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 cover letter 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 recruiter 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” (there is no sir here…), 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… maybe 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 university degrees 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. Try to match the tone of the job postings you read. 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 take something that you liked from the job description.

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. 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.

So, how do you show us that you are an interesting person? Think outside the confines of the cover letter. Over the years, we’ve had candidates…

  • make websites specifically for us
  • make an interactive game including Liam Neeson and Beyonce
  • walk into our office and hand-deliver their job applications (in a day and age where everyone sends them electronically)
  • 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)

Every single one of those people got an interview.

Be the black 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.