Pain Letters & Sob Stories: Old Tactics, New Results

“Pain Letters” & Sob Stories: Old Tactics, New Results

So a few weeks ago I read this article about “Pain Letters”. Have you ever heard of them? Basically, the article told a story about a young lady who was having one hell of a time in the job market. She was applying online and not getting much response. So she decided to mail out her resume with a letter explaining her story. I assume the letter was engaging because someone called her for an interview and she got the job.

I’ll tell you what I think about writing pain letters in a moment but first, after reading the article I began to think about some of my past clients. You see, some job seekers don’t find a job within a week’s time. They say the average time it takes to get a new job is 60 days however I know some that take a little longer than that. I also thought about a client who really wanted to use an infographic as her resume.  An infographic resume uses graphs, emojis, icons, and other social characters (along with pie charts and bars) to illustrate the persons’ skills and abilities. They are cute and different.

When my client first asked me about the infographic resume, my instincts was to say no and that it was a bad idea, however I know the world is changing and there is a lot of competition. Jobseekers want to stand out in the job and get noticed. We, so-called-experts, tell people to stand out all the time. So I started to wonder, “how can we make the infographic resume work?” I reached out to some fellow recruiters and hiring managers and they said, “…it could work, but she would have to mail it”. They went on to say that a hard copy resume, in today’s world of automation, can really stand out as well.

Now back to the pain letters. After reading about pain letters, I decided to do a little more research to understand just how this whole thing works and the theory is, if you send a letter describing your situation, why you want the job, and any hardships you may have endured by mailing a hard copy to the hiring manager, you can make a connection and get hired. Supposedly it’s the new Millennial approach to the cover letter.

And now my 2 cents. First of all, this is nothing new. People have been doing it for decades but we stopped when the world went online. Back in the day, if you sent a pain letter you were considered to be begging and trying to gain sympathy which some said was manipulative since everyone has a sob story. Even in graduate school when we covered the basics of interviewing skills, we were taught never to let the conversation get too personal because you should make hiring decisions based on education, experience, skill and attitude – nothing personal.

But things have changed now. Hiring is more relational or relationship based than ever. We want to know if you are married or have kids (which are illegal interview questions, by the way). We want to know your hardships – some will say it’s a way to understand what drives and employee and how you can engage them, others will use that information to discriminate.

Ultimately, when it comes to pain letters, you have to try what’s comfortable for you. If you believe that writing a pain letter could work for you, then try it and see what happens.

One thing I do like about the process is the process, meaning, I think by writing a cover letter and printing it off, along with your resume and sending it directly to a hiring manager via the mail service could really work today – it’s definitely something different.


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