Let’s Talk Cover Letters

In the old days when resumes were mailed using the US Postal Service, the cover letter was ubiquitous and almost always started with some variation of, “enclosed please find my resume for…” Since that time, cover letters have evolved; here’s how:

• Not every application requires a cover letter. If a job posting asks for a cover letter, then you certainly need one. Most federal applications do not require cover letters; they are typically optional. Unless required, I do not generally recommend adding a cover letter to a federal application. Cover letters are much more standard in the private sector.

• If you do decide to prepare a cover letter, make sure the formatting, including font, margins, and any design elements, match your resume. Your documents should look like one cohesive package. This helps reinforce your brand.

• Your cover letter should be more than just forwarding your resume. Make your opening paragraph attention getting—and use the key words of the job posting to the extent possible. Share you can add value to the organization—rather than what you want / need.

• Include real relevant achievements. What have you done that makes you a good fit for the job? Be specific and include measurable accomplishments that relate to what the job is asking for.

• Address your cover letter to a real person—no “To Whom it may Concern.” With all the online tools available, there is no excuse for not using an individual’s name—and be sure to spell it correctly! Don’t forget to change the name and company for different positions.

• Keep your cover letter to one page, use personal pronouns, and include a “call to action.” Tell the reader what you want them to do—invite you for an interview? Something else? Here are 1 ideas, “I appreciate your time and consideration; please contact me at 123-456-7890 or name@mail.com to discuss what I can do for your organization.” OR “I look forward to an opportunity to meet with you to discuss…”

• Ask a third party to review your letter before sending; you do not want your letter to include typos or other mistakes.

Again, while not all job applications require the use of a cover letter, if you do prepare one, make it worth the reader’s time!

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.