What’s a job-seeker to do when resumes and cover letters don’t seem to be doing the job? According to some career advisors, the answer is to change your cover letter strategy. The idea is to skip the cover letter and instead send something called a “pain letter” instead. But what are pain letters, anyway? More important, should you really be using them? In this post, we’ll consider the concept, and try to weigh the pros and cons of adopting this strategy as your own.
What are Pain Letters?
One thing’s certain: pain letters are certainly not what we’ve come to think of as a ‘cover letter.’ When you write a cover letter, your main goal is to capture an employer’s attention and provide context for your resume. You want to lay the foundation for convincing that employer that you are a job candidate worthy of hiring consideration. To do that, your cover letter focuses on the value that you can bring to the organization – based on the company’s needs as outlined in the job posting.
Pain letters take a different approach. This letter seeks to identify a company’s ‘pain point’ – some pressing problem that the hiring manager is struggling to resolve. It could be growing pains, poor infrastructure, unhappy customers, or rapid changes in the marketplace. Pain letters are designed to identify that pain, and then present you as the solution.
Writing Pain Letters
In theory, pain letters sound like a truly innovative approach to getting a hiring manager's attention. In fact, its creator has even developed a formula for writing one. Start with the hook to capture a hiring manager’s attention – something the company has accomplished in the recent past. Then use your pain hypothesis to identify the pain that you think the company might be struggling to resolve. Add a Dragon-Slaying story that talks about how you successfully addressed similar pain in a previous job. Finally, throw in a call-to-action to close the letter, and mail out a printed copy along with your resume.
Pain Letters: Pros and Cons
To help you decide whether to use pain letters in your job search, let’s examine the pros and cons of this approach. That examination is vital, since we’re talking about throwing out everything you know about the job-search process. That’s not something that should ever be done without careful deliberation.
According to its proponents, the pain letter is more likely to capture a hiring manager’s attention. They argue that modern hiring methods are too impersonal, thanks to ATS machines and other technologies. The goal is to circumvent that impersonal system by sending pain letters and resumes via postal mail. The pain letter is supposed to:
Get the hiring manager’s attention by praising the company’s recent success.
Show that you understand the company’s problems.
Showcase your own success so that you can present yourself as a solution to those problems.
Avoid ATS machines by using the postal system.
Many job-seeking experts dismiss the idea of pain letters out-of-hand, and with good cause. There are many potential pitfalls to this approach, including:
The entire concept is somewhat presumptuous. Hiring managers could easily be insulted by your effort to tell them which problems they need to solve.
No matter what anyone says, this is still a cover letter. It’s just a cover letter that defies normal rules – and that alone may cause it to be discarded.
There’s too much guesswork involved in the process. What if your pain hypothesis is wildly off-base? You can never really be sure that you’ve correctly identified the company’s pain.
The attempt to circumvent the company’s hiring process probably won’t earn you any points either. Companies use the ATS for a reason, and typically have resume submission guidelines. Use them.
You Don’t Need Pain Letters or Other Gimmicks
Here’s the thing to remember: you don’t need gimmicks. You need a powerful, well-written, and focused resume that showcases your value as a potential hire. In addition, you need a direct and compelling cover letter to emphasize that you’re the best candidate for the job. You don’t need to try to guess the employer’s secret problem; just focus on answering the problem identified in the job posting. No gimmick or innovative letter system can do that for you.
To learn more about how to write a truly effective cover letter that will help land you those needed interviews, read our post: How to Write a Cover Letter than Lands an Interview.
The ZipJob team is made up of professional writers and career experts located across the USA and Canada with backgrounds in HR, recruiting, career coaching, job placement, and professional writing.