How A Helpful Letter Produced A Firestorm

OK, clearly I missed the whole Shea Gunther drama, so let me recap.

  • Monday, Mr. Gunther sends out an email to people who applied to a job for a cleantech news site, listing criticisms and giving advice on the job search process. It hit the newsat the Guardian.
  • This hit the Gakwer network, who posted it in a rather negative context.
  • This produced what we technically call a “shitstorm” and Mr. Gunther ended up with a predictable amount of trolls and insults – as well as people praising him. Though the usual dogpile of would-be internet tough guys/gals is odd to see as this is about job search advice, and I don’t get why it’d get people that riled up.  Mr. Gunther summarizes the experience here.
  • You can read his entire list of advice in this Scribd document.

I’ve read it Know what? It’s good advice. In fact, I advise that anyone read it, as his tips are accurate, if skewed towards the writing positions in question. Mr. Gunther lists a whole lot of trends that are troublesome, gives advice, and makes good points about what people do wrong.

Yes, it’s a bit snarky, but as a man whose seen the job search experience implode, I can understand some snark. At least he did something constructive and he does seem to care.

What I don’t get is the anger, because the man’s 3000 Magnum Opus (which, if I recall from Bloom County, means Big Penguin), is really good advice. In a world where people never write you back from a job application, when silence is the only result, another human reaching out with advice is important.

It’s needed. More people need to do this. Hell, he even bulletpointed it (I of course am biased).

All I can think of is that the Gawker article insulted him, and a bunch of people took cues from it. If it had been called “Man Takes Time To Advise Job Seekers” he’d be lauded. Instead, he just became an easy target (but, hey, Gawker got their hit rates up).  There’s a little too much jumping-on-the-bandwagon here for my taste.

But why would people get so angry? I’ve been wondering this, and this fits a few things I’ve speculated on – namely why people seem anxious for good job advice and so thin skinned about criticism concerning it. Trust me, I see this all the time, and it’s extremely frustrating.  By the time someone goes off in a funk because you tried to help them, you get a little annoyed.

The job search is not a rational experience for many. It’s a mixture of fear, egotism, disappointment, concern, all brewed up in a time of economic uncertainty and paralyzed HR departments (who, by the way, wouldn’t send a 3000 word letter most of the time). There is a lot of anger, a lot of worry, and no small amount of entitlement in a few people’s minds, who assume they are just awesome and should get any job.

To me, an old hand at the job search and Elder Geek, I think I’ve learned something here. I’m used to a job search being a tactical endeavor, a challenge, an act of planning. Emotional issues (like empathy an connection) are involved, but it’s not something you get really emotional about, since it clouds your judgement.  You get strategic.

But that’s a lesson it takes time to learn. It’s also a lesson that, once you learn it, you forget you did have to learn it.

However, it is a lesson we all must learn. This is important in tough economic times where irrationality, egotism, fear, etc. can ruin your job search. Many is the time I’ve had to delicately handle a situation where the biggest barrier to someone’s job search was themselves.

So me, I’m going to remember to show this advice to people. I hope it starts a trend of more people giving actual feedback to job seekers that they can use. I’m also going to remember the irrationality out there in the job search world, since I seem to have forgotten it – and I think it may explain more than we realize.

However, this irrationality is something that needs to be addressed – because it’s killing people’s opportunities and careers.  We need more savvy and maturity in the job search, encouraged and taught early in people’s lives.  It sabotages too many people.

Also, please, if you can actually post advice to job seekers they can use? Do it. More, please.

Use bullet points.

Steven Savage