While cover letters are generally not needed for federal applications, they are still common for private sector applications and even some federal hiring managers like them. So, if you are applying for a position in the private sector, or if you are a traditionalist, and want to include a cover letter with your federal job application, here are 6 tips you should use to do it right:

  1. Although many people use a template cover letter, you should customize it each and every time. Make sure that your cover letter is addressed to the right person, the right company/organization, and the right job. It is amazing how many people miss this simple step. In this age of Google, LinkedIn, company websites, there is no excuse for “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam.”
  2. Match your cover letter formatting to your resume formatting. To ensure that your two documents are compatible, use the same font and formatting—you want to make it obvious that your documents go together. That being said, your cover letter should not be an exact duplicate of what is in your resume.
  3. Make your cover letter employer-focused. Address the employer’s needs and interests to show you are a good fit. Be sure to highlight your relevant job-related achievements in your cover letter and show how those accomplishments can help the employer solve their problems. Do not discuss your needs—like telework, part-time schedules, etc.
  4. Be professional. This means using a professional personal email address (ideally with your name; remove birth year—some employers will not consider resumes from people who use their birth year in their email for fear of potential discrimination concerns. You should not use your work email address for seeking other employment; nor should you be using AOL for job applications. It goes without saying (I hope) that you should not use hotmama@gmail.com or hotrodguy@yahoo.com. You should also doublecheck to ensure that your contact information (and the rest of your letter) does not include typographical or other errors.
  5. Start your cover letter with a “bang.” Your opening sentence should not be along the lines of “Enclosed please find my resume in response to your posting for…” This is boring; instead, make your opening sentence pop; think about something along the lines of, “As someone who is committed to improving educational opportunities for all, I have followed ABC company since its inception. I was excited to see the posting for…”
  6. Close the deal. Your last paragraph should include a “call to action.” Invite the reader to take the next step. Tell them that you welcome the opportunity to share more information and provide your best contact info (email, cell phone).

Nancy Segal is a federal human resources training and job search expert. Following her own 30-year federal HR career (much of it at the senior level), she founded Solutions for the Workplace LLC in 2003 to provide an HR management perspective to both federal managers and astute applicants to U.S. government positions. Nancy has unmatched federal career management insight, high standards, and respect for people’s time, and her clients use this to their advantage.