How to Write a Cover Letter for an Internship

Jun 2, 2020 | Cover Letters

A title graphic featuring a young woman looking at a laptop next a cup of coffee and aversion of the article's title: "How to Write a Cover Letter for an Internship."

So you found a great internship and worked hard on your resume… but there’s one piece still missing. Here’s what to include in a cover letter for an internship.

By: Matthew Dupee | Resume Writer for Let’s Eat, Grandma

So you found an internship you’re really excited about. Great! 

And you’ve worked hard to put together an awesome first resume. Even greater!

But… the job posting calls for a cover letter, and you have no idea what to write… Not great!

We face this dilemma often when writing resumes for students interested in internships. You may feel lost in the application process or concerned about a lack of professional experience to demonstrate your ability to tackle the role. 

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After all, isn’t the internship supposed to be the experience? How are you supposed to write about your professional qualifications when you don’t have them yet? 

Worry not. Here’s how to write a cover letter for an internship that will get you hired — even if you don’t have much experience yet.

The Basics Still Apply With A Cover Letter For a Internship

First, know that even as a student or recent graduate,  you can still apply general cover letter principles to sell the hiring manager on you.  Make sure you:

  1. Supplement your resume with specific stories
  2. Highlight your alignment with the company’s mission, and… 
  3. Show off soft skills like work ethic, attention to detail, critical thinking, and the ability to quickly build relationships.

These all differentiate your cover letter from your resume and give a more complete picture of you.

In one of your paragraphs (or sprinkled throughout all of them), take a few lines to demonstrate how you match up against any soft skills listed in the internship posting. Make sure you address each of them,  as using language from the job description helps hiring managers see that you’re a good fit, and these keywords will help your application rank higher in the Applicant Tracking System (ATS). This especially applies when people are evaluating candidates without much experience.

Here are three essential elements of a cover letter for an internship, arranged into three paragraphs in one possible order you might use to organize your letter.

Paragraph #1 — Give me examples

Expanding on the bullet points from your resume with specific stories is one of the main ways your cover letter comes to life.

One key difference for an internship cover letter is that you’ll need to dig deeper to pull these relevant stories from your college experience since you haven’t held a job in the field yet. It’s not enough to just mention GPA or degree status. You need to prove you’re a good fit by describing relevant projects or specific topics you’ve studied.

A great way to accomplish this is to talk about your most recent coursework: 

Maybe you just finished a paper or case study on business analytics or business intelligence. Let the reader know how much you learned and how excited you are that the internship will have you using business intelligence tools in action. This also provides another opportunity to boost your ATS score by tossing in terms like business analytics, business intelligence, and automation.

Maybe you wrote an art history thesis that applies to the work you’ll be doing in this museum internship. Or maybe you took a communications practicum class that had you work with a real local business on a social media campaign. Whatever your field, you studied something in school that prepared you for this internship — prove it!

Paragraph #2 — Tell me a story about you

A photo of three young people on laptops doing schoolwork together at a table. Article on cover letter for internship

College was about more than just your academic accomplishments — tell your unique story on your cover letter!

Who are you, really? Your cover letter is a chance to answer that beyond just the stats and figures on your resume. Tell me a story about your life. How did you get to the point where you are looking for an internship?

Maybe you overcame economic obstacles and became the first member of your family to attend college, or you earned a full scholarship to your university straight out of high school. Or maybe you have a family member in the field and want to follow in her/his footsteps. Perhaps you even discovered your passion for this field at an early age and that dream has driven you all the way through college. 

Whatever unique journey you took to get to this point, highlight it here. The reader will remember your story and may even relate it to their own professional journey. That connection will almost always turn into a request to hear more — or a full-on interview. 

Paragraph #3 — Tell me about where you’re going and why you want to work for us

Don’t make the mistake of going into too much detail about what you want to gain from the experience, but do briefly mention what your goal is for the internship. This showcases not only your motivation and work ethic but also how your goals align with the company’s, which is what they really care about. 

Take a few minutes to review the company website. Head right to the “About” section. Make sure you can answer any questions about what the company does, who its customers are, and where you would fit into that dynamic. Then, tell the reader why you feel you could help the company move the needle. Be short and be humble, but make sure the reader understands your unique value proposition.

This often-overlooked part of a cover letter shows that you’ve done your research on the organization and truly want to work for them.

The Bottom Line on Writing a Cover Letter For a Internship

Writing a cover letter for an internship can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow these steps to build the foundation, then make sure it’s truly yours. Remember:

  • Make it personal but also tell your audience what they want to hear.
  • Show them you researched the company and read the job description closely.
  • Explain how your experience, soft skills, and education align with the requirements of the role. 
  • Include specific examples from your coursework. 
  • Ultimately, answer the question: “How will you personally help the company improve?”

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