Writing a Cover Letter
The objective of any application is to get an interview. The cover letter is an introduction to the hiring process and a request to be considered for a job. In law enforcement, the interview is truly the beginning stage of the process and, in many ways, the most critical when it comes to the actual hiring. But both the letter and the interview are still important, and first impressions matter. Therefore, it is vital that the cover letter be succinct, authoritative, and decisive; reflective of the ideal person to become a law enforcement official.
The Basics of a Cover Letter
Your cover letter represents you. It tells your readers what you most want them to know about you and your goals. Just like your resume, your cover letter mirrors your knowledge of self as well as your knowledge of qualification criteria associated with specific positions or functional areas.
The letter should be polite, formal, and typed on a single page. It should have all of the elements of a standard business letter, including:
Your contact information (home address and phone number)
Agency's contact information
Three paragraphs of text
Your cover letter should contain not only the agency name, but the name of the person to whom application is being made. “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To whom it may concern” salutations are not appropriate. There is sufficient information available to the public to be able to address a specific individual in your letter. In lieu of a person, an office or agency with the department can be addressed. Finding out this information in advance of application shows initiative on the part of the applicant, and is consistent with the type of thorough investigative skills that all law enforcement officials should have. Therefore, applicants should not be afraid to call and ask to whom a letter can be specifically addressed. If all of your efforts to find the specific name of the hiring authority within the agency fail, the letter should be addressed to the name of the agency director or department chief.
Writing Your Cover Letter
The first paragraph of the letter should state simply that the applicant is applying for a position with the department (advertised or not) with a reference made to the attached resume.
The second paragraph is the only place where you can sell yourself. There should be a maximum of three sentences that describe qualifications and capabilities that are not necessarily articulated in the resume but that you possess. These capabilities should be general characteristics that are highly desirable in a law enforcement officer, like trustworthiness, attention to detail, and punctuality. Avoid describing specifics like an ability to run a mile in five minutes. Although that kind of ability might be worthwhile to note in an interview, the cover letter is neither the time nor the place for such specific details.
In the closing paragraph, specifically request an interview. Include your phone number and the hours you can be reached to arrange an interview at a mutually convenient time.
The closing should appear two lines below the body of the letter and should be aligned with your return address and the date. Keep your closing simple—“Sincerely,” usually suffices. Space down four lines (enough to allow for your signature) and type your full name as it appears on your resume. Your typed name should align with the salutation.
Sign above your typed name in blue or black ink. Remember to sign your letter. People often forget this seemingly obvious point. A simple oversight such as this suggests that you are inattentive to details.
Things to Remember
Before submitting a letter or a resume to any law enforcement agency, spell check and proofread the document to make certain it is free of errors that could make you appear careless to the hiring authority. Failure to proofread a cover letter or a resume is the number one cause for rejection of an initial application. Misspellings, improper use of English, and incomplete sentences cause the hiring authority to wonder if you pay so little attention to detail when applying, what will you do on the job?
The best cover letters and resumes can stand alone, soliciting and supporting consideration. Readers can look at either document independently and have enough information to judge the candidate's worthiness for an interview. But when they're combined, the impact of the two is much greater.