Writing a cover letter is already tricky business. But writing a cover letter for a government job can be a whole other story. Let's get down to the nitty gritty on how we tailor a cover letter to the key words of a government job.
Don’t apply at the last minute and make sure you give yourself plenty of time to take these steps:
- Carefully read the entire announcement before applying. It seems obvious, but each announcement, even in USAJobs, is different and will have different skills needed for the job. Print a hard copy of the announcement and highlight a checklist to ensure you can address at least 3 out of 5 of the skills they’re asking for. Once you highlight their requirements, it will be easier to go back to your own cover letter to address those points.
- Research the agency to which you are applying. Your cover letter is your fist opportunity to express how your mindset and talent matches with that of the organization. Catch the hiring manager’s eye by demonstrating you’ve done your homework and are familiar with the agency’s mission and some of its current programs.
- Get specific. Explain exactly what experiences you have had that make you a great candidate for the position. Don’t just say “I did x,y,and z.” For government jobs, use numbers, dollar amounts, and specify how many years for as much as you can.
Tailor Your Cover Letter
So what does it mean to tailor your cover letter to the job? It’s not just highlighting your experiences and hoping the hiring manager will see a good fit. You have to connect the dots for them and that means making your skills match the required skills almost word-for-word.
First, compare your resume and the job announcement side by side. Highlight the requirements they’re asking for the job and highlight corresponding skills and experiences you have from your resume. Try doing this process in about 15 to 20 minutes. This will also help you practice for interviews since you will eventually be required to quickly recall your job experiences.
And of course, go over your applications materials in depth to make sure you don’t submit any formatting, grammatical, or punctuation errors.
Here is an example of a post from USAJobs with key words in bold:
The Student Trainee (Contract Specialist) – PATHWAYS Intern is a member of a team responsible for the negotiation, award, and monitoring/administration of Federal assistance agreements (grants and cooperative agreements) and contracts for a wide array of research, non-personnel support services, specialized studies and other activities necessary to support the FHWA Headquarter, FHWA Turner-Fairbanks Highway Research Center, State Division Office, and Resource Center program offices. Under close supervision of the Team Leader, the intern will perform the following functions:
- Assists in pre-award and post-award functions involving a full range of procurement actions, typically involving technical services or programs of research and development, specialized equipment or systems.
- Assists with developing requests for applications (RFA), requests for proposals (RFP), and requests for quotations (RFQ). The intern will help to analyze, evaluate, and negotiate proposals and applications for agency contracting and Federal assistance opportunities.
- Assists with acquisition planning, scheduling procurement from time of acceptance through award.
Here’s an example from my undergraduate resume to match with some of the above points:
- Nonprofit Volunteer Coordinator: Oversaw research and development as well as technical production of building Tunnel on campus and acquirement of specialized equipment systems needed for sound and visual media. Cost of production was over $20,000 and took a total of 9 months to plan.
- University Program Board Director: Developed and negotiated over 50 proposals and contracts with speakers and agencies, scheduled and planned 100 events by coordinating facilities, catering, as well as budget of over $30,000.
You’re not going to have the exact same positions as specified in the job announcement. But chances are you’ve had some academic, volunteer, and/or professional experiences that are applicable. Be sure you’re also not making up your skills just to fit the job requirements. Just adjust words in your resume and cover letter to better fit the job vacancy.
Draft the Cover Letter
Now that you have gone through your resume and highlighted matching examples to the job requirements, it’s time to start writing your cover letter. Choose the three most relevant examples from your resume that you can tailor to the position. This is because a cover letter should be no more than 3-4 paragraphs, so you want to be succinct. Use numbers, years, and any dollar amounts to be as specific as possible.
Here’s an example to start off with relevant points highlighted from the above USAJobs vacancy:
Dear Ms. Smith,
As a recent graduate of (xyx program), I am seeking to apply my 4 years of research, administrative, and event planning to a career in public service. I am interested in the Student Trainee Contract Specialist Position because I want to specialize in negotiation, award, and monitoring of Federal assistance agreements. More importantly, I believe my negotiating, evaluative, and analytical skills all would be highly suitable to the position.
The next two to three paragraphs should each draw on a bulleted example you use from your resume elaborating on how your experiences in the position applies to the job vacancy and how it would help you to grow in the role.
Remember, your cover letter is your opportunity to make a good first impression with the hiring manager. It can determine whether or not the hiring manager will even read your resume. While it is a long and tedious process for a seemingly short letter, it’s important to allot the necessary time and research to make sure that your cover letter keeps the potential employer reading.
For more resources on cover letter writing, be sure to check out these posts:
-How to Tweak Your Cover Letter and Resume for More Impact
-Are You Making These 4 Mistakes in Your Cover Letter?
For more reading about millennials in public service, check out this weekly GovLoop series, First 5: Advice from millennial to millennial
Smart tips to help you format and write a cover letter
Struggling to write a cover letter that will catch an employer's attention? We've got tips to help you show your best self—and a sample you can use to get started.
There's nothing scary about writing a cover letter.
