How to Write a Cover Letter for Internships
You’ve done the research, perfected your resume, and gathered your references. There’s just one thing standing between you and hitting “apply” on that dream internship: your internship cover letter. And that blank screen has been staring back at you for hours.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Does anyone even read a cover letter? Maybe I should just skip it.” Trust us: covers letters can be a lot of work, but they’re worth it. This is your opportunity to differentiate yourself from everyone else out there by engaging with the hiring manager and making a lasting impression.
In the following guide, we’re going to walk you through how to write a cover letter for an internship, taking you from a blank screen to a compelling internship cover letter. Along the way, we’ll direct you to more in-depth articles.
Before we jump in, let’s take a look at exactly what’s included in this article:
As a college student, chances are you’ll be applying to an internship (or three)—if you haven’t already. Internships provide valuable real-world experience and often lead to full-time job offers. In fact, according to a study conducted by Vault, 73% of student interns said they received or expected to receive a full-time offer from their internship employer.
So, internship experience is important, and to secure said super-important internship experience, you need to submit a stellar application—including a resume and cover letter. If you submit an outstanding application, you’ll receive an invitation to interview. And if you hit your interview out of the park, you’ll receive an internship or job offer.
The bottom line: Your resume and cover letter are the foundation of your success as an applicant, so you want to make them great. For the resume portion, you can check out our resume guide here. Now, let’s work on that cover letter.
Your cover letter exists to tell a company, “Hey, I really, really, really want this internship. Here’s why I want it, and here’s how I’ll help you.” It’s your opportunity to grab a recruiter’s attention and show why you’re the best candidate for the job—so it has to be good!
If you’re thinking, “But people don’t always read cover letters,” well, you’re right. But for every recruiter who doesn’t read your cover letter, there’s a recruiter who bases her entire hiring decision on it. That makes it worth the effort.
So, what’s the purpose of a cover letter? Your cover letter introduces you to a prospective employer, communicates your interest in a specific position and company, and explains what makes you a well-qualified candidate for the position.
When you write your internship cover letter, you need to communicate how the position aligns with your professional goals and how you’ll add value for the organization. Given that an internship is a position in which a student or trainee can gain work experience, your cover letter can focus a bit more on what you want to learn and why you want to learn it than the typical entry-level cover letter (you can read more about those at the end of this guide and review various cover letter examples here). An internship cover letters tells the organization how their specific internship complements your academics, why you’re interested in joining the organization, and how the internship will help you develop as a professional and set you up for post-graduation success. And of course, it tells the company exactly what you can bring to their organization.
To get you from a blank screen to a fully realized cover letter, we’ll start with the essentials. Every cover letter needs a header, date, company address, and salutation. These are followed by the actual text, which consists of 3–5 paragraphs (introduction, body, and conclusion), and a sign-off.
- Header: The information at the top of your cover letter should include your full name and contact information, the date you’re applying, and the company’s mailing address. For your contact information, include your email address and a phone number at which the company can reach you. You don’t need to include your physical mailing address; that being said, you may choose to include your city and state if you’re applying locally. You can also include the URL for your LinkedIn profile or an online portfolio showcasing your work.Please note: you must use a professional email address! Your school email address is a good option, but if you prefer to use a personal email, make sure it’s professional. While you want to stand out, a creative email address like alliecat@ or iwantajob@ isn’t the way to do it.
- Date: After your name and contact information, include the date you’re applying for the position.
- Company address: While you probably won’t snail mail your letter, tradition tells us to include the company mailing address. And it kinda makes sense; after sending off your application, it’s in the possession of human resources. You don’t know if it will be printed, mailed, or sent to another department. So, determine the company name, mailing address, and department (if applicable), and left-align this information after the date.
- Salutation: The most appropriate option for a salutation is “Dear,” followed by the hiring manager’s name. When writing the salutation, ensure the person’s name and title are correct. For example, a person with the name “Taylor” may prefer the title Mr., Ms., Mrs., or none of the above. If you don’t know what to use, stick with first and last name only.And another thing: don’t open with “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam.” Do your homework and figure out to whom the whom refers (whew, that’s a mouthful!). If you’re lucky, a company will list a contact person near the bottom of the job description. If the company does not specify the hiring manager or recruiter, work up the courage to call human resources and ask for the hiring manager’s name. Oftentimes, HR will provide you with the information. Other times, they may say, “Just address it to HR.” In this case, stick with “Dear Hiring Manager” as your salutation.Want to learn more about how to address your cover letter? Check out our in-depth article on how to address an internship cover letter here.
