Cover letters are often the first exposure a hiring committee has to a job applicant. For job hunters, however, writing cover letters is a common source of frustration. It can be difficult to know what to include in a cover letter for even civilian jobs. Writing cover letters for government jobs can be even trickier due to the specific criteria that must be included. The following article describes everything an applicant needs to know to write an eye-catching cover letter tailored specifically to federal jobs.
What is a Federal Cover Letter?
A federal cover letter, much like a civilian cover letter, is an employer’s first impression of a job applicant. It is the applicant’s opportunity to briefly highlight his or her skills, experiences and achievements in an effort to demonstrate to an employer why the applicant is a good match for the company. While the same information can be found on a federal resume, the cover letter presents the most important information clearly and succinctly while also giving the employer a glimpse of the applicant’s personality. Here is a federal cover letter format, which we will consider more precisely later on:
- Header → contact information (full name, address, mobile number and email address), date.
- Introduction → address your cover letter directly to the HR, specify exact job description.
- Professional experience → indicate 3-4 accomplishments, which match the job requirements.
- Conclusion → show a high degree of motivation and write a personalized thank you note.
Why Do You Need to Write a Federal Government Cover Letter?
Most federal resumes are between three and five pages or more in length and receive less than a minute’s attention during an initial review. A cover letter can direct the hiring committee’s attention to the applicant’s most relevant or impressive professional skills, experiences, and achievements. A federal cover letter is also the applicant’s opportunity to sell himself or herself to the hiring committee and demonstrate why hiring the applicant will benefit the company.
A strong and impressive cover letter for federal job application can increase the applicant’s likelihood of moving to a more thorough review during the hiring process.
General Requirements for Writing a Cover Letter
Cover letters for government jobs application should be no more than three to four paragraphs in length and should fit on a single page. It is intended to highlight the most relevant skills and experiences and to make a positive first impression to the hiring committee. Therefore, it is important to be specific and succinct. The applicant should avoid flowery language and make sure that anything included in the cover letter illustrates how hiring the applicant would benefit the company.
When formatting a cover letter for a federal job, it is important to use a simple, clean and professional font. Using a font such as Comic Sans is not recommended. Times New Roman or Calibri are preferred choices.
Ideally, the font type, font size, and header formatting should match that used in the applicant’s federal resume.
Just as with a federal resume, a cover letter for state government job should use specific numbers: years and dollars. Many federal employees focus on time and money saved, income earned, efficiency and productivity. Using hard numbers can catch the eye of the hiring committee and employer.
How to Start Writing a Cover Letter
The most important step to take before writing a cover letter for a federal job is to carefully read the entire job announcement first. Each job announcement is different and contains specific required qualifications and information that must be included in the cover letter and federal resume. If these skills and qualifications are not addressed in a cover letter and resume, the entire job application can be rejected early in the review process.
- Print out each job announcement (1)
- Highlight each qualification and skill listed in the job (2)
- Choose between three and five to address in the cover letter (3)
It is also helpful to research the agency listed in the job announcement. A cover letter is an applicant’s first opportunity to sell himself or herself to the company and it is important that the cover letter demonstrates how the applicant’s skills, experience and qualifications can benefit the company. The most impressive cover letters demonstrate a familiarity with the company’s mission, culture and programs.
A federal cover letter is not the place to mention hobbies, experiences that do not directly related to the job qualifications or details about the applicant’s personal life.
What to Include in a Cover Letter
The first thing that must be included in a federal cover letter is contact information. The header of the cover letter should include the applicant’s name, phone number, address, and email address. This information should be centered at the top of the page.
A federal cover letter should then address the recruiter, employer or hiring committee. If a specific name is known, it is important to address the letter using the reviewer’s name and proper title. For example:
- Dear Ms. Lofgren
- Dear Mr. Johnson
Next, the applicant should write a brief introduction that states the desired position and why he or she would be good for the role. In this paragraph, include one or two past experiences that would indicate a good match with the company and role.
It should be clear to the hiring committee within the first paragraph that the applicant is a great match for the open role.