You've found the perfect job, hit the "apply" button, and started the process with your engines revved and ready. But wait! Slam the brakes! They want a cover letter. Oh no.
Don't let this request derail you. Here's everything you need to know to write a letter that truly sells your skills. Plus, scroll down to see a sample cover letter you can use to craft your own.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a one-page document that, along with your resume, is sent with your job application. A cover letter is your chance to tell a potential employer why you’re the perfect person for the position and how your skills and expertise can add value to the company. The letter should be professional but personable, and serve as a sort of introduction.
Do I need to send a cover letter?
A lot of job seekers today wonder if a cover letter is still appropriate to send with your resume—and the answer is yes! Even if an employer doesn’t ask for a cover letter, it couldn’t hurt to send one. In fact, it’s can help you get someone's attention in a different way, and it can be a great way to display your enthusiasm for the job and company.
What are the basic elements of a cover letter?
- Greeting: Address your cover letter to the proper person.
- Opening: Write a personable, inviting opening paragraph that notes how your skills are a perfect fit to the job and displays your enthusiasm.
- Hook: Highlight your past achievements as they relate to the job you're applying for.
- Skills: Emphasize additional relevant skills, such as computer languages or certifications.
- Close: Briefly recap your strengths as a candidate, and include your contact information.
Cover letter tips
1. Parrot the keywords: Just like with your resume, your cover letters should be customized for each job you apply to. Start by reviewing the job description. In it, you will find important keywords that let you know what kind of employee the company is hoping to find. Use these same keywords throughout your cover letter.
2. Adapt for the company: Each version of your cover letter should talk about how your skills will benefit the particular company that you want to work for. You want to target the company’s needs—not your own. Demonstrate how you could help them achieve their goals. Remember: You're selling yourself in a resume and a cover letter, but the employer has to want to buy.
3. Show you "get" them: Your cover letter should demonstrate that you have done some research into what the organization's pain points are. Presenting yourself as a solution to a hiring manager’s problem can help your cover letter take the right tone. If you’re applying to an administrative position, be sure to mention your time-management skills; if you’re an IT professional, include your expertise in improving efficiency. Always ask yourself: How can I help this company?
4. Proofread. Don’t assume spell check will catch every mistake (it won’t). Slowly review your cover letter to make sure everything reads properly. Have someone else read your cover letter for backup.
Need even more confidence before you start your cover letter? Below are some additional cover letter tips you could reference—or keep scrolling for a cover letter sample:
Cover letter mistakes you should avoid: From overusing “I” to being too vague, there are a bunch of pitfalls that can trip you up. Don’t let them!
Cover letter format and advice tips: Learn how to set up your cover letter and what each section should include.
Cover letter tips for new grads: You might lack real-world work experience, but your cover letter can be chock-full of activities that demonstrate your potential to succeed.
Cover letter tips for technology professionals: The ease of applying to online jobs has led many IT professionals to skip sending a cover letter, but that’s a mistake.
Cover letter tips for finance professionals: If you’re searching for a finance job or want to be prepared just in case, you will need a dynamic cover letter to grab the hiring managers’ attention.
Tips for better email cover letters: If you're emailing a resume, your cover letter will deliver the first impression. These eight tips will help you craft a better email cover letter.
Cover letter sample
Check out the sample cover letter below (or download the template as a Word doc) to get some inspiration to craft your own. And we've also got you covered if you're looking for a cover letter in a specific industry.
Once you've finished your cover letter, consider joining Monster—you can upload and store up to five cover letters and resumes, so that you can apply for jobs on our site in a snap!
Ms. Rhonda West
Customer Service Manager
123 Corporate Blvd.
Sometown, CO 50802
Re: Customer Service Representative Opening (Ref. ID: CS300-Denver)
Dear Ms. West:
I was excited to see your opening for a customer service rep, and I hope to be invited for an interview.
My background includes serving as a customer service associate within both call-center and retail environments. Most recently, I worked on the customer service desk for Discount-Mart, where my responsibilities included handling customer merchandise returns, issuing refunds/store credits, flagging damaged merchandise for shipment back to vendors and providing back-up cashiering during busy periods.
Previously, I worked within two high-volume customer-support call centers for a major telecommunications carrier and a satellite television services provider. In these positions, I demonstrated the ability to resolve a variety of issues and complaints (such as billing disputes, service interruptions or cutoffs, repair technician delays/no-shows and equipment malfunctions). I consistently met my call-volume goals, handling an average of 56 to 60 calls per day.
In addition to this experience, I gained considerable customer service skills during my part-time employment as a waitress and restaurant hostess while in high school.
I also bring to the table strong computer proficiencies in MS Word, MS Excel and CRM database applications and a year of college (business major). Please see the accompanying resume for details of my experience and education.
I am confident that I can offer you the customer service, communication and problem-solving skills you are seeking. Feel free to call me at 555-555-5555 (home) or 555-555-5500 (cell) to arrange an interview. Thank you for your time—I look forward to learning more about this opportunity!