Dear Candidate

The job hunt is far from easy. Many large companies use ATS to scan resumes for keywords. This means there’s a good chance your application will be sent to the trash before a human ever sets eyes on it. So, how can you stand out? I’m so glad you asked..

My name is Celine and I work in HR for a small software company. I am a real human who reads cover letters and resumes every single day. And to be honest, my job can get pretty mind-numbing. For some reason, the Internet has taught job hunters that the best way to score an interview is basically to fit in: use a template, check your spelling and format your cover letter properly. Well, my friends, the Internet is wrong. The best thing you can do to get a job here at Jonar (and probably at most small companies) is to stand out from the crowd.

Truth be told, you’re up against it. The job hunt is far from easy. Many large companies use ATS (applicant tracking software) to scan resumes for keywords. This means there’s a good chance your application will be sent to the trash before a human ever sets eyes on it. For us smaller players – the companies who hire dozens instead of hundreds – we read every single application and make our interview decisions based on them.

So, how can you stand out? I’m so glad you asked. Because your creative and interesting cover letter is going to make things a whole lot easier, for you and me.

Address the human

To whom it may concern: when you are working on your application, keep in mind that a human is usually (hopefully 🤞) on the receiving end of it. So, write as if you were communicating with a human and not a robot. When addressing the recruiter, do your best to seek out their name. I am not an emotionless “madam” reading your letter in a tiny, soul-sucking cubicle. As a human, I feel many things: joy when someone puts effort into their application, disappointment when someone does not, frustration when I read “Dear Sir” (I identify as she/her...), and excitement when I get the feeling that we may just have found the next new member to our team. If you make the effort to find out who I am, you’ve got my attention.

If you can’t find the name of who you are addressing, no stress! Here are some other lines you can use:

  • Dear Hiring Manager / Hiring Team
  • Hello!
  • Howdy, folks at (insert company name)!
  • Hey, good lookin’! (OK… definitely not that one)

Read the job description

This might sound like a no-brainer, but when candidates fail to do this, it surprises me each and every time. When it comes to our job descriptions (and nearly everything else about our company) we’re not exactly traditional. Because we look for future trajectory rather than past experience, our job postings don’t ask for years of experience or specific skills. So, if you tell me you have the “required qualifications stated in the job description,” I know you haven’t read the posting properly. If the description is very formal and asks for specific information, then write a cover letter that addresses this tone. But, if the job description is a little more casual, funny, or unusual, take the lead from the employer and answer with something equally unique.

Customize your application, each and every time

We kind of see the dating world as a mirror image of the recruiting world: there are two sides putting themselves out there, hoping to find a match to live happily ever after with.

Picture yourself on a dating app. How would you feel if you received a message from a possible match who had clearly copied and pasted the same message to you and 47 others? It’s an immediate turn-off. Nobody wants a generic, boilerplate attempt at seduction. It’s in our DNA to want to feel special.

So, tailor your application. Make it unique. Do your research! Include something about the company that really stood out to you. Visit their website and mention something that you found interesting – maybe mention an article on their blog or how the product or service they sell has helped you or inspired you in some way.

A cover letter and a resume are NOT the same thing

Please, oh please, dear job applicant, don’t summarize or re-state your job history in your cover letter in long-form. We can read (your resume). There is a purpose for each. Your resume shows us who you are in the form of facts: your job experience, your educational background, your accomplishments, your skills, etc…

When you send in a cover letter in conjunction with your resume, you're given an opportunity, so take advantage! Use your cover letter to tell us who you really are. Tell us what your goals and dreams are. Tell us what you’re passionate about and why this role interests you. Tell us who you are as a human being, not as a series of facts. Tell us your story!

Tell us what makes you different and show us too

As a small company with big ideas, we’re looking for team members who are equal parts talent and passion. If you’re surrounded by excited, passionate people, it’s pretty hard to remain bored and uninspired. Even if your passion is not directly related to the position you are applying for, that’s cool. If you’re a NASA geek, we dig that. Or if you were a competitive water polo player, tell us. We once interviewed a candidate simply because of how passionate they were about board games.

If a cover letter just isn't your thing and you want to tell your story and share your talents in other ways, please do!  Over the years, we’ve had candidates…

  • Make websites specifically for us
  • Build an interactive game featuring Liam Neeson and Beyonce
  • Create a Buzzfeed quiz tailored to our team
  • Build us a virtual Build-A-Bear because our job description had mentioned a teddy bear factory
  • Make slide decks on who they were and what they would bring to the table
  • Write poems
  • Design their own versions of our avatars
  • Show up to our office (pre-covid) to tell us how much they wanted to be part of our team
  • Create video cover letters (one performed a song they had written for us on the piano, one made a short movie featuring his cat, and one simply put together a video of a secret family recipe to share with us)

Once, someone even sent in an old shoe with a note saying “I really wanted to get my foot in the door!”

We called every single one of those applicants. (We’ve included some screenshots of our favorite non-traditional cover letters at the bottom of this article 😉👇)

Disclaimer: Many of the people we’ve hired stuck to the traditional cover letter as that was the format they were most comfortable with. When deciding which format will best convey your story, use your skills to your advantage. If you’re a great writer, write! If you’re a great speaker, record a video! If you love to code, show us what you’ve made!

Be the pink-haired sheep

The truth is, there are LOTS of people looking for jobs in technology these days. The only thing you have to set yourself apart from the crowd is you. Your skills are by no means irrelevant, but your personality needs to shine through. No matter how many skills you may share with others, there will never be another you, so use your cover letter to tell us who that person is – we guarantee that will put you miles ahead of the crowd.


If you want more information on how you can stand out as an applicant, our HR team recorded a webinar on this topic on Youtube.

Image of a video cover letter
Cover letter in the format of a coded game
cover letter cartoon
cover letter cartoon (2)

Celine Harwood