Now that all the structural elements are in place and polished to perfection, let’s start on that introduction.
The basic pieces of your cover letter are in place, so it’s time to get writing. As with any good story, the cover letter has a beginning, middle, and end—also known as the introduction, body, and conclusion.
Hiring managers review hundreds of cover letters every day, so your introduction needs to make an impression—and fast. It should be one succinct, engaging paragraph, tailored to the position and company, that states why you’re writing, provides a brief overview of who you are, and summarizes what you’re about to discuss in the body of the letter.
Whatever you do, don’t open your letter with, “I am writing to apply for…” It’s boring and cookie-cutter, and (sadly) we’re not making cookies.
You can introduce yourself and share why you’re writing in a single, well-crafted sentence that communicates your personality. Share your passion, your expertise, or even a personal anecdote. You want to inspire the reader to keep reading.
You’ll also want to include your year in school (or when you plan to graduate), along with your degree, major, minor, or area of study. Here are two good examples:
- When I was a volunteer at my local food pantry, lifting 50 lbs. bags of food made my arms ache—but making disadvantaged families smile brought me such joy. Now, as a sophomore majoring in social work at University of Southern California, I look forward to supporting vulnerable individuals and groups for years to come.
- This May, I’ll graduate from University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Business Administration. I look forward to pursuing a finance internship post-graduation, so I can leverage my expertise to promote financial literacy.
Next, you want to communicate your interest in the position and company. Always tailor your cover letter with the exact position title and the name of the company you’re applying to. Here are two great examples:
- When I discovered the psychology internship with the Counseling Center on Chegg Internships, I was excited by the opportunity to gain exposure to the field alongside experienced psychologists and counselors.
- Ever since I could hold a pencil, I’ve been drawing, creating, and designing, and the graphic design internship with ABC Magazine is an ideal opportunity to brainstorm new ideas and innovative concepts with a team of industry experts.
And one more thing: It may be tempting to say, “I believe I am the best candidate for the position.” Don’t. This is an empty claim. Instead, use the remainder of the letter to prove that you’re the best candidate for the role. Oh, and if you don’t have that experience? Check out our article on writing a cover letter without relevant experience.
After you grab the recruiter’s attention with an engaging introduction, it’s time to craft some compelling body paragraphs by demonstrating your enthusiasm and proving that you’re the best, most qualified candidate. You’ll need to be specific about your qualifications and clearly describe how they relate to the position by matching the requirements outlined in the job description to your own interests and skills. First, we’ll look at how to generally craft your paragraphs. Then, we’ll look at how to tailor your information to the internship at hand.
You can use your resume as a jumping-off point for writing the body of your cover letter. While the purpose of a resume is to communicate your achievements to a potential employer, the purpose of your cover letter is to tell your professional story. So, how do you do that?
Let’s look at an example. Say your resume includes the following entry:
Volunteer, Community Food Pantry
- Inspect and sort 100 pounds of food donations per week to ensure they meet quality and safety standards.
That’s a great resume bullet, but it doesn’t tell the full story of why you chose to volunteer and what your experience taught you. Most of all, it doesn’t discuss how volunteering will help you excel at your internship position. Assuming that this volunteer experience is relevant to the internship, your cover letter provides a great opportunity to tell this story in more detail.
Here’s a good example of what you could write in your cover letter:
Through my volunteer work with the Community Food Pantry, I discovered my passion for working with nonprofits. Each week, I collaborate with 10 other volunteers to sort food donations and ensure in-need community members have access to healthful ingredients. I am dedicated to alleviating hunger and would be thrilled to intern with the Hunger Relief Organization.
Telling your story well will set you apart as an applicant and, most importantly, help you secure your dream internship or job. Don’t just say, “I’m the best candidate.” Prove it.
Let’s look at two full examples of cover letter body text. First, an example using bullet points. Bullet points can be used sparingly in a cover letter to communicate multiple qualifications succinctly.
Having honed my communication and interpersonal skills through my academic coursework and leadership experience, I’m well qualified for the human resources internship.
- Academic coursework. I have completed courses in business communications, marketing, and strategic human resource management, making the Dean’s List with a 3.8 GPA.
