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Anatomy of a rejection letter: Why the Ugly Duckling turned down Prince Charming

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5ksandcabernets: Anatomy of a rejection letter: Why the Ugly Duckling turned down Prince Charming


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Anatomy of a rejection letter: Why the Ugly Duckling turned down Prince Charming

This letter is not from the job I think (and am hopeful) that I am going to get, so I wasn't all that sad when the rejection notice hit my inbox Wednesday afternoon. Before I re-print the letter, let me tell you the hilarity of the situation: This is a monthly newspaper. This is a monthly newspaper that published its first edition in '05. Not 1905. I'm talking 2005. And, this is a monthly newspaper that published its first edition in 2005 and was trying to add two or three reporters.

So, what we have here is a 4-year-old monthly publication that decided a man with 18 years of experience working at daily newspapers was not good enough. That's like M.I.T. saying 'No' to Einstein.

Dear Kevin,

Thank you for your interest in a career with Community Impact
While your background and experience are strong, we have
identified other candidates whose experience more closely matches our
needs at this time.

Your resume will be kept on file and you will be contacted in the
event our employment needs should change.

Again, we thank you for your interest in Community Impact Newspaper
and wish you all the best in your job search.


A few points...

1) Seriously. You mean there are unemployed writers living in Austin who have more writing/editing experience than I do? That can't be the case. But if you read between the lines of the rejection letter, you may get your answer. Take this sentence:  "...we have
identified other candidates whose experience more closely matches our needs at this time."

That is code for, "You are too experienced and much better than anyone we have on staff right now - managers included - and if we hired you, you'd quickly realize this and want their jobs, or make it hard for them to manage you. So, we need to hire somebody who is only worth the 30k/year salary we are offering."

Obviously, they think I am overqualified. I get it. And of course, their hiring managers have every right to employ people who will want to work there and won't make waves. I had no plans on making waves and would have worked my tail off for that publication, which is not as Mom-and-Pop as you think. Community Impact Newspaper has 55 employees and six different editions.

The editors there, however, will never know my intentions because they sent a human resources employee to interview me. She read questions from a piece of paper and never asked follow-up questions. And perhaps the editors knew all along they were not going to hire me, so why waste their time by asking me questions.

The tough thing is, What do you do with that? You know? My money is low and I'm trying to work. I'm not robbing banks. I'm not sitting on my ass trying to see how long I can make my unemployment benefits last. I'm trying to work, and Community Impact Newspaper - a place where I could probably do the job of two or three people with my hands tied behind my back - does me like Kanye West did Taylor Swift.

But this newspaper isn't the first and won't be the last would-be employer who, "dumbs it down," during the hiring stage. Unemployment levels are at their highest in years, and when it gets this tight, the MoFo who knows everyone is more likely to get a job than the MoFo who knows everything.

And right now, I know nobody.

By the way, I sent a nicely worded thank you letter to the newspaper. Here it is:

Thanks for the interview last week. I was certainly surprised that my resume, which featured 18 years of journalism experience working at some of the biggest daily newspapers in the country, was not enough for me to land employment at your publication.

I can only presume that your management team believed that I wouldn't want to do the work at Community Impact Newspaper, or wouldn't work for the money you guys were offering. My only regret is that I didn't get to interview with any of your editors, for perhaps I could have convinced them otherwise.

Nevertheless, I wish you and Community Impact Newspaper good luck. I think yours is a gutsy publication. I commend your publisher and executive editor for expanding this newspaper, especially in these economic times which have been particularly harsh on the business. As an old ink-stained newspaper man myself, I'll be rooting for you guys.


Kevin Lyons



Blogger kirsten said...

Wow. I commend you on your professionalism. I occasionally am involved in hiring interviews for my employer and it is a very difficult task. From getting to know you thru your blog I think you would be great to work with and an awesome employee for any organization. The paper that turned you down without a thorough interview process has missed out on a great guy. Keep your head up...something truly worthwhile will come up.

September 16, 2009 at 10:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea that you would be turned down for a job because you're over-qualified seems ridiculous but then again, so is everything else involved with getting a new job. I wonder though — and I say this meaning to be honest, not to insult — if maybe you didn't come across as arrogant. No one wants employees who think they're too good for a job because they'll jump ship the first chance they get.

As writers, we need to be reminded to drop the pretensions: News writing is a trade, a skill one can be taught. We're not artists and you're not Ernest Hemingway. When reporters are losing jobs left and right, a certain degree of humility is in order — a realization that we're not as valuable as we once were and we should be thankful for any chance to do the thing we love.

I would also point out that blogging negatively about a job (saying you're more interested in another publication) while you're still in consideration, might not be the best idea when your thoughts can be retrieved with a simple Google search of your name.

Anyways, I say all of this not meaning to insult you but to wish you the best of luck. It's sad to see how many excellent writers are being forced to change careers because of the state of newspapers. I hope the job you're really after works out for you.

September 17, 2009 at 10:18 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Kirsten - Thx. I'm trying to stay positive in this ordeal.

