Dear Uncommon Courtesy,
In the past week or so, I’ve gotten a number of emails and tweets from people offering unsolicited career advice. The messages have been quite hurtful, actually! They’ve been condescending, unhelpful and demoralizing. And also infuriating: I’m aghast at the entitlement these people are demonstrating in thinking that it’s acceptable to burst into my inbox uninvited and start offering their opinions on what I’m doing wrong with my work.
I would love to have a perfect response to someone’s unsolicited advice that firmly, but politely, indicates that they should shove it. Whatcha got for me?
Jaya: Yeahhhhh. For reference, the LW has the type of public job where people would actually think to do this. I have so many thoughts on this. There seem to be stages here, based on if/how well you know the person emailing, and how much you feel like dealing with it. There is always the option of not responding, especially if it’s a one time thing from a stranger, if you just don’t have the bandwidth.
Victoria: Yeah, you never have to respond to an unsolicited email from someone you don’t know!
Jaya: Totally. But yeah, she seems like she wants to respond, and I think it depends on if she knows the emailer or not. If not, the first go I think can be like “I’m trying a lot of things out with my career and am making decisions I feel comfortable with.” Is that too oblique?
Victoria: I think that’s good! Or even just, “So far, my work has been very successful where it is and the things I’m trying have been rewarding experiences, so while I appreciate you taking the time to reach out, I am handling things fine on my own.” I don’t know if I would ever have the guts to say that though.
Jaya: Yeah, I think that’s definitely for 1. someone you know or 2. someone who didn’t get the hint with the first email. Or even something like “While I’m sure you were just trying to help, it comes off as condescending when you offer me unsolicited career advice.”
Victoria: Oooh yes, that’s very good, very strong.
Jaya: I think if they continue bitching after that you’ve earned the right to say whatever you damn want to them.
Victoria; Hahah yeah. Just say “I am not interested in discussing this any further. Now, tell me about your trip to Timbuktu.”
Jaya: Also, don’t offer people unsolicited advice! Ugh this is a huge peeve of mine. Because half the time it’s like, no shit, you think I haven’t attempted that avenue before? Like, unless you’re offering something constructive, like “Hey, I think your writing would be great for X site and I am good friends with the editor, let me know if you want me to put you in touch,” just don’t.
Victoria: Especially in trying to break into media and stuff, like, “yes, maybe I would like to be an etiquette superstar, do you happen to have any useful contacts i could reach out to?”
Jaya: And maybe don’t even offer to put people into contact with people you know.
Victoria : Oh, I think that is nice! Offering contacts gently is great, unless its like, say for Fox News,
Jaya: Hahahaha, delete all your Fox News contacts.
Victoria: Or some other place that would be very inappropriate for your type of work. But yeah, contacts are how people make careers and that is really the only advice you should offer! Unless you happen to be at the top of the career that person is aiming for. But presumably you would actually know the kind of advice that would be actually helpful!
Jaya: But yeah, telling someone what they should be doing with their career without them asking, and without knowing what they’ve already done/are trying to do, is super rude.
Victoria: Yes, and while you can’t answer rudeness with rudeness, you can certainly be firm or just ignore them.