How to write the introductory paragraph:
When writing the introductory paragraph, it is important to avoid statements of beliefs or personal judgment without including strong examples of proof to back the statement up.
- My leadership caused an increase in company productivity
Instead, phrasing it in a way that emphasizes something that can be proven will look more impressive to a hiring committee.
- In my role as a department manager, I created and established an employee incentive program that ultimately led to a 45% increase in team productivity.
3. Professional experience
Following the introduction, the applicant should present a brief overview of his or her professional experience. This section should include the applicant’s previous relevant work experiences. It is important to use the exact wording for skills, experiences and qualifications listed in the job announcement in the description.
For example, if the job announcement lists project management as required work experience, the cover letter should use the term “project management” when discussing relevant work experience.
When listing and describing a professional experience, the applicant should avoid using vague language. It is important to be specific but succinct in discussing the experience and why that experience would beneficial to the role rather than simply giving a list of experiences. A list of experiences can be found in the applicant’s resume and the cover letter is the place to describe how the experience can be an asset to the company.
In this main paragraph, the applicant should relate specific qualities of the company’s culture, mission or purpose to his or her own experiences and skills. This helps demonstrate to the hiring committee that the applicant not only has done the research necessary to get to know the company but also that the applicant has attention to detail and a desire to be a part of the company.
If the applicant has any gaps in his or her resume or there is another item in the application that might be easily misunderstood or cause confusion or concern to the hiring committee, the applicant should address that in the cover letter prior to the conclusion.
It is important not to dwell or emphasize personal, educational or experiential weaknesses, but providing a succinct and non-defensive explanation can help answer any initial questions the hiring committee might have.
In addition to explaining resume gaps, the applicant should also include in this section an explanation for any instances in the resume where it is stated that supervisors or previous employees should not be contacted. This is an important addition because it reassures the hiring manager that the applicant isn’t attempting to hide important information from the review committee.
Finally, cover letter for state government job should have a strong conclusion. In this section, the applicant should briefly describe why his or her skills and qualifications are a good match for the position. It is also important for the applicant to sell himself or herself in the conclusion about what the applicant can bring to the role and company as a whole.
The final paragraph should also direct the hiring committee to the applicant’s resume and state availability and desire for an interview. The applicant should thank the reviewer for his or her time and express desire and motivation to learn more about the company and role.
Federal cover letter sample formatting.
An example of appropriate resume formatting can be found below:
- First name
- Last name
- Street address
- City, state and zip code
- Mobile phone number
- Additional phone number if necessary
- Email address
- Company or hiring committee address
- Dear Hiring Manager (use the hiring manager’s full name and proper title if known):
- Opening paragraph listing a piece of particularly impressive professional experience, job title and USAJOBS job announcement identification number.
- The main paragraph giving a brief overview of the applicant’s skills, experience and qualifications that match those listed in the job announcement.
- Concluding paragraph summarizing any impressive or essential information and directing the hiring committee to review the enclosed resume. This paragraph should also state availability for an interview and an invitation to contact the applicant with any questions. Finally, this paragraph should thank the hiring committee for their consideration.
First name, Last name
Additional Cover Letter Writing Tips
Once the cover letter is written, place the cover letter and job announcement side by side. Many hiring committees and application algorithm programs are looking for specific keywords so making sure the cover letter’s wording reflects the job announcement can increase the likelihood that the cover letter will catch the reviewer’s eye.
Cover letters are the hiring committee’s first impression of the applicant. A properly formatted and grammatically correct cover letter can ensure that the first impression is a strong one.
Free Sample Cover Letter for a Job Application
A free sample federal cover letter can be found at the following website. This sample letter can provide some guidance to help get started in writing a federal cover letter that grabs the hiring manager’s attention and helps increase the applicant’s chances of moving past the initial resume review process.
Do you have any questions about how to write an impressive and effective federal cover letter for a job application? Want to share a well-constructed cover letter?
We love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Don’t forget that applying for a federal job you also need to know: how to create a federal resume and how long to hear back after government job interview.