When applying for jobs on USAJOBS, you typically submit two things: a resume and a resume cover letter. A cover letter is a quick description of who you are and your experience. It serves as an introductory letter to accompany your resume.
While cover letters are pretty commonplace, not every job posting on USAJOBS will ask for them now. Additionally, very few people actually attend classes where they learn about resumes and career building. Because of that lack of education, cover letters are not a widely discussed topic.
With not every job posting explicitly asking for a cover letter, it isn’t uncommon for applicants to apply without a cover letter. Is that a wise idea? Today, we will look at cover letters, their importance, and what you need to know about them.
Do I Really Need A Cover Letter?
The first question that we will address today is whether or not you really need a cover letter when applying for a job on USAJOBS. The answer is: you should always submit a cover letter. Unless a posting specifically says not to submit a resume cover letter, you should never skip the cover letter. Including a cover letter won’t hurt you, and it can definitely make a difference.
Federal Job Listings Cover Letters
Some federal jobs do not state that you need a cover letter, but one can be very helpful. Considering that many federal jobs end up with pages of information, the cover letter acts as a great introduction to a candidate. Those screening for these positions can get a good grip of who they are looking at from the cover letter before looking at pages of application paperwork.
Oftentimes, even if an application doesn’t mention that a cover letter is required, the cover letter, if submitted, will still get sent to those who get the application.
Private Sector Job Listings Cover Letters
For those that don’t know, private sector resumes are formatted and written differently from federal ones. Despite the differences between the resumes, cover letters are always a good idea for those applying for private-sector jobs. Even with shorter job applications in the private sector, the resume cover letter is always a good call.
A cover letter can help you stand out amongst a large number of applicants. It can also help you to describe yourself in a more relatable way than a resume does.
The Contents of Your Cover Letter
The contents of a cover letter can be narrowed down to three things:
- saying who you are,
- stating what you are applying for, and
- condensing your experience into human wording.
Besides that, let’s take a look at what your cover letter should include.
Although formatted differently depending on what template you use, most cover letters include all of the contact information for both the applicant and the company being applied for. If you know who your cover letter and resume will be, do your best to include their specific contact information over the company’s generic information. This shows you are willing to put effort into your work.
If you do not have specific information or cannot find it, utilize the general contact information for the company (or agency for federal applications).
Just like with the contact information, you will want to start the letter off with a salutation directly to the person reading your resume cover letter if you can find their name. Dear is the preferred salutation word when writing a cover letter. Some people chose to use To, but this is less formal.
In general, you want to avoid using casual salutations when writing any content that is going to anyone involved in the hiring process. Casual salutations include hello, hi, howdy, etc.
When you do not know the person you are addressing, there are two options. A traditional option is to put “To whom it may concern:” Another option is to put Dear and then the department name. An example of this would be, “Dear HR Team.”
The first paragraph of your cover letter is an introduction to who you are and why you are writing the cover letter. It is essential to include your name, the position you are applying for, and the company name in the first paragraph.
In the middle of your cover letter, you should describe your experience and relevance to the company you are applying for. This section is great to connect your experience to both the company values and the job description. Be as concise as possible, though.
For the final paragraph, you are going to close out your letter. Thank the company for considering your application or for reading your cover letter. It is also traditional to include a pleasantry such as, “I look forward to discussing this opportunity with you.” Some cover letters will also include a phone number and email address with the pleasantry.
Cover Letter Essentials
Now that you know the importance and contents of a cover letter, we will address a few essentials. Following these essentials will help you to craft a winning cover letter.
1. Keep it Brief
Cover letters are not long documents. The longest cover letter you should ever write is a page long. That is stretching it, though. Most cover letters should be about 3 paragraphs long. A fourth paragraph can be added if you have a second relevant position or second that really needs to be mentioned in your cover letter.
Keep in mind that the longer that a cover letter is, the more likely the reader will gloss over information.
2. Write Professionally
Professional writing should always be used in business communication, but it is even more important in your resume cover letter. Carefully use words that are professional yet descriptive and human. Humanizing your resume is important as very few jobs want someone who can’t add that human edge.
Another part of professional writing is one that was violated in the last sentence. Do not use contractions when writing your cover letter. While these may be acceptable for day-to-day business communication, they are not for your cover letter.
3. Catch Their Attention Right Away
In any writing that you craft, you want to catch the reader’s attention right away. This is what makes someone want to keep going. Creative wording, good description, and removing filler words help to create flow and keep attention.
Besides the formalities, you want to keep the fluff out to show your achievements and make the reader interested in learning more about you.
4. Maximize The Most Visible Area
Out of the whole resume cover letter, one area is more important than the rest. That is the first half of the main content. Utilize this area as much as possible to show your achievements and experience that is most relevant.
5. Do Not Use A Generic Cover Letter
Some people create a generic cover letter when applying to any job they are interested in. For the most part, this is not something you want to do. The cover letter is supposed to be tailored to the job you are applying to.
With that in mind, you can have the first and last paragraph made into a template so that all you have to do is switch out the job position and company name. The content about your achievements/skills will need to be highlighted differently for each job as the company values and position requirements are different.
If you use any copied content for a cover letter, make sure that you change any names or positions to match your application. The last thing you want is to put the wrong position or company name on the cover letter.
6. Double and Triple Check Everything
The last piece of advice that we have is to double and triple-check everything on your cover letter. Mistakes and errors in the cover letter can cause it to end up in the trash. Especially obvious mistakes. Future employers want to see that you put your best effort into your cover letter, and errors show that you didn’t put the effort in.
Your resume and the accompanying cover letter are a representation of yourself. As you are writing, editing, and submitting your application, keep that in mind. The phrase, put your best foot forward exists for a reason. Taking care in crafting your cover letter will help employers know you are serious and that you can do the job you are applying for.
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