A great resume will get you not-rejected, a great cover letter will get you hired. That’s the conclusion I’m left with after going through the applications for our junior support programmer position.

Most people can make their resume look reasonable which makes it a poor qualifier. We don’t believe in years of irrelevance, so you’re not going to beat out another candidate by having four instead of three years of experience. That means all you’re left with is just check marks: Yes, there’s Rails experience. Yup, there’s the sysadmin stuff.

Poor qualifiers filter out few candidates. When I’m saddled with 70 applications for a job, I have to make some rough cuts very quickly. I literally have to decimate the pool. With the resume only doing 20% of the job, the key is left with the cover letter.

This means that “If you like my resume, give me a call” doesn’t make the cut for a cover letter. I need more romance and originality than that to pick up the phone.

Strike a tone in tune with the company

It also means that you really have to tailor your tone to the company. Pulling out your Business Serious voice and addressing “Dear Hiring Manager” instantly kicks you down a few levels. Just like showing up in a suit would do when everyone else is wearing jeans and t-shirts (except of course if you have extreme pizazz to pull it off).

The gut reaction builds immediately. If the first paragraph is a strike, the second has to work that much harder. If there’s no hook in the first three, it’s highly unlikely that anything is going to come of it.

This advice is probably exactly the opposite of what you’ll if you’re aiming to get into a big shop with a formal HR department. In that scenario, it’s often last man standing in the numbers game and checklist requirements. Personality doesn’t matter to make it through the first cut.

But when you’re looking to get hired by managers who actually have to work with you, personality is almost all that matters to get to the interview. So beef up your cover letter and let your personality shine (Jason Zimdars who we recently hired set the gold standard).