Anyone who claims cover letters are a waste of time has never used a disruptive cover letter before. It's true, old-school résumés that wax on about how great you are don't work. It only takes recruiters a few seconds of reading one of those to realize you're using the outdated format to oversell yourself -- and that's when they toss it. In the words of Ariana Grande, "Thank you. Next."

However, when you approach the cover letter with some original thought, you have an incredible opportunity to stand out and get the attention (and respect!) you're looking for from potential employers.

All Good Marketing Gets You at "Hello"

If you think of job seekers as businesses-of-one selling their services to employers, then the résumé​ is the specs sheet. It outlines the features and benefits the job seeker can provide to the employer. Which means the cover letter should serve a different purpose. The mistake most people make with cover letters is too much self-promotion. Telling an employer how great you are makes you sound like a snake-oil salesman. It not only raises doubt, but it can also make you appear desperate. If you're as good as you think you are, you shouldn't have to hype yourself in a cover letter. Instead, the content of the cover letter should focus on the employer. Let's face it, that's what they really want to talk about -- themselves and their needs. Or, more important, how you identify with their vision and purpose.

Remember Show and Tell in School? It's the Same Concept

A disruptive cover letter will get the employer's attention, because you show them how deeply you understand them. To be part of their tribe, you have to share one or more experiences you've had that taught you that what they for do for work is smart, valuable, and worth building a business around. Hiring managers want to know you have what's called "intrinsic motivation"  to do their work. This is when you're driven by your own values and beliefs to do a good job. The best way to prove this to an employer within a cover letter is via storytelling. Share a time when you realized your connection to their mission and the work you'd be doing. That's the secret to a killer cover letter in 2019. Is it more work? Yes. But the potential to land your dream job is worth it.

For Example ...

I recently had a client identify a company on his interview bucket list that he greatly admired, but the company had no open positions posted online in his area of expertise. I had him craft a disruptive cover letter sharing a story from his time on the job at another company that taught him how valuable the work the company he admired was doing in the marketplace. He sent the letter to the CEO and got a call within one week asking him to come in for coffee. The CEO told him straight out, "I don't have a job for you, but I've been thinking about creating a new position, and I need someone with your skills who understands our mission. Your cover letter really blew me away. It was like you were reading my mind. I'd like to find a way to work together. But, if I can't, a friend of mine owns a company that is hiring for your skill set and I'd be happy to introduce you." He's now working for this CEO and has essentially crafted his dream job there. This can happen to you, too, but only if you make the effort to customize your cover letters to connect more deeply with your dream employers.

P.S.: Executives Are the Worst Offenders

Of all the professionals I've coached on cover letters, the worst offenders when it comes to a bragging cover letter are executives. For some reason, they've adopted the outdated mindset that they need to write in fancy language just how amazing they are. Unfortunately, they forget that the first person who is reading and evaluating the cover letter is a recruiter who is likely unimpressed and cynical by nature. Nothing screams narcissistic, stuffy, and desperate more than one of these cover letters. So, if you're a six-figure professional, the disruptive cover letter becomes even more important in that you have an opportunity to show your humility and emotional intelligence at a time when companies are looking for more of this from their executive teams.

Published on: Dec 5, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.