terms of what you could do for them. Bear that in mind at all times and you’ll stand a fighting chance of skipping the slush pile and getting through to a shortlist.

Don’t start every sentence in your application with ‘I’
So, so, true. The potential employer, as mentioned above, only cares about what’s in it for them – so the “I” this or that leaves them cold. Turn your text around so that it focuses on what you can do for them – otherwise known as the YOU angle

Do capitalize and use punctuation
Of course. But do you? Check this out here…  It may seem silly and trite to worry about such things as correct English in the light of the internet’s utter disregard for “old fashioned” principles, but when you’re after a job you need all the brownie points you can get. And for the time being at least, using poor English “ain’t” the way to achieve that.

Don’t use the word “passionate”
Our Mr G is being a bit of a stickler here concerning contemporary clichés and I do not blame him. The word “passionate” makes my stomach heave too. Bear in mind that by now, potential employers equally may well be made to vomit by this “passionate” word so you would be well advised to find an alternative. (Try Roget’s Thesaurus.) Ditto applies to all contemporary business clichés

Do tell me what position you are applying for
Huh? Is this for real? The position you’re applying for should go into the subject line of the email and/or the “re:” line at the start of your covering letter. I wonder how many of Mr G’s 900 applicants managed to screw this one up. Be warned … don’t screw up on this yourself!

Don’t talk sh*t about your current or past employers
Tempting though it may be to denigrate that former employer who treated you badly, this is not the place to do it. Do you want your future employer to know that you would be rude about them in your future job applications should you part company with them? No. So don’t sow that seed in a future employer’s mind.

There are many more points in Shea Gunther’s piece … not all of which I agree with, but despite having infuriated his 900 job applicants, plus a few, he does makes some useful points which job seekers could do well to consider.

Do you agree that Shea has a point or two, at least?

Would be interested to know your views.

Job seeker or not, here’s some priceless help:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write
“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English
“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published




  1. Steve Green says

    He was absolutely right to write what he did. It is infuriating to receive job applications that ignore the carefully crafted instructions in the advert. The people who criticise him don’t seem to understand that he is the one offering a job, and if you want that job you’re going to have to do what he wants. As a job seeker, you’re an idiot if you don’t listen to him.

    I use a variety of additional filtering techniques. For instance I don’t read any CV that’s in less than 11pt text and I don’t read anything in Arial Narrow regardless of the font size. I reject all CVs that are just bulleted lists without any narrative.

    A lot of the same phrases appear in many CVs. A favourite is “I have had exposure to…” which means “Someone else in my office was doing…”. I have no idea why so many people think that this counts for anything.

    • Seems like it’s another interpretation of “the customer is always right” Steve! In fairness I suppose he did have rather a long rant, but in his shoes I probably would get fed up with wrongly structured job applications, too.

  2. Well, his e-mail made me smile. Why doesn’t he write a best-seller on the do’s and don’ts of writing applications!?!? Certainly he’s got some good traffic, but in such a patronising way.

    I wonder which of the successful applicants will be passionate about working with Shea 😉

    • With all the attention Mr Gunther is getting from his rejection letter, Lynn, I should think his guide to filling out job application forms would be an international best seller! (Hear that, Mr Gunther?)

  3. Nipping over to read the rejection letter in all its arrogant glory, I was fully prepared to utterly dislike Mr Gunther.

    However, I found I couldn’t really as he puts his response in great context right from the off – 900+ applicants meant that the company could afford to be VERY choosy. And the advert was for writers for heaven’s sake, who surely should be aware of the majority of the points he makes?

    Would I be over the moon to receive such a rejection email? No. But I’d make da*n sure to pinpoint any blunders mentioned in it that I found in my application and avoid them like the plague in any future post applications!

  4. I’ve given a copy of this document to my daughter who’s job hunting for a Nursery Nurse position it contains some excellent tips. She is currently ding contract work and is seeking a full time position.

    The gawker writer is clearly just looking to stir things up!

    A really good pieces of work as a reply – Alice would be delighted if some people just bothered to even acknowledge her application.

  5. The biggest complaint I hear from job seekers is that recruiters give them no feedback at all – not even to tell them they haven’t been shortlisted. Whilst this list of suggestions might have rubbed some people up the wrong way, I hope many were grateful that he at least took the time to analyse where most people went wrong and craft detailed advice on how to improve their chances.

    I was training a group of job seekers recently, and a delegate said that CVs were a waste of time as employers never acknowledged them. He said he had sent out 50 and not one had been responded to. A little later the same person asked whether I thought it would be a good idea to actually send a CV with the covering letter!!! The 50 rejections hadn’t included a CV at all.

    The tone of the letter you desribed probably was a bit patronisiung, but having read 900 CVs, most of which were clearly way off the mark would try one’s patience a tad.

    • Honestly, you would think that getting a CV and covering letter together was rocket science, wouldn’t you? OK, it does take some thought and work but it isn’t difficult to find out what employers are looking for. Job seekers really do need to get a grip and spend more time on their CVs.

  6. I am inclined to agree with Mr Shea. I got one job on the back of the fact although my grammar leaves a lot to be desired I could actually do the job they needed me to do and I had the track record to prove it. I was the 80th candidate they had interviewed and I was the only one who passed their psychometric tests. Yet, they were so hesitant to meet me due to how I had written my CV, kind of ironic for a former recruiter 😉

    • That’s yet another reason why CV writing is so important, Sarah. A poorly written/constructed CV or application form can obscure the true talent of the candidate which is misleading for the potential employer, and a dreadful waste of the candidate’s ability – not to mention time.

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