Cover letters are a bit of a necessary evil during the job application process. It feels like there’s a lot of weight placed on this one piece of paper — after all, you only get one chance to make a good first impression.
Fortunately, our VA recruitment consultants are here to help. Here are six tips that are sure to help your cover letter stand out and move your VA application to the top of the pile.
Tip #1: Get detailed.
You don’t want to write a novel, but you also want to fully describe your knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs). VA is looking for candidates whose KSAs most closely align with the position description.
“In federal hiring, more is often better than less,” Dave Aragon, recruitment consultant at VA, said in a video on applying to VA.
Certain experiences and skillsets may not seem relevant to you, but VA’s skilled HR staffing specialists can see how they match up with the position.
“Our HR staffing specialists are trained to really identify those candidates who have the highest potential for meeting the expectations of that position. We want you to get interviewed and we want you to get hired,” Aragon said.
“The more we know, the better you’ll look,” agreed Tim Blakney, another VA recruitment consultant.
So, be thorough, but keep your cover letter to a page.
Tip #2: Tailor your cover letter for the job.
Bad news: One generic cover letter isn’t going to cut it these days.
While it’s tempting to write one cover letter and stick with it, it’s important to stand out. There’s a lot of competition for VA jobs. A cover letter customized for a particular job will help you do just that.
“This is absolutely a must. A generic cover letter will not do,” Blakney said.
Indeed.com recommends keeping an outline of your cover letter and filling it in with specific details after reading the job description.
Tip #3: Address it to the right person
Personally addressing your letter allows you to tailor it not only to the job, but also to the individual receiving your application, according to Glassdoor.
Luckily, we make this easy for you. Most VA positions on USAJobs include the agency contact at the bottom of the posting.
If you absolutely can’t find the name of the hiring manager, Blakney said it’s okay to address it “Dear Hiring Manager.”
Tip #4: Proofread, proofread, proofread.
There isn’t an employer out there who isn’t looking for someone with attention to detail, and you need to show that off from the get-go in your cover letter.
“Errors will not go over well. You need to put your best foot forward,” Blakney said.
Spelling and grammatical errors are a good way to get passed on. But don’t completely rely on spellcheck to find mistakes, like using “your” when you meant “you’re.”
Ask a friend to look over your cover letter for you if you can. They’ll be less likely to skim over obvious mistakes since they have some distance from the document.
Tip #5: Strike the right tone.
Be friendly but professional. Cover letters for governmental positions tend to be less flowery than those in the private sector.
“It’s difficult to project tone in writing, so do your best,” Blakney advised.
A cover letter is also a good place to discuss your passion for health care or your commitment to the nation’s Veterans, but don’t go too far or it will seem unprofessional, Military.com advises.
Tip #6: Don’t make it all about you.
It’s easy to make your cover letter a narrative version of your resume, reciting your previous experience. But you also want to help the employer see why they should consider you above all the other candidates.
“Make sure you tell the reader what you bring to the table. Make them want to reach out to you,” said Blakney.
Hook the hiring manager with a good introductory paragraph, and then talk about what you can deliver for them.
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Ready to put these tips to use? Start preparing your VA job application today.