Rutabagas and What It’s Like to Reject 2,000 People for a Single Role at the Same Time

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Editor’s note: Typically, we post news about Order Desk, our ecommerce order management app. This post falls outside of our normal scope of content, however since many of our users are small businesses, we want to be real about the challenges and joys of running a business. This was written as a personal anecdote by Dan Schenker, Content & Strategy Lead at Order Desk.

If the title of this story made your stomach sink, that’s basically how it felt for us. Order Desk’s small leadership team had received over 2,200 applications for a single customer support role in just 48 hours, and our bootstrapped company (read: no outside investors) of only eight people at the time was overwhelmed by the sudden influx of attention.

The excitement of a person on the hunt for a job is infectious, and reading through every single application was actually more enjoyable than it might sound. Any hiring manager will tell you that some folks phone it in, putting in the minimum effort on their application. For us, it was the ones who showed their personality and tried to sell more than just their accomplishments that really made the process exciting to us.

The role we were hiring for required a keen eye, so we threw in a request for a secret word, rutabaga, to see who would catch it. No, root vegetables don’t often come up in conversation at our ecommerce order management app, but we wanted to see who was paying attention. It wasn’t a deal-breaker if someone didn’t spot it (in fact we even had people follow up after the fact to mention that they saw it but forgot to include it), but we saw some great, truly clever ways that it was incorporated into applicants’ responses.

From that pool of applicants, our first cull left us with about 2,000 people to reject right in the first round, so we were presented with our first big choice.

  1. We could take the thoughtful approach and spend weeks writing personalized emails to these people explaining why they weren’t chosen. But remember, we were a company of just eight people and still needed to be mindful of our daily responsibilities.
  2. We could take the quick and easy approach, sending out a “dear applicant” email: short and not so sweet, all business, and right to the point.
  3. Or, there was my least favorite option: blow them off. No call, no email, nothing. You weren’t chosen, so you’re not worth the time. Girl, bye.

We wanted this job search to reflect our own company values: things like generosity and curiosity, with just a dash of fun, and to show a basic regard for other humans and what they may be going through. From the initial job listing to the hiring process itself, we wanted to make sure that these people knew that we valued the time and effort they had taken to pursue a job with our company. Looking at our three options, we felt as if only the first one even remotely represented any of that. And of course that wasn’t feasible for us.

Our leadership team is comprised of people who aren’t typically confrontational by nature. And like the others, I prefer to avoid direct confrontation. I’m a “maybe someone else will have this tough conversation” kind of guy. So we found our hearts hurting for this huge list of people who needed to be turned away.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was in their shoes. For a variety of reasons, I was searching for something new, and my circumstances had me desperate for anything. I’m not a particularly handy guy and had worked with computers for the last 15 years, yet I even applied for a machining job at a rubber factory just to be closer to home. That company chose the third option from the list above, by the way, and didn’t bother to let me know that I had been turned down for the job. Girl, bye.

But that experience reminded me, and us as a company, what it was like to not feel wanted. It’s a really short rollercoaster ride to get emotionally invested enough in a job and company to want to work there, only to be turned down for it a week or two later. And when this happens over and over for months on end, it’s demoralizing. We couldn’t bring ourselves to let any of these people down. We had to make a choice.

We each found our own pockets of zen and prepped ourselves for what we ultimately decided to do: to send a mass email. Gross. But here’s what we sent:

Hi (their actual first name),

Thank you for applying to work at Order Desk.

There’s no sense making you wait for an answer: unfortunately, we didn’t choose to move forward with your application.

We did want to let you know that you were one of close to 2,000 people who applied for our Customer Support Specialist role, which absolutely humbled us. We’re a small company, so we were thrilled that you wanted to be a part of our team.

Most importantly, we don’t want you to be discouraged that you weren’t chosen this time. We know you put a lot of time and effort into your application, and we have to regretfully let down a lot of talented, amazing people today. The applicant pool was simply massive, and we had to make some really tough decisions on our end to whittle that down.

We encourage you to keep us in your sights, though. Follow us on social media, engage with us, and start to build that relationship. We’re still growing, and we expect to be hiring often in the future. If we know you, it’ll help us make more informed decisions the next time we expand our team.

We want to wish you the best of luck with your job search.

Hitting that send button was one of the most difficult things we had ever done as a company. And after all the anxiety and worry we had leading up to this, we were shocked by the responses we started receiving.

Our inbox was overflowing with kind, positive messages. Our social accounts saw growth like they’d never experienced before. Our pulses were still elevated, but this time with serotonin, not from the dread of letting so many people down at once. When we received our first, then second, then tenth response, we knew we were in the middle a special moment.

One particularly memorable message was from someone who seemed truly down on their luck. They’d been job hunting for almost a year and blaming themselves for the lack of positive results, but they said that our message gave them hope that something was out there… even though what they received from us was another blow in a string of rejections.

The response we received was fortunate and welcome, but it wasn’t luck; This was empathy in action. It is possible to work for a company and continue to hold on to your humanity, and we weren’t about to give that up, even if it meant more work for us in the short term. And it was—we had committed internally to answer every response to the rejection email that we got, even if they didn’t ask us any questions.

If you’ve made it this far, I’d love it if you checked our Careers page to see what it’s like to work at Order Desk. If we have any open roles, they’ll be listed there, and if we don’t, send us a message! And if you connected with what you’ve read here, I’d encourage you to share it and tag me or Order Desk to let us know.

If you’re a hiring manager or you influence hiring decisions, I hope this story resonates with you. The Order Desk hiring team made a conscious effort to maintain our humanity and be mindful of how taxing it is to search for work.

And lastly, if you’re looking for a job, or you’ve been let down by companies in the past, please keep this story in mind. The job application grind is hard, and the amount of work that companies put in to accept or deny you doesn’t always feel comparable to the work that you put into your application. So please, please know that there are people who see your struggle and respect it. We’re rooting for you.*


*My editor wanted this to say “root-abaga-ing”, but that would take away the oomph from the ending. Good thing I didn’t include it in this post!

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