If you’re currently a student hoping to gain more work experience, applying for an internship can be a great place to start. Whether you pick up a part-time intern role at your dream company or you shadow a faculty member on campus to learn more about what they do, internships can help you experience a professional environment firsthand, explore careers you’re interested in, and determine if a specific industry is right for you.
Internships are ideal for college students and recent grads who don’t have a lot of work experience under their belts yet. However, the tricky part is, to apply for an internship you usually need to demonstrate some level of prior experience on your application materials. If you’re a full-time student who has never worked before, it can feel overwhelming to apply for an internship for the first time.
Fortunately, there are many ways to make yourself stand out in the internship application process — one of which is crafting an attention-grabbing cover letter that will get your materials noticed. Here’s how to write a persuasive cover letter for your internship, even if you don’t have work experience yet.
Craft a strong opening paragraph to grab the reader’s attention.
In the first paragraph of your cover letter, introduce yourself and explain why you are interested in the position. Scour the company’s website so you can add detail and buzzwords in your intro to demonstrate how you’re a good match for the company. For instance, you can explain why the company’s mission resonates with you, or mention specific accomplishments that you were especially impressed with, and why.
If there is someone in your network who works at the company you are applying for, it can also be a good idea to set up an informational interview with them before you submit your cover letter. They may be able to provide more details about the company culture and the experiences you can gain. After speaking with them, you can use their insight to inform the language in your cover letter and really tailor your approach to the position you want.
Remember: Your cover letter is about depth over breadth.
Your cover letter should not simply regurgitate what’s on your resume. Instead, the letter should consist of an introductory paragraph and two or three body paragraphs — totaling roughly one page in length — that supports your materials in a professional, yet more personal way. Rather than simply rattling off all of your experiences in the letter, highlight a select few that demonstrate why you’re a great candidate for the intern role. Use your experiences to tell a story about the impact you made on the organization or what you learned in your role. So, if you don’t have a *ton* of experience yet, that’s OK; focus on conveying your skills in an in-depth, compelling way through a few handpicked experiences.
For instance, maybe you’re a writer for your school’s newspaper, but you are applying for marketing roles. In your letter, you might explain how your writing experience has fostered your attention to detail, ability to submit polished materials on a strict deadline, and your understanding of how to tailor your writing style to fit a specific brand or voice.
Demonstrate how you’ve made an impact.
No matter what type of role you’re applying for, employers want to know about your work ethic; after all, they’re looking for candidates who have made an impact and can make an impact at their brand, too. If you are involved in any clubs or hold leadership roles on campus, being able to demonstrate your contributions and impact is still important, even if that organization has nothing to do with the position you are applying for.
Maybe you’re on the executive board of a community service organization, but you’re not interested in advocacy or non-profit roles. You can use the fact that, for example, you were able to raise more money for your club than a previous year through a new fundraising initiative that you came up with to demonstrate that you get things done. If you can demonstrate to employers that you are a productive employee, they will feel more confident in training you and teaching you the relevant skills on the job.
Highlight your transferable skills.
Deb Brunetti, the Associate Director of the Hale Center for Career Development at Connecticut College, tells Her Campus that highlighting your transferable skills is a key part of a quality cover letter. “[Even if] experiences that students have on the surface don’t seem relevant to something they want to apply to, if they dig deep enough, they can make those skills relevant,” she says. Instead of simply highlighting the tasks you completed in a former role, Brunetti advises talking about the specific skills you used in carrying out those tasks.
Brunetti gives the example of working at an ice cream shop over the summer: If you talk about how you collaborated with teammates to ensure efficient operations, that you contributed to a certain percentage of returning customers through your service, or that you came up with a creative solution when things didn’t go to plan, then that ice cream scooper job might be more relevant than you think. Were you a nanny during school vacations? Use that experience to highlight your excellent communication skills, ability to assume a high level of responsibility in a high-pressure situation, time management, and organization.
Don’t forget to highlight your relevant academic experiences.
Your academic experiences are just as important as the extracurricular activities you’re involved in, especially if you are an underclassman who may have not completed an internship before. If your major aligns with the position you are applying for (for example, if you are an accounting major interested in an accounting internship), explaining the types of work you’ve completed in your classes is a straightforward way to demonstrate your interest in and knowledge of the field.
Even if your major might not seem directly relevant to your career aspirations (say, if you are an English major interested in law), you can focus more on the types of work you have completed rather than the content of your classes.
If your classes involve a lot of group work or presentations, for example, Brunetti suggests using this experience to demonstrate your communication and public speaking skills. If you take writing-intensive courses, Brunetti recommends highlighting this experience as a career competency by discussing skills such as editing, reading through a critical lens, or synthesizing a lot of research material into a written paper.
While you can finesse your cover letter to a certain extent, you should still be somewhat realistic and apply to a mix of dream roles as well as positions that may be more within your reach due to prior experiences or alumni connections. Remember that each job or internship is not the end-all-be-all of your professional trajectory, but rather, only one step along your career journey.