How to Write a Cover Letter for an Internship – A Step by Step Guide
As a college student or recent graduate, an internship is an exciting opportunity to gain hands-on experience at an organization within your desired field. You can learn on-the-job skills under the supervision of someone who works in the industry and can guide and shape your coursework into practical experience. Not only will an internship look good on your resume when you eventually enter the workforce, it will help you to build the necessary skills in your chosen discipline. An internship will help you strengthen your performance in your career endeavors.
As you sift through and apply for internships, it is important to remember that many other students are likely also competing for the same position. So how can you set yourself apart from the crowd?
You want to ensure that you have a comprehensive resume, listing all of your pertinent education, work experiences, and skills. Additionally, you will need to compose a cover letter that helps your application stand out from the rest.
Here is a comprehensive guide on how to write a cover letter for an internship that is both professional and compelling and will help land you the internship of your dreams.
What do Employers Look for in Internship Applicants?
When you apply for an internship, there is typically a large field of candidates also vying for the same position. If you know what the employer wants to see in your resume and cover letter, you will be better able to help yourself stand out as an ideal candidate. While the specific skills will vary based on the field and position, all employers are looking for certain traits in their internship applicants. Here are some of the most common characteristics that you will want to highlight to pique the interest of the employer.
Ability to Communicate Effectively
The cover letter is your first opportunity to let the employer see your communication style and how clearly and concisely you can get your point across to the reader.
Communication is a vital part of any job or internship as you take direction and share progress and reflections with your supervisor, and employers want to know that you already possess this skill. You can convey effective communication by clearly addressing components of the job posting and asking someone to proofread your letter to ensure that you have clearly explained your experience and preparation for the position.
Experience Working Collaboratively with Others
Every job, particularly an internship where you are learning and taking direction from others, involves working collaboratively with peers and supervisors. When an employer looks to hire an intern, they want someone who will be a team player. Use your past work experiences and any group assignments or projects that are relevant to your intended position to highlight your ability to work effectively with others.
Evidence of Initiative
Although the role of an intern is to learn from more experienced individuals in your chosen field, employers will still expect you to take charge of your role within the organization. In addition to mentioning your initiative as one of your strongest skills, give examples of instances where you have taken charge of your own learning. If you volunteered with an organization or approached a professor to participate in a research project in order to gain hands-on experience in your field, these would serve as excellent examples of your initiative to learn and grow.
Capacity for Flexibility and Adaptability
As an intern, your employer will expect you to fulfill many tasks within the scope of your responsibilities. Your role within your position may change without notice, and the employer wants to know that you have the skill set to handle unexpected situations appropriately and professionally. Therefore, it’s essential to convey evidence of your adaptability and flexibility within your educational and work experiences, such as balancing several different responsibilities simultaneously, or shifting your focus in a research project when a new angle presents itself.
How do Employers Evaluate Internship Candidates?
As an internship applicant, you will not have significant work experience to demonstrate capability to an employer. Unless you are applying for a graduate internship, you are also unlikely to have certifications or degrees to help prepare you for a position. Therefore, employers evaluate internship candidates a little differently than they might for a typical employee.
While they will want to see the general characteristics of strong communication, collaboration, initiative and adaptability, the hiring manager will also be evaluating candidates in the following areas to know if they are the right fit for the internship.
Your Reasons for Applying to the Internship
An employer wants to choose an intern who shows excitement about the position and interest in the company. While you may just be hoping to gain any experience in your field, the employer wants to hire someone who is really interested in that specific job at their organization. Aligning your long-term career aspirations with their company mission, service or product can help the employer see why you would be a worthwhile investment.
Your Knowledge of the Company
In addition to knowing the larger purpose of the organization, an employer wants to know that you have given some thought to the initiatives and goals that their employees work toward. Conducting a little bit of research by visiting the company website or calling the front desk or human resources can help to give you a leg up over other candidates. Highlighting how your goals and their company mission intersect will help the employer understand how you will fit in with their culture and can assist you with landing an interview.
Your Work and Volunteer Experiences
While you won’t have years of work experience to prove your worthiness for the job, an employer will be expecting that you have taken advantage of any volunteer, research, or other hands-on experiences offered through your college or in your
community that provide a foundation for the internship position. For example, a biomedical research company will want to see that you have participated in lab research, inside or outside your coursework.
Your Skills That Can Benefit the Company
Although you will learn a lot from the employer through an internship, the employer also wants to hire a candidate with a skill set that can help the company grow. If you have participated in certain training, workshops, or elective coursework that has prepared you for a certain facet of the internship, be sure to highlight this. An internship should be a mutually beneficial relationship for both you and the employer, and you will be more likely to make it to the next round if the employer can clearly envision your contributions to the organization.
What Should You Include in Your Cover Letter?
When you apply for an internship, a cover letter is your opportunity to address all of the qualifications the employer is looking for and to let them know who you really are.
While a professional resume will detail your specific education and relevant skills and prior work experiences, your cover letter for an internship will allow the employer to get to know your personal interests and motivations in seeking out the position and the company. In addition, the cover letter is your chance to show the employer what differentiates you from other candidates with similar skills and experience… before they even see your resume..
A cover letter is not the time to be humble and hope that the person reading it will intuit your greatest qualities. It is an opportunity to sell yourself as the best person for the position.
Employers want you to demonstrate an understanding of the requirements of the internship and how your skills, work experience, and coursework have prepared you to excel in this temporary role. A person who is hiring wants to interview only the best and most qualified candidates, so it is important to show them that you are among that group, right from the beginning of the hiring process.
