The cover letter plays a pivotal role in the employment process and is one of the most difficult missives to write.

Unlike the résumé, which I will delve into in the future, the cover letter must bridge the gap between your résumé and the job description. It must connect you undeniably to the company as a potential employee. Yet the biggest mistake I see job-hunters make is not reading the job description in detail. Where what you have to offer connects is your best content. Thus, no one letter fits all.

First, study the website of your target company that has an opening. Incorporate the key words used in the opening’s job description. It is entirely possible the company will sift your résumé and cover letter through software looking for those words. Résumés and cover letters containing them will likely go to the top of the pile before any human reads them. Then realize companies want a serious glimpse of your personality because in the millennial world, culture counts. You have to fit that of the target company.

One first-draft letter started: “I was pleased to see an opening for the account management position with ——. In my previous role with Company X, I developed a passion for all things inbound and digital marketing.”

The company as such really doesn’t care that you are “pleased.” What do you offer it? So after a joint-discovery discussion, the following became the better opening paragraph:

“Sometimes one encounters the potentially perfect employment match through a moment of sheer serendipity. I think this may have happened to me regarding the —— team. I happened to be in your building the day before yesterday, when I noticed a bright green sign in your window, similar to a triangle, with the simple word “Inbound” within it. As a digital-sales and marketing strategist, I immediately knew what that meant and enthusiastically returned home to study your website in detail. I discovered everything you do has been exactly my passion for the last 6½ years working at —— here in Austin. So I was quite encouraged to find your opening for an account manager. Serendipity + Green + Inbound = GO! I am excited to apply for this position.”

Big difference! After submitting that letter on a Friday afternoon, its 29-year-old writer got a call for an in-person interview within an hour for the following Tuesday. Stay tuned.

Janis Murray is president and owner of Murray Prep LLC, providing communication training for students and professionals seeking success since 1999. Based in St. Louis, she currently works with clients in nine states, Europe and Asia. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York. Contact her at jmurray@murrayprep.com or visit murrayprep.com.

Janis Murray is president and owner of Murray Prep LLC, providing communication training for students and professionals seeking success since 1999. Based in St. Louis, she currently works with clients in nine states, Europe and Asia.