The Cover Letter Comeback: Using Disruptive Cover Letters to Find Hidden Talent

disruptive cover letter

These days, finding the right candidate for an open job can feel next to impossible, especially when your hiring managers are asking for “purple squirrels” — aka impossible sets of candidate criteria. 

Do you ever feel like you’re being asked to find a bilingual brain surgeon who will work for  $10/hour? Impossible, right? If so, you’re not alone. 

So what do you do when the resumes coming across your desk don’t check enough boxes to be passed along for consideration? The solution is to learn how to shift the hiring manager’s expectations.

It’s time to bring back the cover letter — but with a twist 

In order to pitch a less-than-perfect candidate to a hiring manager, you need something to offset the lack of qualifications requested. In my experience, you can find that ammunition in something many recruiters and hiring managers don’t even ask for anymore — a cover letter. 

But I’m not talking any old cover letter, with the standard verbiage and blah blah blah. I’m talking about what I like to call a “disruptive cover letter”. In the same way employers today need to tell interesting stories about what it’s like to work at their companies to attract top talent (employer branding), we should be encouraging job seekers to tell compelling stories to explain how they might fit into those companies. 

We should ask for these letters in our job descriptions but also provide clear instructions so we get the disruptive content that can make all the difference when it comes to changing hiring managers’ minds. 

How does it work? 

In a disruptive cover letter, a job seeker should craft a compelling explanation of how they’ve come to feel personally and professionally connected to the employer. 

In short, they should aim to get you at “hello,” capturing your attention (and heart!) and ultimately, compelling you to take a closer look at their credentials. The beauty of a disruptive cover letter is that the positive experience the recruiter has reading it makes it more likely they’ll look for ways to justify screening the candidate. 

After all, when we like someone, we are more flexible with our expectations. We go to bat for them. That includes explaining to the hiring manager why, in spite of the candidate’s not being an exact match for the role, she or he is worth talking to.

Example: From paint store manager to financial planner

A recent example of this is a job seeker I know who was managing a paint store and wanted to become a financial planner. But, at 35 years old, he wasn’t the recent grad many of the companies were looking for in their entry-level roles. 

When I asked him why he wanted to make the change, he explained that in the last year his father had died unexpectedly. Upon his father’s death, he took over the family finances and learned that his dad had left his mom in near financial ruin. He jumped in and taught himself as much as he could. Eventually, he helped save his mom from bankruptcy and even got her to a place where she had a small amount of monthly income to retire on. 

He said he was passionate about becoming a financial planner because, after seeing what happened with his parents, he wanted to do what he could to make sure it didn’t happen to other families. Needless to say, when he shared this in a disruptive cover letter and sent it to several recruiters in the financial planning industry, they all wanted to meet him. He ended up with multiple job offers and successfully switched careers. However, had those recruiters not read his story, they would likely have missed out on an amazing hire!

Which leads to my final point…

Recruiters, the more guidance you give job seekers in terms of the types of stories you want to hear, the better. I recently posted a job on Indeed and was very specific about the type of disruptive cover letter I wanted. The quality of candidates who applied to my jobs increased enormously. 

In fact, I was so overwhelmed with qualified candidates, I had to take down my job posting after only 48 hours and ended up hiring three great candidates instead of the initial two I had planned on. Turns out, when you tell job seekers the stories you want to hear, they deliver! 

If you want better talent, stop tossing cover letters. Better still, start asking for a disruptive cover letter. When you give talent the chance to share with you how they connect with your company, you’ll have all the information you need to impress hiring managers with candidates who don’t meet their “purple squirrel” requirements.

J.T. O’Donnell is Founder and CEO of WorkItDaily.com, the largest web-based career coaching service for workers on the internet.

LinkedIn: /in/jtodonnell

Twitter: @jtodonnell

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.

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