Sharing the Pain

Dear Anita,

My job is the biggest royal pain. Can you help me get a better one?

Woman in painDear, Complaint Queen,

According to research conducted by SERMO, yours truly actually has one of the top 10 most painful jobs. Yes, that’s right. Writers and journalists rank up there with construction workers, truck drivers, and those on the production line. (Mechanics, gardeners/landscapers, athletes, firefighters, lawyers, and IT professionals round out the top 10.)

But instead of focusing on our pain on the job, try targeting a hiring manager’s daily discomforts – and how you, above all others, can help relieve his or her troubles. A few years ago, Liz Ryan, CEO of Human Workplace, trademarked the idea of a Pain Letter. This is the opposite of the generic cover letter (no more “Dear HR, I saw your ad and am applying for the open position. Blah, blah, blah.”).

The first step in writing a Pain Letter is to research the company. Use LinkedIn to find the hiring manager’s name.

Secondly, congratulate the manager and/or the company for a recent accomplishment (which may also be gleaned from LinkedIn or Google research). Ryan calls this the “Hook.”

Next, determine what keeps this manager up at night, and outline the “Pain Hypothesis.” Ryan gave this example for an imaginary Payroll Specialist in Forbes:

I can imagine that hiring as many people as you are, keeping tabs on payroll issues might be a constant challenge. With regulations constantly changing, it’s not easy to keep everyone paid correctly and well-informed in a growing company.

Then, include your “Dragon-Slaying Story,” describing specifically how you handled similar pain in your current or previous position.

When I ran the payroll system at Angry Chocolates, I kept the payroll accurate and in compliance and answered dozens of employee questions every day while we grew from 15 to 650 staff members.

Keep the letter brief, closing simply:

If payroll accuracy and advice to your team is on your radar screen, I’d love to chat when it’s convenient. All the best, Nancy Drew

Readers: How do you focus on alleviating the hiring manager’s business pains in your cover letter?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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RELATED POSTS:
Covering the Cover Letter
Bypassing Human Resources
My Job is a Pain in the Neck – Literally

Building a Beneficial Brainstorm

A reader writes…

Hi Anita,

I am looking for a fresh new way to get the creative juices flowing in my team. I have tried to host a brainstorm but was not successful as I had hoped. What do I need to do to have a brainstorming session that promotes creative thinking and will be beneficial to all involved?

Hi, Brainstorm Builder!

Bringing together a group of talented individuals with unique perspectives can do wonders for your team. But in order for a brainstorm to function properly, you will want to follow this simple plan and include an assortment of key elements that will really make the sparks fly.

Put together a Dream Team. For brainstorming to work at its best, youBrainstorm are going to need the number one, most important ingredient…brains! An ideal number is 6-10 people, and to throw some interesting twists into the mix, bring in a person from a different area of expertise. For example, if you work in Marketing, invite some members of the sales team to participate in your discussions. Different perspectives bring forth new ideas!

Bring in an outside facilitator. This individual should be someone from your company, but from a different department. Many people default to appointing the manager or department head to lead a brainstorm discussion. I think it is best to avoid this approach as it can lead to shaping and guiding ideas back to the standard mold.

Escape from the ordinary location. Break away from the day-to-day scenery of the office for brainstorms. Parks and playgrounds are a great location, as well as museums and scenic outlooks. Better yet, try a location that is applicable to your brainstorm goals. If you are thinking of new ways to encourage children to eat more vegetables, why not visit a local farm or farmers market. These visuals will awaken creativity!

Define the problem and what you are trying to achieve. Once you have determined what the goal is of the brainstorm and what you hope will come out of discussion and reflection, get the wheels turning. Ask participants to begin thinking about ideas on how to solve the problem and request that they come to the table with at least 3 alternatives and solutions to share with the group.

IdeasThink outside of the box. Make it clear to your team that there are no wrong answers at the brainstorm. Encourage your staff to dream wildly and come up with solutions that may lie outside of the norm. Stir up the wild thinking and see how far they can push themselves and stretch the boundaries. If it weren’t for this kind of thinking, who knows where we would be? Imagine a world with no electricity. Airplanes. Telephones. All very scary thoughts and all way outside of the box.

Quantity, not quality. Yes…you read that right. We are looking for the most content as possible here, people. Ideas can later be sifted through and viability/quality can be determined. The more ideas you have the more you have to work with and build upon.

Build off of one another. One idea has the potential to spur hundreds of other ideas. Encourage participants to “piggy-back” off of the creativity of others.  It will help produce more ideas and help the group move forward together.

Designate a note taker. If all goes to plan, ideas will be flying left and right. Be sure to have a person whose sole purpose is to capture and record all ideas and information being discussed. You don’t want any of that creativity to slip through the cracks.

Now that you have all the ideas on paper, I suggest bringing everyone together one final time to review the ideas. As a group, discuss and then select the strongest ideas. It may take a few rounds of brainstorming to come up with the ideal solution. Once you have narrowed it down, assign follow-up activities for the ideas you have designated as contenders. You will want to set deadlines, hold your team accountable, and keep track of the progress.

See this video for some other great tips about brainstorming and some silly ideas on preserving gum…Crazy, right?

What have you found to be the best tips for brainstorming?

Sincerely,

Anita

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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