A reader writes:
I wanted to know what your take is on “pain letters.” I have been reading up on career advice, and I ran across an article by a Forbes contributor who says that we should junk cover letters and resumes for “pain letters.”
I’d advise against them. When I’ve received them, they’re generally cringingly off-base and sound like they were written by someone who will be all flash and no substance.
For people who don’t know what a pain letter is, it’s a concept being pushed by at least one career writer — who happens to be selling a whole job search system based on it — where the idea is to send a letter through the postal mail to a hiring manager, outlining a problem you think the employer is experiencing (the “pain”) and how you can solve it.
In other words, it’s a cover letter but with lots of added salesiness and a serious dose of presumption.
I say that because it requires you to guess at what the hiring manager’s problems are, which can be hard to do from the outside and carries a high risk of coming across as insulting or uninformed or both.
It is true that you should frame your application in terms of what the hiring manager needs, but you don’t need to go guessing at what problems she may or may not have. The main problem she has that you need to speak to is “I need someone to perform this job well, and preferably excel at it.” It’s really not more complicated than that.
As for the whole postal mail thing, it will at best annoy most hiring managers (who now have to figure out how to get your materials into the electronic application system that you decided not to use, can’t easily forward your stuff to anyone else, etc.) and make them wonder if you’re a technophobe who’s out of touch with how this stuff works and/or someone who cares not for instructions, and at worst may actually get your materials tossed.
The thing that this “pain letter” advice and so much like it ignores is this: Applying for a job doesn’t require gimmicks to stand out and be noticed. The way you stand out is by having a resume that shows a strong track record of getting results in the areas that they’re hiring for, writing a compelling cover letter that explains why you’d excel at the role as they’ve laid it out, and being friendly, responsive, and enthusiastic. That’s not anything you can sell as a system and it’s not especially exciting … but it works consistently.