- Communication skills. As the professional development chair of University of Southern California’s SHRM Chapter, I develop and facilitate presentations on behalf of the organization, driving visibility and growing membership by 16% last year.
- Leadership experience. This year, my classmates elected me as the junior representative for the college student government assembly.
You’re looking for a self-motivated intern who values “non-stop growth.” I am excited to be that person, contributing to ABC Company while growing my skills as an HR professional.
Next, a traditional example. A standard cover letter comprises 3–5 paragraphs. If you opened up a textbook to one solid block of text, you’d be overwhelmed and would likely stop reading. The same goes for a recruiter reading your cover letter. Break your cover letter into several short, manageable paragraphs.
Having honed my communication and interpersonal skills through my academic coursework and leadership experience, I’m well qualified for the human resources internship. Over the past two years, I’ve completed courses in business communications, marketing, and strategic human resource management, making the Dean’s List with a 3.8 GPA. I look forward to leveraging this knowledge to advance ABC Company’s Human Resources division.
Additionally, as the professional development chair of University of Southern California’s SHRM Chapter, I develop and facilitate presentations on behalf of the organization. Last year, I drove visibility and grew membership by 16%. As a human resources professional, communication skills are crucial, and I have a proven ability to communicate effectively in writing and in person. I am excited to put those skills to use, contributing to ABC Company while growing my skills as an HR professional.
The most important part of the body is demonstrating how you match the requirements outlined in the job description—aka tailoring your cover letter. We’ll cover that in more detail in a minute.
Now, let’s wrap things up. Like any good letter or story, you need a well-crafted conclusion. In the closing section, you should do two things: summarize why you are qualified for the position and express your appreciation for the reader’s time and consideration.
Here’s a solid example of how to wrap up an internship cover letter:
As I prepare for a career in engineering, I can’t wait to gain a more detailed understanding of the field and contribute to XYZ Company. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
While you want your cover letter to stand out for its content, you’ll want to stick to the basics when it comes to formatting. In this section, I’ll review the following: length, margins, font size, font style, color, paragraphs, and bullet points.
And if you want to learn even more about the thrilling world of cover letter formatting? Check out our Cover Letter Format Guide for Internships.
- Length: As we’ve mentioned, a cover letter gives you a chance to tell your story. But you aren’t writing a novel. A cover letter should never be longer than one, single-spaced page. In terms of word count, your letter will typically be only 200-400 words.
- Margins: It’s best to use standard one-inch margins, but you may use margins as small as .5 inches. Whatever you choose, be sure the margin size is consistent on all sides.
- Font: When choosing a font, make sure it’s easy to read. Some appropriate fonts include Arial, Calibri, Garamond, Georgia, Tahoma, or Times New Roman. Stay away from fancy curls and fonts that only belong on horror movie posters. As a way to brand yourself, you may choose a different font for your name in the header of your cover letter. Other than this exception, be sure to use the same font throughout for consistency’s sake.
- Font size: Use size 10- to 12-point font. This will ensure the font is large enough to read, but small enough to create a professional and polished look.
- Color: Unless you’re a graphic design major or a creative professional, stick to black font. If you’re applying to a creative industry, a tasteful splash of color may be appropriate. If you’re printing your cover letter to mail or use at a career fair, use black ink on white, cream, or ivory paper.
- Alignment: Left-align each paragraph. There is no need to indent the first sentence of each paragraph. Instead, hit “Return/Enter” between each paragraph. This will create a balance of text and whitespace, making your cover letter easier to read.
Now that we’ve covered the basic formatting rules and the core sections of a cover letter, it’s time to talk about an incredibly important rule for every cover letter you write.
You’ve written your basic cover letter and formatted it to look awesome. Now, the final step: you need to tailor your cover letter to the unique position and company you’re applying to.
So, what does that mean? Tailoring a cover letter is exactly what it sounds like. A tailor adjusts clothing to fit unique, individual people. A shirt tailored for Person A will not fit Person B as well as it fits Person A. You should take the same approach when writing a cover letter. It’s kind of like giving a birthday gift. While you could safely give any person a gift of cash, it can come off as impersonal. Why? Because it’s a generic gift.
Just as you would avoid giving a generic gift to your best friend, you should avoid giving a generic cover letter to your dream employer. That’s why you should never submit the exact same cover letter to more than one position or company.