Anon - I can understand your points, but your opinion seems to be based on some assumptions that are not true.
1) Sure, my blog post comes off arrogant. But I was nothing but respectful and enthusiastic during the interview process. If they, no check that... If the HR person thought I was too good, then it's not because of anything I did or said. (By the way, you say its ridiculous that I didn't get the job because I was overqualified. Well, you tell me: How does a guy who has been working at a daily newspaper for 18 years not get on with a monthly newspaper? And again, I say to you that my attitude was great and I answered every question with an enthusiasm that the woman doing the interviewing must not have picked up. Still, let's just say, for your argument, that I was a jerk during the interview (which I wasn't), wouldn't you think the editors at that paper would be curious enough to want to talk to me, if just to see for themselves whether or not they believed I'd wanna really work for the newspaper?)
2) I've been out of a job six months. I figured out a long time ago that the skills I have are not as valuable as they once were. When I took a buyout from the last newspaper I was with, I knew I was taking on a new reality. I knew the pay would be low for my next gig. And yet, I figured, if I could find a job I'd like doing, whether it was in the business or out, I'd go at it full force, understanding that I'd be lucky to have such an opportunity.
3) This blog post came out AFTER the newspaper told me I would not get the job. Still, as my post said, I would have worked my tail off for that publication, knowing that I'm lucky to have a job. But again, the editors would not, could not have known this because they did not interview me.
Anyway, I appreciate you stopping by the blog and leaving a thoughtful comment. I didn't agree with every point you made, but again, I appreciated your civility.

September 17, 2009 at 10:45 AM  
Blogger Ryan V. said...


(Neither thoughtful nor civil, just saying hello.)

September 17, 2009 at 11:14 AM  
Blogger kirsten said...

Writing news is an art. There is a huge difference between well written news that captures ones attention and imagination and drivel. That is why some news writers produce writing that is sought out and others do not. Whether or not Kevin is arrogant or not (and from my knowledge of him via his blog i'd say not), he still seems like an interesting guy who knows how to put words to paper. Too bad anon wasn't man or woman enough to name themselves!

September 17, 2009 at 12:21 PM  
Blogger Ulyana said...

Kevin, you really rock. I love your post, your thank you letter to the newspaper, and your response to the anonymous commenter.

It's unfortunate you didn't get a quality interview. Maybe they'll revise their process after they read your feedback from the thank you email. I wonder though if you burned some bridges with this blog post if "they" or anyone "they" know see it??? But, I honestly have no clue about how big/small newspaper business is in Austin.

Hang in there! I really hope you get the job you are waiting to hear good news from.

September 17, 2009 at 12:27 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

@Kirsten: When I see you out on the trails (we are both Rogue, right?) yell at me and, at the very least, the next GU is on me. Thanks.

@U: I'm sure I did burn a bridge and and even more sure people who work at that newspaper saw the post (just a hunch I'm basing on more than the half dozen new hits that the sitemeter tracking code on my site picked up today.

September 17, 2009 at 12:33 PM  
Blogger Just_because_today said...

sometimes employers deserve a letter like that and that was one of those cases. Your letter to them was sent to them specifically and I commend you for it.

Anyone can google you and unfortunately, in certain circumstances, it is true we must be careful.

Keep looking.

September 17, 2009 at 3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Kevin Thanks for your response. I did not mean to say it was ridiculous to assume you did not get the job because you were overqualified. To the contrary, I would be willing to bet that is exactly what happened. I meant that it is ridiculous that employers decide someone is somehow too good for the job they are offering. I have a friend with a Ph.D. who previously worked for the Statesman, an ideal candidate for ANY journalism job, who has been told the same in their job search. Deciding someone is "overqualified" is just insanity on behalf of employers. Again, I truly hope you find something. It's depressing to see so many good writers switch over to PR.

@kirsten I'm glad you have resorted to questioning my man/womanhood because of my preference to remain anonymous. As a reporter and employee, I prefer that my personal opinions not be made available to readers or employers (present or potential) with a simple internet search. As I tried to make clear, I was in no way trying to attack Kevin or imply that he's not a fantastic writer (I am after all reading his blog), but rather make an observation about his post and rant a bit about my opinion of news writing as a journalist myself, not my opinion of Kevin's skill as a reporter.

As for what you say, it is no secret that some reporters are better than others, but the same can be said of some welders, truck drivers, computer programmers, etc. The argument then is what one considers art. Perhaps all of these could be classified as art by someone, but hard news writing — the very kind I do myself for a living — does not meet my criteria to be considered such.

Of course, I'm not saying writing is not an art. Writing IS an art, but is it an art regardless of type? I think of it like this: Painting is an art, but would you call the man who paints the walls in your house an artist?

September 17, 2009 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Anon... I figured it was someone from CIN, but wasn't sure if it was a reporter or editor. Glad you clarified. I'm actually working on another blog post about the situation.

Also, I'd watch what you say about Kirsten. She is a fellow running friend of mine, and if we ever find you, your penance could be to do 6x1000 meter intervals at your nearest high school track :-)

September 17, 2009 at 4:49 PM  

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