How to write a Federal cover letter

by fred 3. March 2010

Your cover letter is your chance to make a good first impression with the Federal hiring manager and it is potentially more important than a resume. Your cover letter allows you to tell a compelling story that provides a personal, relatable context for your resume. It allows you to sell yourself as a unique individual who stands out from the crowd of candidates, it provides you with the chance to convince the hiring manager to read your resume and it lets you explain how your experiences tie into the job to which you are applying to.

As a preliminary step to writing a cover letter, you should make sure that you have carefully read the job description. Highlight qualifications and duties that your resume speaks to and make sure that, if there are any gaps in your resume, you can fill them in via your cover letter.

It is also essential to research the agency which you are applying to and, if possible, the person who will be reviewing your resume. Your cover letter is your first chance to express how your mindset matches up with that of the organization and make a personal connection with the hiring manager.

Your cover letter should be formatted clearly and professionally. Many cover letters are sent by email. If they are sent as an attachment, you should format them as you would format professional correspondence.  If they are sent in the body of an email, heading elements can be left out, as they may look awkward.

The first paragraph should identify the position you are applying to. Also, it should grab the hiring recruiter’s attention and make it clear that you are a great candidate for the job.
In your main paragraph, you should focus on matching your qualifications to the needs of the position. Include elements about the organization you are applying to. This will not only emphasize that you are serious about the job and not sending out a form letter, but it will also make it easier for you to show how you can help the organization in reaching its goals.

The last paragraph should accomplish four main tasks. You should direct your readers to your resume, ask for an interview, indicate a time period during which you will get in touch with them and express your gratitude to them for their time and consideration.

Once your letter is ready, be sure to proofread it. Grammatical and spelling errors should be avoided at all costs. Delete colloquialisms and contractions. Your cover letter should be less than a page in length. Be concise and clear; do not provide too much extraneous information. Also, make sure that your language is specific rather than vague. Tell exactly what experiences you have had that make you a great candidate for the position, not merely that you have experience.

Ensure that your cover letter is professional-looking, and, if possible, matches your Federal government resume. Use a simple, clean font. If you are sending a standard letter rather than an electronic one, use the same sort of paper as your resume. If you are sending an electronic version, use the recommended file format.

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