One Lesson from A Hater: Turn Criticism into Feedback

Recently, I got hate mail for the very first time in my career as a recruiter. I really enjoyed working in recruitment and I loved my job. One of my least favourite part of the job, though, was when I had to reject candidates and tell them they were not suitable for the role. I remember when I was running graduate assessment days, I had to reject as many as 30 candidates in a single day. I usually did the calls consecutively. Call. Reject. Repeat. My colleagues used to listen to my calls and teased me for how “heartless” I was. I would cringe inwardly whenever I had to reject a candidate that I know really wanted the job. Guilt would fill me as I heard the disappointment in their response. I mean, who wants to be a messenger of bad news?

A couple of months ago I started connecting with people in the training and coaching industry in Singapore, as I wanted to grow my network and meet like-minded people(and possibly open up job opportunities along the way). After all, networking is power and I believe it is still the number one way to get a job. Imagine my utter shock when I received this in my inbox:

Hi Cindi.

We were connected before and I disconnected from you. I am curious to know as to why you have requested a connection again. The last time we conversed, we also happened to be our first conversation, you were ignorant, which forgivable, had not done your homework, which fine, but also absolutely arrogant, which one must wonder on what basis, rude, manipulative, selfish, exploitative and insulting. You called me to offer a job a for $1,700, something which a desperate graduate in Singapore may consider, purely for desperation in a situation, with complete disregard for a person’s background and station in life. I believe at that point in life was at the peer level of the boss of your boss at least if not his or her boss. While I have good memory, I remember our conversation for disgusting level of your lack at being decent or human. Perhaps, over the lapsed time you have had opportunity at soul searching, at reflection, at self-improvement, at evolution, and you have positively utilised any such opportunity and are therefore now hopefully a more respectable human being. If you are, perhaps I could be of some humble service. Are you a better person today than you were when conversed in 2011 Cindi?

Regards, xxx

My jaws dropped. If he(or is it a she? :p) had spoken those words in my face I probably would have burst into tears. I felt that I did not deserve the message, and that it was not intended for me. Firstly, I had no recollection of speaking to him and his name did not ring a bell. Granted, I was doing between 20 to 50 phone interviews a week, which means I spoke to at least 1000 candidates in 2011. Secondly, the most telling sign that I could not have spoken to him before was the salary of $1700. The minimum basic salary of a trainee recruitment consultant started at $2500, and the other support roles I recruited for were above this amount. The only possible role that paid less than this was an intern position with an internship allowance of $700. Thirdly, I would never offer a person a job(regardless of the pay) during an initial phone conversation without first meeting him in person. Hence, I am pretty certain that we never had that alleged conversation at all. The only alternative if this really took place was that he had forgotten the exact figure.

Not wanting to engage in a fruitless conversation(and still feeling slightly hurt), I chose not to reply his message. Ironically, he followed me on Linkedin a few days after that message. In case you do read this by any chance, I am truly sorry that you felt that way. Seven years is a long time to hold a grudge against someone. To answer your last question, I do want to be a better person, especially since the slogan of my former training company Inkris was ‘Be a better you’. I am certain that genuine feedback can help make me better. I would love to buy you coffee to talk this over in person, so feel free to reach out again if you’re up for that. Be gentle though, you don’t want to make a girl cry during the first meeting.

I used to dislike criticism of any kind. My past responses were to defend myself, become offended or to ignore my critic. However, I’ve learned that such a response is immature and that criticism is essential if you want to grow. Norman Vincent Peale once said, “The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

I started looking for a job in Singapore last month although I was still based in Perth. I received a response pretty quickly, and soon had 3 phone interviews with 3 incredible companies that I was keen on. Unfortunately(or maybe fortunately as it later turned out), I did not make it through the next stage. In all 3 interviews, the recruiter did not give me any useful feedback during the ‘rejection’ and all of them ignored my follow up emails. I have to admit that being rejected for 3 roles did not feel good. I finally understand how my career coaching clients/students feel. I now have more empathy for my clients, and this will change the way I train and coach. However, I completely understand why the recruiters behaved the way they did because I used to do that too. My standard rejection template was the sh*t sandwich: “You’re a great candidate, unfortunately we are not proceeding with your application as there is someone more suitable for the role.” I would only stay in touch and give feedback to promising candidates that still stood a chance of gaining employment in the future with my company. I simply had no time to give proper feedback or to respond to every single candidate. It was this experience that later drove me to become a career coach where I could do that for every single person. On a side-note, I did go for two in person interviews and got offered two amazing roles that fit me to a tee(both of which I accepted and am really excited about!). Perhaps the feedback for me is that I need to work on my phone interview skills and that those jobs were not a great fit for me. In any case, my one lesson from my hater is to turn criticism into useful feedback. So thank you for this lesson, let me know if you want to chat over coffee.

The same offer goes to every single former candidate and client I have worked with over the years who may have some pent-up emotions about me or some constructive feedback. You can be mad at me, but don’t hold it in for too long for your own good. Seven years is a long time to hold a grudge against somebody who is not even aware about it. Don’t worry, I won’t reveal your identity. Just make sure you pick a good place for coffee, I’m really missing Aussie coffee.

This is the first of my #OneLesson series on the ONE lesson I learn from a person or a book that has influenced me.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on August 21, 2018.