Salespeople have been talking about business pain for years, but traditionally job-seekers haven’t been invited to join the conversation. That’s a pity for them, because understanding business pain is a huge asset to a job-seeker or anyone who wants to run his own career.
Even if you plan to work for your current employer for years, your understanding of business pain will help you. When you understand the value you contribute to your employer, you’re in a stronger negotiating position. Most working people are shockingly far removed from the concrete effects of their work. If a chart on the wall in HR says “Your job pays $67,500 per year” and you don’t have any data of your own, you’re not going to have a negotiating leg to stand on.
If you want to understand business pain, think of a plumber. We’ll invent an imaginary plumber and name him Chuck. People only call Chuck for one reason – something in their plumbing isn’t working.
Every time Chuck’s phone rings, Chuck knows one thing: somebody has a plumbing problem. Plumbing problems don’t go away by themselves. Somebody needs Chuck’s help.
Homeowners don’t get to ask Chuck ridiculous questions like “Can you tell me about a time you got a kid’s sock out of a tub drain?” or “If you were a wrench, what kind of wrench would you be?” If they start asking goofy questions, Chuck is going to hang up the phone. He has no time to talk to anyone who isn’t in pain. When people have a problem, they will pay Chuck to solve the problem, because people in pain need the pain to go away, pronto.
As a job-seeker you’ve got to stop talking about your Skills and Competencies, and focus on your hiring manager’s business pain. Job-seekers in general grovel way too much for their own good. They forget that managers have pain, and that they have experience solving pain in other situations.
Hiring managers may behave as though they have all the time in the world to interview candidates and mull over a hiring decision, but that isn’t usually the case. If you interview for a job and you can’t spot the pain, run away! A manager who is not connected to his own and his team’s impact on the ground is not someone who can teach you anything about business, or leadership.
Business pain is real, and it’s visceral. No manager every got a job requisition approved without it.
By the time a tight-fisted CFO or division controller gives a manager the green light to make a new hire, the manager is dying for help. The business pain could be keeping him up at night, by then.
Chuck the plumber knows how pain works. When Chuck gets a phone call, he doesn’t mince words. “My rate is ninety-five an hour,” he says. Why doesn’t Chuck fear that the homeowner will call another plumber, one who charges seventy-five bucks an hour, such that Chuck will lose all his customers? Chuck knows the value he delivers, and he knows what people at various levels of competence charge in his marketplace. Every job seeker needs to know those things, too.
When you see a job ad that intrigues you, scan the fanciful-bordering-on-delusional list of Essential Requirements. The list is either the product of somebody’s wishful thinking (if I write it down in a job ad and publish it, surely the perfect person will fly in to save the day, like Superman!) or old verbiage that’s been sitting around on a hard drive in HR.
Either way, the Essential Requirements on the job ad have little to do with what’s really going on in the department.
Once you’ve read the bulleted list of requirements, read between the lines. Think about the Business Pain that’s lurking behind the job ad. What kind of pain is this manager in? It’s your job now to make an educated guess about that, just enough to let the manager know you’re familiar with the problems he’s struggling with.
If you can reach the hiring manager with a message about the very business pain he’s experiencing, you can have a substantive conversation about pain and its relief.
At Human Workplace we talk about business pain in many contexts, but we focus on three principal business-pain vortices for job-seekers:
- Pain Letters
- Dragon-Slaying Stories, and
- Pain Interviewing
A Pain Letter is a letter that accompanies your resume to the hiring manager’s desk via old-fashioned snail mail. Your Pain Letter doesn’t talk about your Qualifications and it doesn’t use any lists. Instead, it opens the conversation with a human-voiced acknowledgement of something cool and praiseworthy the manager’s team or the manager’s company has done. The Hook gets the hiring manager to keep reading.
A Pain Letter takes a hiring manager’s brain down a different path than “Oh, here’s another job-seeker.” You can write to your hiring manager directly at his desk, but if you send a standard, stiff “Please your Majesty” letter it’s going to end up in the same Black Hole you were trying to avoid. Instead of a zombietastic traditional cover letter, send a pithy Pain Letter next time!
Business Pain is also the key to Dragon-Slaying Stories that you’ll tell in a Pain Letter (one Dragon-Slaying Story, only!) and in your Human-Voiced Resume. Here’s an illustration of Dragon-Slaying Stories in the resume context.
There is one more critical juncture for job-seekers interested in Business Pain. It’s the interview, of course — when a job-seeker has to choose between sitting passively and answering questions like a kid in school, or digging in with his or her own questions to understand the manager’s Business Pain and talk about pain-relieving ideas.
How do you ‘spin’ an interview to get off the scripted questions and into the juicy stuff? Here’s how we teach folks to do it:
MANAGER: So Geena, can you tell me about yourself?
GEENA: For sure, I went to the University of Massachusetts for Operations and was a consultant for Deloitte for two years after school. You know, I hate to bore you with my story — can I ask you a quick question about the job?
MANAGER: Go ahead.
GEENA: If I understand correctly from my research, you work directly with chip suppliers in North America but buy from distributors in Europe. I’m curious about that, if you’re game to talk about it. I’m interested in how that structure affects this job.
MANAGER: Great catch, Geena! That’s a relatively new structure. Honestly, it’s not the optimal one but that gets into shipping and tariff issues.
GEENA: I understand. I’m curious what responsibility I’d have in this role, if any, to wade into that and sort it out. (Geena wants to know: is there pain?)
MANAGER: Have you done that sort of thing before — constructed a supplier channel, or dismantled one?
GEENA: Yes, at ToonTown Industries we had to completely rebuild our pipeline when the technology changed…
MANAGER: Oh, of course. That’s a good topic for us to discuss, then. I’d like to hear more about that evolution.
GEENA: Would you say that’s one of the biggest issues for the person in this job to tackle?
MANAGER: Only just now, to be honest – I had cast this as more of an Inventory Control job with planning, but the supplier management piece is becoming more of an issue.
Geena loves to talk about solutions, but she isn’t going to use her interview airtime to tell the manager that she has all the answers to his problems. She doesn’t. It would be arrogant of her to assume that she does, when the manager, a smart guy (smart enough for her to want to work for him!) hasn’t figured everything out on his own.
That’s okay. Geena’s goal is to not convey “I have the answer.” Her goal is rather to convey “I am someone you can trust to get the answer once I’m working here.” She has already moved light years ahead of the other candidates by asking thoughtful questions based on her research and her understanding of the manager’s movie, including the painful parts.
Every good movie has a dramatic arc. The dramatic arc is always a matter of someone’s losing something (boy losing girl, for instance) or someone having a problem to solve. No problem, no movie! Job search works the same way. Job-seekers who give up trumpeting their fabulousness and zero in on their hiring manager’s pain don’t worry about getting their next job.