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What Is a Pain Letter?

Instead of a Cover Letter, Try Writing a "Pain Letter"


Cover letters can be tricky to write because you want to come across as interesting but professional, qualified for the role but not overqualified. And most of all, despite the seemingly antiquated and generic template of a cover letter, you want to sound cool, clever, and utterly unique.

Here's where the "pain letter" comes in as a cover letter alternative.

What is a "pain letter?"

Similar to a cover letter, a pain letter introduces you to a hiring manager and conveys your interest in the open position. In a pain letter, however, you identify an area of "pain" that your prospective employer is experiencing and then you explain why you, specifically, are best-suited to heal that pain. According to Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of Human Workplace, a pain letter should be typed out on actual paper and sent via mail to a person IRL (not tossed into the black hole that is the online job application database). You should first identify who the hiring manager is and customize the pain letter specifically for that person.

Identify what kinds of pain you "solve."

Most everyone has the skills to solve some kind of pain, so it's just a matter of phrasing it properly. If you're a social media manager, for example, you solve the pain of lagging brand awareness due to few followers and inactive social media accounts.

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As with anything related to your job applications, providing concrete, specific data to back up your claims is always best. How can you quantify your success in prior similar roles (think: number of followers, percentage of sales, amount of online traffic, etc.)? Having declared the particular pain you solve, follow with an example of how you solved that pain in the past.

Provide hope for the future — not criticism of the past.

There is a fine line between identifying a need that your prospective employer might have and criticizing the company for having failed. Short, clever pain letters that promise assistance can be a welcome change from the ordinary old cover letters that HR people read all day, but steer clear of simply dumping on the company's current situation. So, it's less "I solve the pain that comes from having a homepage that looks like garbage, such as yours," and more "I solve the pain that comes from needing to keep customer-facing online materials up to date." Companies are looking for someone to help them — not detail all the ways they've come up short.

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