Pain Letters: Can They Stop the Pain of Job Hunting?
May 1, 2014
I was sitting around with a few buddies, discussing the state of the career world. This was basically a group of slightly jaded and overworked — but still hopeful — 50-plus year olds who are tired of spending our lives coloring within the lines.
One friend brought up Liz Ryan, the career counselor and author, who, in recent years, has advocated for sending “pain letters” during the job search.
What is a pain letter? As Ryan puts it, rather than submitting your résumé and cover letter to an HR person where it goes into a bottomless pile, you send a letter directly to the hiring manager.
In essence, the letter directly addresses a hardship that a business may be experiencing and shows the hiring manager why you would be the perfect person to alleviate that pain.
Most important, you are telling your potential new boss how you can make his or her work life better with your experience.
As a former actor, it was common for me to be creative in order to land an audition. How many times did I send a bouquet of flowers to X Talent Agency with a demo CD of my best musical theater songs enclosed in the bouquet? I may not have always gotten the part, but at least I would receive a call for the audition.
When it comes to pain letters, consider the following points:
- Deciding whether to use a cover letter or pain letter: One of the key reasons that someone hires you is not just for your skills — it’s about whether you fit in with the corporate culture.
A pain letter can be your best asset. It may address: How much do you know about the company? How do your accomplishments mesh with their goals? Do you understand their challenges? Can you take away their pain of trying to find the right candidate in the job search? Why are you the most qualified?
- Replacing the insipid with the inspired: It’s time to put the “human” back in your résumé.
Tell the potential employer who you are and relate a story. It’s important to include two or three sentences about what motivates you. Why are you in this profession in the first place?
Having a sentence like “I led a mock PR agency project in school based on the same IMC media venues as GolinHarris” will mean far more to someone than being a “self-starter with a PR agency specialty.” This is what makes you unique and what may convince them to hire you.
- Finding the hook: When reciting your accomplishments to a potential employer, select the ones that will resonate the most. Do not become so caught up in “résumé speak” that you dilute your genuine passion for the profession.
One time, it took me four hours of career counseling to discover that a candidate produced a poignant video of a soldier’s homecoming and reunion with his 16-year-old daughter. As she was throwing the first pitch at an Oakland A’s baseball game, her father was secretly waiting in the wings to greet her. It was a touching story.
Dig deeper to find the right hook for your letter.
- Making the decision to bypass the HR department: Remember, you are not sending the usual résumé with a cover letter that says, “I’m responding to your ad in…”
You are simply writing: “I know what problems you are facing. I know your pain. I have been there. This is what I did.”
Be mindful not to criticize or trivialize the problems of people looking to fill the position.
Richard Spector is the senior manager of corporate development and industry partnerships for PRSA, where he counsels job seekers. He has conducted career presentations and webinars for NYU, WVU IMC, Ball State University, Quinnipiac, Purdue and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Email: richard.spector at prsa.org