A Pain Letter is a new-millennium alternative to a cover letter. It’s a letter. It has black or blue ink on a white page, but that’s about all that a Pain Letter has in common with a cover letter.
When you send a cover letter with a resume into some kind of faceless Black Hole recruiting pit, you know your odds of hearing back from the employer range from slim to none. Here is a horrifying story we heard from a job-seeker who was told by a company recruiter that she doesn’t even look at the resumes coming in through the firm’s Applicant Tracking System. She ignores those resumes and finds her own candidates via LinkedIn!
When you send a Pain Letter, you don’t pitch it into a Black Hole career portal to die. You send it to directly to your hiring manager at his or her desk. I think I know what you’re thinking: how do I find my hiring manager? Here’s how to do that!
I was a corporate HR leader for ages. I saw the recruiting process degrading and becoming more zombified every year. I saw how that degradation of the recruiting process was hurting job-seekers and employers. Nobody wins — only a technology vendor wins when technology takes over what should be a warm and vibrant human process. Recruiting is a human activity, not a technological one.
When everybody figures out that the way to get your resume through the keyword searching algorithm is to cram keywords into your resume or your application, the sorting technology becomes useless. That is the biggest “Duh!” in the world, but when we fall into our business brain we can lose the ability to think clearly.
We invented Pain Letters to give job-seekers a more powerful and immediate way to tell their story to hiring managers. If you want to write a Pain Letter and skip the obnoxious online-application chore, here are the steps to follow.
Research the Employer
A Pain Letter is not generic. Every Pain Letter is unique. If you don’t want to take the time to research the employer before you write a Pain Letter, don’t even bother writing it.
Start your research at the organization’s own website. Read about its business. What do they make or sell? Who are their clients? What sorts of issues do you imagine that the organization is dealing with?
Figure Out The Pain You Solve
Everybody solves some kind of pain in their work. When you say “I’m a Payroll Coordinator,” it means that you solve several different kinds of pain that employers experience when the payroll system doesn’t run properly. You have to pay people correctly or you’ll violate the law. There are wage and hour laws, and other things like wage garnishment and tax changes that make payroll a critical business function. Here are some of the types of Business Pain a Payroll Coordinator can solve:
- I solve the pain associated with employees getting paid the wrong amount or not getting paid on time.
- I solve the pain that comes with improper tax deductions and reporting mistakes.
- I solve the pain that comes about when employees’ payroll deductions for insurance and other benefits are miscalculated.
- I solve the pain that hits employers when nobody in Payroll can help them answer their pay-related questions.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Good Payroll people like you solve another two or three dozen kinds of Business Pain! If you want to send Pain Letters and generally to step into the new-millennium workplace with confidence, stop focusing on your skills, and tell us instead about the kinds of pain you relieve!
Who Has That Pain?
Which employers are likely to be experiencing the kind of Business Pain you solve? If you’re a Payroll Pain Relief Specialist, that might be employers who are growing fast and adding staff. You can find out who’s growing in your area by reading your local business publication (online for free) and looking for its annual list of fast-growing employers.
Now You Need a Name
You will send your Pain Letter directly to your hiring manager. In the case of a Payroll Coordinator, that might be the CFO or the Director of HR. Don’t send your Pain Letter to the CEO of the company unless you’re pursuing an executive job or unless the employer is really small. CEOs are famous for having very diligent administrators who are likely to send your carefully-written Pain Letter right back into the same Black Hole abyss you were trying to avoid.
Find a Hook
When you sit down to compose your Pain Letter, the first thing you’ll need is a Hook. Your Hook is a news item about your prospective employer – something that happened in the past six months. Maybe they won an award. Maybe they broke ground on a new facility. You’ll begin your Pain Letter by praising your reader (your possible next boss) on the company’s accomplishment.
Who gets enough acknowledgement in this world? No one! Your human Hook will open an aperture in your hiring manager’s mind. He or she will have a good reason to read the rest of your letter because rather than talking about yourself, the way we all learned to do in a cover letter, you are talking about him or her and/or his or her teammates.
Here is a sample Hook from a Pain Letter:
I was lucky enough to catch your talk at the Townsville Organic Products Expo last month, and I couldn’t agree more with your observation that kelp is the new hemp. Congratulations to you and your team at Underwater Seagrass for making a big splash in the organic foods marketplace!
You’ll follow your Hook with a pithy Pain Hypothesis that suggests a type of Business Pain your hiring manager may be experiencing. Pick one! There could be any number of things keeping your hiring manager up at night — you only need to hit one of them. Mentioning multiple pain points makes your message mushy, and that’s the last thing we want to do!
Here is a sample Pain Hypothesis from Pain Letter:
I can imagine that hiring as many people as you are, keeping tabs on payroll issues might be a constant challenge. With regulations constantly changing, it’s not easy to keep everyone paid correctly and well-informed in a growing company.
A Pain Hypothesis is simple. You are saying “You have a guinea pig, eh? Have you run into that guinea pig rash that is all over town? A lot of people have!”
Don’t teach in your Pain Letter. Don’t tell the hiring manager what they should do. They know their job. Mention a possible pain point and stop.
You’ll follow up on your Pain Hypothesis with a simple, one-or-two sentence Dragon-Slaying Story. That’s a story about a time when you saved the day at work by solving a similar type of Business Pain. Here’s an example:
When I ran the payroll system at Angry Chocolates, I kept the payroll accurate and in compliance and answered dozens of employee questions every day while we grew from 15 to 650 staff members.
Notice what you don’t do in your Dragon-Slaying Story? You don’t praise yourself with praising adjectives like savvy, strategic or results-oriented. You just tell your possible next boss in simple human terms what you left in your wake at another job. If you’re a student, your Dragon-Slaying Story might come from a class project, a part-time job or a student leadership position.
Your Pain Letter is very short. The shorter your Pain Letter can be, the better! Resist the urge to say more about yourself. No one cares. All your hiring manager cares about is his or her own pain, and in that respect he or she is exactly like every living person. Your resume will be attached by one staple in the upper left corner to your Pain Letter, so your manager will be able to read about you once he or she flips the page to view your resume. Your closing will simply say
If payroll accuracy and advice to your team is on your radar screen, I’d love to chat when it’s convenient. All the best, Nancy Drew
It is a new millennium. Work is different, and job-hunting is different too. Step into your power and job-hunt in a new way. Leave the broken Black Hole recruiting system behind!