cover letter

Cover Letters

This page contains tips for writing a strong cover letter to hiring committees. 

Getting started

  • The purpose of the cover letter is to get an interview. It is not simply repeating the information that can be found on the resume.

  • Before writing a cover letter, research the agency and position of interest: Consult with GSSWSR students, staff, and alums who may be familiar with the agency.  

Layout and appearance

  • Use business letter format with default margins. If margins are adjusted, they should be no less than ½ on either side.
  • Font should be easy to read. No smaller than 10 pt. and no bigger than 12 pt. Times New Roman and Arial (or similar font styles) are the suggested fonts to choose for readability.
  • Cover letter should typically be no more than one page in length. Some academic, research, and fellowship positions may request longer cover letters. In all cases, be as concise as possible!
  • Break large, dense paragraphs of text into smaller easy to skim sections.
  • Be consistent. Consider using the same font style and size on both the cover letter and resume. The font style, size, spacing, and other formatting details should be consistent throughout the cover letter.  


  • If possible, address letters to a specific individual using their name. If unsure of their name, use “Dear Hiring Committee” or “Dear Hiring Manager”
  • Honorifics include Mr., Ms., and Mx.  Mr. and Ms. are considered gender specific while Mx. is considered a gender-neutral/inclusive honorific. 
  • Double check spelling of names and confirm address and other contact information is correct.
  • Cover letters should convey why you’re writing (i.e., the position you’re applying for), most relevant experiences and skill, what you expect to add to the agency, and why you’re excited about the position.
  • Use keywords from the job announcement and from information gathered on the agency and position. Be sure that descriptions on resume align with content in cover letter. Namely, don’t highlight an experience in cover letter that isn't described in resume.  
  • If you’ve been referred by an individual in good standing with the agency, mention their name (after getting their permission) in the introductory paragraph. 
  • Conclude cover letters by indicating plans to follow up. For example, “I look forward to talking with you. I’ll plan to follow up via e-mail next week to ensure my materials have been received or if you require any additional information.”

Finalizing the cover letter

  • Proofread. Don’t count on spell check to catch everything. Thoroughly proofread it at least once while reviewing spacing and formatting.  
  • When uploading your resume to a website or into the body of an email, create and upload a PDF version. This assures your formatting and spacing doesn’t change or become distorted.
  •  Additional tips and cover letter checklist