Writing a Great Cover Letter

For a first time job hunter, as many people searching for an internship tend to be), the cover letter gives the opportunity to present any and all of the things that a resume may have left out. This can include your love of Dickens, personal struggles that have influenced your work ethic, and any special skills that might make you stand out. Internship cover letters also vary from professional cover letters because internship recruiters are not necessarily looking for the same skills and references as they are for a seasoned professional.

The most important thing that should could keep in mind as you write and cover letter for an internship is potential.

You’ll need to convince a recruiter that you have the potential to succeed not only at the program or position, but in the industry.

Even though you should customize your cover letter to reflect a bit of your personality, there are certain elements that every cover letter should have.

Clearly state which job you want.

Recruiters and hiring managers will see hundreds if not thousands of cover letters from jobseekers, and will likely be juggling the hiring of a number of different positions all at once.

It is important that the recruiter knows exactly which internship you are applying for from your first sentence, because he or she will probably not have the time to skim through your resume to look for it. You’ll also want the recruiter to know exactly which position you are seeking so that he or she can associate your skills and qualifications with the internship requirements.

Even if you’ve already stated the internship position in the subject line of your email when you send your resume and cover letter (as you should), the first or second letter of any cover letter should read: "I am writing to express interest in the XXX intern position, which I found on MonsterTrak.com." You should also use the first or second sentence to "name drop" or give the name of anyone who personally referred you to the position.

Explain why you want it.

Your next sentence should be a clear and succinct statement of why you want the position. You’ll have the opportunity to expand on this information in the body of the cover letter, but it is important to express your personal interest in the position upfront. This can be a very simple sentence "I believe that my sincere interest in news writing combined with my experience on the Yale Daily News make me an excellent candidate for an internship with the New York Times." You can clarify exactly how that experience matches the internship requirements.

Match your qualifications to the requirements in the advertisement.

The body of the email should contain an explanation of exactly how your skill set aligns with the internship. At this point you should very carefully re-read the job description and if possible, address each of the requirements individually. Some eager job-seekers may even create a table comparing their skills to the job description! This is also an opportunity to explain any qualifications that you may not have. Recruiters may be willing to overlook a particular lack of skills or experience if you are transparent about why it is lacking, and express a willingness and aptitude to learn new things.

Mention the company or organization itself.

It is very difficult to write a compelling cover letter without doing research on the company or organization to which you are applying. There will come a point when the recruiter will want to know more than why you are qualified for an internship, but why you want an internship at this particular office. This is your chance to prove that you’ve done your homework; highlight one portion of the website that you were particularly drawn to, or mention a specific project or client that appeals to you. Put that information in your cover letter: "I have always been fascinated by Middle Eastern business practices, and I am drawn to XYZ Company because of their expertise on trade in that area."

Close with "action items."

It is important to state exactly what you are going to do after you’ve submitted your cover letter and resume for an internship, and to once again express your excitement about the position.

While old rules of internship hunting say that it is standard practice to follow-up with a phone call to make sure your resume arrived in the right hands, email has made this less acceptable, and many ads will even ask that no calls be made about open positions.

You must respect any rules that recruiters or hiring managers give in the ads, and accept the fact that if you are not the right fit for the internship, you may never get a call back. All the same, you should close you cover letter with a thank you and an eagerness to move on to the interview phase: "Thank you very much for taking the time to review my credentials. I look forward to speaking with you soon about scheduling an interview."

And you’re done! You’ve just written the first draft of your cover letter. Now that all of the main pieces are in place, go over the letter again to clean up the grammar and expand on any areas that may not be clear. You should also ask a trusted friend or advisor to read your cover letter; it is very difficult edit your own work. Just make sure that person is someone with a good grasp of grammar and spelling so that they will catch some of the more subtle mistakes. Even the most talented and prolific writers need proofreaders! You’ll be surprised at how satisfying sending your resume and cover letter can be.

Tip: Make sure to include very specific information about the company you are looking for, rather than sending the same generic cover letter to all of your opportunities.


Interviewing for Internships