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Liz Ryan Contributor

I write about bringing life to work and bringing work to life. full bio →

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

I was a Fortune 500 HR SVP for ten million years, but I was an opera singer before I ever heard the term HR. The higher I got in the corporate world, the more operatic the action became. I started writing about the workplace for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997, but it took me ages to find my own voice. Now I write for the Huffington Post, Business Week, LinkedIn, the Harvard Business Review, the Denver Post and Forbes.com and lead the worldwide Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people. Stop by and join us: http://www.humanworkplace.com

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Leadership 3,839 views

Am I Doing Something Wrong In My Job Search?

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Okay, what’s a Pain Letter?

It’s a letter that you’ll send directly to a hiring manager — the person who will be your boss in your new job if you end up working there. That person’s title isn’t Hiring Manager, of course. That’s just your manager’s relationship to this job. He or she is actually called Purchasing Manager or Office Manager or whatever, but for this job opportunity, he or she is also the hiring manager. That’s the person you want to talk to.

Talk to how?

On paper, in your Pain Letter together with your Human-Voiced Resume. A Human-Voiced Resume is a resume that sounds like you, talking. It’s human. It brings you across on the page.

Isn’t HR usually the first point of contact for a job-seeker?

Yes, and that’s not a good thing — and I say that as an HR person myself. The HR person doesn’t have the same connection to the job that a hiring manager does, because we HR people don’t have the pain the manager has. The hiring manager is the person with the pain – the person with a big problem that this new employee is coming in to solve. As an HR leader I try to empathize with every hiring manager, but it’s not the same as me personally losing sleep over the need for a certain problem to go away.

What problem is that?

Every hiring manager has a problem, or there wouldn’t be a job ad. No tight-fisted CFO is going to approve a new hire just because a manager asks nicely. There has to be pain. There has to be more money going out the door because of the pain than what the newcomer’s salary will cost.

You will determine what your manager’s  biggest pain point is, before you send your Pain Letter. We call that process Pain-Spotting. You can extrapolate the biggest pain point from your target employer’s story, its business trajectory and its competitive situation, focusing in particular on the pain that your own hiring manager is dealing with.

Can you give me an example?

Sure! Who’s a target employer on your list?

Acme Explosives. They’re building a distribution center forty-five minutes from my house. 

Because they’re growing?

Yes.

What kind of pain do you solve in your work?

Wow, I’ve never been asked that before. I solve logistics pain — the pain of having more stuff than we need and not having the stuff we actually need, or not knowing where our stuff is. 

Very well said! There’s a lot of pain there. Who’s the person responsible for getting that new distribution center up and running — your best guess?

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  • Mark Skalla Mark Skalla 19 hours ago

    Superb article – not only was it well written but this is some quite insightful content from someone with some answers! Aside from my overwhelming praise – I can tell you know what you’re talking about and have clearly sat on both sides of the interviewing desk! Readers take note, this approach would have certainly caught my attention when I was the one looking to hire someone.

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