Tailoring a cover letter requires additional effort on your behalf. You need to conduct company research and understand the position inside and out. You can then use this information to create a unique cover letter that is appropriate for a specific job and company. And sure, you might be thinking, “How would one company know if I send them the same exact cover letter I sent to another company?”
Truth be told, they probably won’t find out. But that’s not the point. If your cover letter is so generic that you can submit it to multiple positions at different companies, it’s not unique—and it’s not good enough. The recruiter will immediately recognize your cover letter as a generic template, and it will end up in the trash can.
Now then, let’s go back to that birthday gift analogy. When you purchase a birthday gift for your best friend, you most likely base your decision on your friend’s interests, needs, and wants. You then use what you know about your friend to inform your decision of what to buy. It’s the same when it comes to writing a cover letter.
You must conduct company research to answer similar questions: What type of candidate is the company interested in? What does the company value? What needs and pain points does the company need to solve? And what does the company want from you as an applicant?
To be successful, you’ll want to integrate the answers to these questions into your cover letter.
While the term ‘research’ can be intimidating, here’s some good news: You don’t have to be a scientist to do good research. As long as you know how to use the Internet, you’re good to go. To conduct company research:
- Simply explore the company website
- Google the company to discover current events
- Visit websites such as Glassdoor.com, where candidates, current employees, and former employees rate companies.
Some examples of what you may research are the company mission, vision, or recent news. You’re looking for information that is relevant to the position and details that make you excited about the company.
Let’s look at Patagonia as an example. Patagonia’s mission statement is: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” If you’re applying for a sales internship at Patagonia, but you’re also passionate about protecting the environment, then it would be great to reference why you’re drawn to their mission in your cover letter.
Now, let’s look at a full-length cover letter example:
Ms. Debra Glod
Fashion and Design
New York City, NY 56789
Dear Ms. Debra Glod,
When I discovered XYZ Company’s fashion internship on Chegg Internships, I was drawn to the position’s focus on innovation and ingenuity. As a junior majoring in fashion merchandising at University of Southern California, I pride myself on creating original concepts and executing daring designs. My leadership experience, design coursework, and creative portfolio make me an excellent candidate for this position.
- Leadership experience. As president of Fashion and Business, an on-campus student organization, I produce an annual fashion show with over 30 models and 250 attendees.
- Design coursework. I have a 3.9 major GPA and have taken Introduction to Textiles, Fashion Sketching, Computer-Aided Fashion Design, and Advanced Apparel Development.
- Creative portfolio. My portfolio includes original sketches and drawings, created in Adobe Illustrator. It can be viewed at dakotatailordesign.com.
I’m eager to apply my knowledge at XYZ Company while growing into a bold. As I prepare for a career in fashion, I look forward to developing a better understanding of the field by collaborating with your experienced and inspired design and production team. Thank you for your consideration.
So, what makes this a strong example?
- Name, contact information, date, and company address.
- Personalized salutation, including the hiring manager’s first and last name.
- Unique introduction that communicates the applicant’s interest in and passion for the position, company, and industry.
- Specific internship title and company name.
- Specific, relevant skills, based on the position description (i.e., leadership, design, and creativity).
- Description of the applicant’s desire to grow as a professional and contribute to the company.
- Concise, well organized, and fluid.
That’s what a solid cover letter looks like from beginning to end.
You now have every tool, example, and piece of advice necessary to write an awesome internship cover letter—but if you want some more tips and tricks, you can find ‘em here!
If you’ve already done the internships and are thinking about life post-college—or you’ve already graduated and are considering a new and exciting position—we have some good news: an entry-level cover letter is pretty darn similar to an internship cover letter! That being said, there’s one big difference.
Formatting? Same. Tailoring? Ditto. But now that you’re looking to be an employee instead of an intern, the focus is on how you can help the company—and not as much on how they can help you.You need to connect the dots for the employer, explaining how your education and professional experiences make you the best candidate for the position.
Your internship cover letter said, “Hey, I really, really, really want this internship. Here’s why I want it, and here’s how I’ll help you.” Your entry-level cover letter needs to say, “Hey, I really, really, really want this job, and I’m super qualified. Here’s the proof.”
For some entry-level inspiration, you can view entry-level cover letters here.
So there you have it. Whether you’re applying for an internship or submitting your first application to a full-time position, congratulations on getting this far! By writing an outstanding cover letter, you’ll make a lasting impact and set yourself up for a successful search—and a rewarding career for years to come.