How To Write A Cover Letter For A Government Job (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar and Experts - Dec. 23, 2020

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Writing a cover letter for a government job requires a different approach from writing a cover letter for private sector roles.

Many professionals don’t realize this when applying to government positions, resulting in them losing career opportunities that they were very much qualified for.

This article will explain how to tailor your cover letter for government positions. We’ll also provide a template for a government job cover letter and an accompanying example.

Why It’s Important to Tailor Your Cover Letter for Government Jobs

It’s essential to tweak your cover letter before applying to a government job for a few key reasons:

  • Stringent minimum requirements. The requirements stated in job listings for private-sector jobs aren’t always absolute.

    Recruiters are given the discretion to hire impressive candidates who can compensate for any requirements they miss.

    Government jobs differ in this respect, as many criteria are set in stone. You need to emphasize that you meet these base requirements in your cover letter to ensure that your application isn’t automatically dismissed.

    For example, a GS-14 position may have a time-in-grade requirement that demands you’ve worked at a GS-13 level for a year.

  • KSA keywords. When applying to a government job, applicant tracking software (ATS) will parse your application for the presence of certain knowledge, ability, and skill (KSA) keywords.

    Even if your cover letter or resume is well-written, it’ll never be read if ATS calculates that the document is a low percentage KSA match.

  • Importance of eligibility. Rules and algorithms tightly govern the hiring process for government positions.

    If your cover letter mentions a high eligibility status, such as leave without pay (LWOP), the system will automatically place your application over others.

  • Competition. Cover letters aren’t always required for government jobs. However, there are likely many candidates possessing similar qualifications or even internal references.

    Not only does a cover letter allow you to expand on your qualifications and cite experiences to support them, but it also gives you a chance to align your values with those of the agency.

    This personalized touch helps you stand out from the crowd.

    These benefits are especially prominent for government internship positions, as most applicant’s neglect to submit a cover letter for these roles.

How to Write Cover Letters for Government Jobs

Consider the following guidelines when tailoring your cover letter for a government position:

  • Research the agency. Every government agency has a different set of mission values and current programs.

    Aligning your mindset and goals with those of the agency in your cover letter will improve your chances of receiving an interview.

    Refrain from targeting your cover letter towards any particular agency program unless the job listing specifies that’s what you’ll be working on.

    It’s a good idea to express your interest in a particular program to show your passion, but you don’t want to narrow your cover letter’s scope in case the agency plans to assign you to a different task.

  • Understand the entire job listing before applying. Missing even a single job requirement when applying for a government position can be disastrous.

    If you fulfill the majority of requirements stated in the job listing but miss a single one, your entire application may be thrown out.

  • Be specific. Rather than vaguely describing your experience, make sure to use numbers and statistics to explain your achievements’ exact results.

  • Be brief. Just as is the case in the private sector, hiring managers will spend very little time reading over your government job cover letter.

    Use succinct wording and make sure only to include highly relevant experiences, or you’ll risk the recruiter skimming over key information.

    If an individual referred you, either mention them briefly or attach an entirely separate reference letter.

    Your cover letter should not be any longer than a single page.

What to include in Your Government Job Cover Letter

Your cover letter should be composed of the following sections:

  1. Header. You should start your cover letter with your contact information, the recipient’s information, and the current date.

    Your information should include your name, contact number, and email address.

    If you have the hiring manager’s name, you may be able to find their contact information through social media.

  2. Introduction. Make sure to address the hiring manager with their appropriate title.

    If you’re unable to find the hiring manager’s name, then use a generic professional greeting such as “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Sir or Madam.”

    Next, state the government position you’re interested in and briefly explain why you’re qualified for the position. Quickly mention one or two job experiences in the past that are relevant to the agency and the role.

  3. Professional experience. Give a brief overview of your qualifications, skills, and experiences as a professional.

    Ensure that every item you mention directly addresses the essential requirements and duties stated in the job listing.

    Remember, if the applicant tracking software doesn’t detect enough keyword matches between your cover letter and the job posting, your document will be dismissed before even being read by a human.

  4. Conclusion. Thank the reader for their time and consideration and reiterate your interest in the position. Express your interest in a way that invites follow-up action on the part of the recruiter.

    For example,

    “I would love to discuss with you further how my lengthy experience and abilities could add value to the projects your agency is working on, such as the “Housing For All Initiative.”

Cover Letter Template for Government Jobs

Refrain from simply substituting your details directly into the following template.

nstead, observe how the cover letter is structured and incorporates critical elements. Use this knowledge to draft your own document.
[Your full name]
[Your phone number]
[Your email address]

[Current date]

[Hiring manager’s full name]
[Hiring manager’s mailing address]

Dear [Hiring manager’s full name],

I am writing to convey my interest in the [target position] in the [target government agency]. [Align your personal values/objectives to those of the agency.] I believe my [number of years] of experience as a [relevant position] has given me the [key skills] to further your agency’s goal to [agency goal that you strongly relate to].

I have developed a well-rounded skill set through on-the-job experience that matches many of the key qualifications you are looking for, including:

  • [Key qualification from job listing #1]

  • [Key qualification from job listing #2]

  • [Key qualification from job listing #3]

[Previous professional experience that proves you meet qualification #1]

[Previous professional experience that proves you meet qualification #2]

[Previous professional experience that proves you meet qualification #3]

I appreciate the time you have taken to read about my professional background. I look forward to further discussing with you how my extensive experience could greatly contribute to programs your agency is working on, such as [example of agency’s programs].

[sign off]

Cover Letter Example for Government Jobs

Caleb Smith
888 555 9252

March 19, 2020

David Helm
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street. SW
Washington, DC 20410

Dear David Helm,
I am writing to convey my interest in the program analyst position in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Amidst the economic havoc caused by the coronavirus, I feel compelled to use my expertise to aid those struggling to find shelter. I believe my 12 years of experience as a program analyst has given me the management and technical expertise to further your agency’s goal to improve the quality of housing available to Americans.

I have developed a well-rounded skill set through on-the-job experience that matches many of the key qualifications you are looking for, including:

  • Management analysis

  • Team leadership

  • Regulatory compliance

During my time as a senior program analyst at TechX, I designed, developed, and supported live-use applications that were utilized by over 80,000 people. I also spearheaded management analyses that identified and performed process enhancements that improved operational efficiency by up to 23%.

At TechX, I also oversaw multiple teams composed of members from completely different departments and backgrounds. I used my interpersonal and problem-solving skills to maintain team cohesion, which led us to exceed all project deadlines and expectations given to us over a five-year period.

I also developed programs for multiple organizations to analyze their operational procedures for regulatory compliance and generate monthly reports. In one case, I saved the company $124,000 in legal fees through early detection of non-compliant business processes. I averaged an increase in policy compliance by 35%.
I appreciate the time you have taken to read about my professional background. I look forward to further discussing with you how my experience could greatly contribute to the programs your agency is working on, such as the “Housing For All Initiative.”

Caleb Smith

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.


Matt Warzel, CPRW, CIR

Matt Warzel a President of a resume writing firm (MJW Careers, LLC) with 15+ years of recruitment, outplacement, career coaching and resume writing experience. Matt is also a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Certified Internet Recruiter (CIR) with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (Marketing Focus) from John Carroll University.

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