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Advice, not Coaching April 23, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
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The job-search scene is hard enough.  You send applications, letters, resumes, and networking requests, spend hours searching the same boards over and over again hoping that this week, it will be different.  Unless you have considerate friends to give good feedback, or actually pay money to have someone review and edit your personal documents, you rarely get much constructive criticism or suggestions for improvement.

Enter Shea Gunther.

His clean tech job ad, unsurprisingly, drew hundreds of eager applicants looking for a great writing gig.  Anyone who reads applications for a living surely can guess at the percentage of worthwhile responses, and can probably sympathize with Gunther”s realization that there are truly a lot of bad resumes out there.

Perhaps out of frustration, he took it upon himself to write what appears to be a well-thought-out rejection letter (also here) – something most prospective employers wouldn’t bother to do.  Most applicants are lucky to get a form letter response, if anything at all.

So what went wrong?  Wouldn’t most people want helpful tips to improve their future search?  It turns out, not.  And, it turns out, this should not be a surprise to anyone.

While there are many hardy souls out there who took Gunther’s words at face value, many more thought he was being insensitive, arrogant, egotistical, and all manner of other unprintable names.  Gunther’s mistake was in believing that he could coach these people without ever meeting them.  He was giving unsolicited advice that triggers the human defense mechanism – he literally caused most reader’s brains to react with automatic rejection of their own (if you want to find out how this works, I highly recommend the book “Your Brain on Business”).

The takeaway from all this is that constructive advice is most helpful if the adviser is aware of the listener’s motivations in the first place.  A coach is someone who supports the individual’s effort and provides the necessary leeway to allow some degree of failure.  But this only works if the coach understands that individual’s limits and personal goals.  Basic, unfiltered advice is all over the internet, and most people have a high tolerance for sarcasm and cynicism.  But if the intent is to provide truly helpful and personal guidance, there’s only one way to do it – and it doesn’t involve a keyboard.

For Shea’s rebuttal to the naysayers, click over to salon.com