A cover letter is usually required when you’re applying for an internship (or any job, for that matter), whether you’re a high school student or college student or recent graduate. The cover letter is a chance for the hiring manager at the company to get to know you beyond your resume and for you to stand out among your eager competitors.
We’ve turned to the experts for advice on crafting cover letters for internships that get results, and what they say may surprise you.
How to think about your cover letter
Cover letters might actually be more important than resumes. They’re your chance at making a first impression at the company you want to work for, and you want that first impression to be memorable—for the right reasons! The cover letter is also your chance to put the experience listed on your resume into context and show the internship supervisor that you have something the other candidates don't.
Plus, when you’re a student or recent grad, your resume doesn’t likely have an extensive work history, so your cover letter carries even more weight in terms of persuading a company you’re the right person for that internship.
Your cover letter must be extremely relevant to the position you’re applying for, so name drop, expand and connect the dots—and expect to revise the letter several times.
So make that employer feel special, advises Lauren Berger, founder and CEO of InternQueen.com. Finding the right tone can be tricky, though, she warns. You want to show that you’re really passionate about working at that company, but you need to stay professional. Your cover letter must be extremely relevant to the position you’re applying for, so name drop, expand and connect the dots—and expect to revise the letter several times.
Include the name of any big companies you’ve worked for, expand on what you did there and how that experience relates to the internship you’re applying for, Berger explains. If the position is out of state, it also means confirming you’ll be in the city on the dates required. But keep it all short: one page maximum.
What to include in (and leave out of) your internship cover letter
Career advice writer Tom Gerencer tells us your cover shouldn’t be a second resume. “If you cite any achievements at all, it should be in order to demonstrate how well you understand and fit the position.” At most, include three achievements that align with the top skills they’re looking for.
“Your cover letter should be all about them. How great the job is, how much you understand it, why it’s so perfect for you (because of your skills and achievements). It should not be about how awesome you are or what great things you’ve done and are so proud of,” he explains.
In his article, Gerencer says the three-paragraph cover letter should cover the introduction, offer, and call to action. He gives examples of each:
This is where the hook goes and includes why you are perfect for the internship.
I was so excited when my protein shake packaging design was shortlisted for an Adobe Design Achievement Award. It was no accident. Design has been a passion of mine since I was ten. I treated the coursework for my B.A. in Design at UMass Boston as a jumping-off point. My classes lit the way, but I dug in deeper with several extracurricular pursuits.
“There is a structure to keep in mind,” says Debra Cruz. “First, the opening paragraph is the purpose of the letter. This includes who is writing the letter (introduction) and the reason for the letter (internship). It can include how the writer was made aware of the position, perhaps through a personal contact, company website or recruiter. This first paragraph will engage the reader or not. To impress the reader, comment on knowledge gained from researching the company and the reason you are interested in interning for them.”
The offer of what you can provide goes here.
Antido Inc.'s commitment to developing its interns far beyond mere clock-punching speaks directly to my voracious appetite for continued growth. I expect to grow my already award-nominated skill set to improve your quality, cost, and lead times, much as I did during my senior project in product development.
Cruz goes on to say that the next paragraph should be a compelling statement of the value you would provide to the company, highlighting your qualifications that match the job description.
“Attract the reader anecdotally by connecting your attributes with the key areas of the internship. This can be done by conveying the success of a research project, volunteer work, or a task you initiated. Keep it brief, concise, and sell yourself,” she writes. In closing, Cruz says you should enthusiastically express your desire for the internship and and state follow-up steps, such as arranging for a mutually convenient phone call or interview.
This is your call to action.
I would love to put my passion and skill to work for you. Can we schedule a call to discuss winning awards and accolades for Ultrafy?
Career consultant Debra Cruz stresses that your cover letter should not be a repeat of your resume. “Careful detail is required to craft a tailored cover letter specific to the organization or company for a specific internship or job,” she tells us.
How to make your cover letter stand out (even with a sparse resume)
If you lack work experience, don’t worry. Student internships are designed to provide interns with experiential learning and a deeper understanding of the business environment. You are not necessarily expected to have relevant work experience on your resume.
“Your cover letter should be all about them. How great the job is, how much you understand it, why it’s so perfect for you (because of your skills and achievements). It should not be about how awesome you are or what great things you’ve done and are so proud of.”
However, the team at the Corporate Finance Institute writes that your cover letter can (and should) “show how your academic qualifications, skills, extracurricular activities, and any previous work experience make you a suitable candidate for the organization.”
You can do this by highlighting courses and accomplishments relevant to the internship. Similarly, skills you’ve acquired from volunteer roles or sports activities should be noted. You might have developed skills in leadership, teamwork, and customer service that could be key to landing the internship.
Never apologize for your lack of experience, says career counselor Lily Zhang. Instead, focus on your strengths and the skills you’ll bring to the company.
More resources for college students
- The Complete, Step-by-Step Guide to Getting a Job After College
- 8 Resume Myths, Busted
- 9 High-Paying Jobs for College Students
- Do Employers Care About My GPA?
- Help! I Don't Know What to Do with My Life
- Everything You Need to Know About the Work-Study Program
- The Best Online Jobs for College Students (& Where to Find Them)