In addition to highlighting your qualifications in relation to the position for which you are applying, an internship cover letter should reflect a personal touch. Share your passions and interests with the employer as you let them know why you’re the best person for the job. This helps to build a picture of you alongside your application and resume and signal that you are someone they want to learn more about. If you are really into technology, golf, gaming, animal training… whatever lights you up, let that come out in both your letter and your interview.
How to Structure Your Internship Cover Letter
A cover letter for an internship should be written following the format of a formal letter. The typed letter should be completed in a standard font style (avoid “fancy” fonts, go for readable over exciting) and size (11 or 12 point will do), and should fit entirely on one page. While you can format the return address section into a special cover letter header with a different color and font, the rest of the letter should be typed in black ink.
Regardless of the type of job for which you apply, cover letters for an internship should follow a standard structure. The body consists of four paragraphs that each include essential information that employers look at to determine if they want to look at you more closely as a candidate for the position.
Following these key steps of a typical cover letter format will help you to know how to craft a document that conveys your professionalism, interest, and skill set for the job.
Date and Contact Information
Any formal letter begins with your name and contact information and the date. You should include your full name, your current mailing address, a phone number, and an email address. This information will be used to communicate with you about your candidacy for the position, so it is important to double check and ensure that all information is accurate. (Yes, it happens. We’ve heard stories of wrong phone numbers and missed calls.)
The information will either be written at the very top of the page as a header, or aligned to the left side of the page if following the traditional formal letter formatting. The date should be written separately from the contact information if using a header, or following a space if typed in the typical format.
Centered header example:
123 My Street | Anytown, NV 12345 | (555) 555-5555 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Left aligned example:
123 My Street
Anytown, NV 12345
Employer Contact Information
The next portion of the cover letter is similar to the first section and includes all of the same contact information for the employer. Begin with the formal name and title of the person listed as the point of contact on the internship job posting. Then, list the name of the company or organization and their mailing address. It is not necessary to include in a cover letter email addresses or phone numbers for the employer as you did for yourself.
Dr. William Smith
Community Research Lab
Anytown, NV 12345
The salutation is your first opportunity in your cover letter to directly address the point person for the organization. It is important to use a formal greeting with the honorific that the person prefers to go by. It may take some light research on the organization website or through calling the office to ensure that you have the correct contact person and address them accurately, especially if you are uncertain based on their first name or their possible doctoral status.
Getting this small detail right will show your commitment to the even the finer points of a task and encourage the person to continue reading. Once you are certain as to how to address the person, follow the salutation with a colon instead of the comma that is used for informal letters.
Dear Mr. Supervisor:
Body of the Letter
The first paragraph is your chance to hook the employer, that is, grab their attention. While it sounds simple, employers are looking for you to mention the specific internship that you want to land. Refer to the role explicitly and use wording similar to the job posting, without copying and pasting. Confirm your interest in the position and your belief that you are the most qualified candidate due to your education, work experiences, and skill set. Keep this paragraph general, but effusive in your passion and interest for the internship.
I am interested in applying for the position of Research and Development intern at DOW Laboratories. In reviewing the requirements for the internship, I believe that my coursework, research experience, and passion for the mission of your organization will make me an excellent fit for the position.
In the second paragraph, you can begin to get more specific about your background and accomplishments that are relevant to the position. Focus on the highlights and weave in the most relevant information to the specific job. Remember that the employer will also have your resume, so you don’t need to regurgitate all of that information in the cover letter. You want to help them see you as a passionate individual who works hard and has the best education and skill set to excel at the job.
In my past three years of study as an Engineering major at Anytown College, I have balanced a rigorous course load of technology, science and mathematics courses in addition to hands-on learning experiences. I have assisted engineering professor Andrew Roberts in his research for the past two semesters, learning techniques and software that are required for the internship position. Additionally, I have completed an internship with the campus IT department in which I learned problem solving approaches in the development and implementation of new software that will serve me well as an intern at your company.
After you have shared some knowledge about you, the third paragraph is your opportunity to show that you understand the purpose and values of the organization. Bridge your goals, passions, and interests to the accomplishments and mission statement of the company. This section is important because it helps the employer understand where and how you will fit within their company. If you can help connect the dots for them clearly and successfully, you have a much better chance of getting called for the next round in the process.
Among my prior work experiences was a marketing campaign that I completed through an internship with Anytown Marketing Company last summer. In that role, I assisted in managing the company’s social media platforms and helped design advertisements. I know that the skills and I developed in these areas will be an asset to your company as you aim to diversify your audiences and increase the reach of your advertising campaigns.
The fourth and final paragraph of the cover letter should be a summary of your interest in and qualifications for the internship to which you are applying. Restate the specific position and make a general statement of your excitement for the opportunity to perform the job and to be a part of the organization. You can also refer to any additional documentation that you have enclosed, such as your resume, and let the employer know that you are eager to hear from them. Also, be sure to thank them for their time and consideration of your application.
I am excited about the Behavioral Science Intern position and I hope to have the opportunity to meet you in person to further discuss my qualifications. My resume is enclosed and it provides details of my coursework, research experience, and previous internships that make me an excellent candidate for this position. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
To close out your letter, choose a professional sign off such as”best regards” or “sincerely”. Then, type your legal name several spaces below in order to leave room for your handwritten signature in between. Be sure to use black or blue ink only in order to maintain the professionalism of the letter.
Sample Cover Letter for Internship (free template)
When all of the components of the cover letter come together, you created a document that showcases your thorough preparation and passion for the internship for which you are applying.
Here is a sample free internship cover letter template that you can adapt to your specific internship application.