10 Internship Cover Letter Mistakes

Updated: September 9, 2020

By Laura Riley

Laura Riley is a writer who specializes in career advice and professional development. She has a master’s degree in student affairs and higher Education from Miami University.

You’ve probably heard the rumors: no one reads cover letters anymore. They’re a waste of time. Fifty-five percent of hiring managers consider them unnecessary.  But even with those numbers, for every person who doesn’t care about your cover letter, there’s someone who does. So you should write a cover letter—and you should make it amazing.

To get you started, here are some of the most common mistakes people make when writing a cover letter. You can read our full “How to Write an Internship Cover Letter” guide here.

1. Focusing too much on yourself

A cover letter is your chance to explain why you’re qualified and passionate about the internship opportunity, but it is not all about you. The key to a great cover letter is explaining how you can solve a problem for the employer and why you’re interested in the company. Be careful not to focus on yourself too much.

2. Not tailoring your letter to the company or position

Generic phrases such as “Dear employer” or “I would love to work for your company” make for a weak cover letter. As we’ve discussed, you need to tailor your cover letter to the specific position and company. Dissect the job description and research the company; you’ll quickly stand out as a quality applicant.

3. Including taboo topics

While you want to add personality to your cover letter, be careful to avoid things that are uncomfortable or controversial. Don’t include information that is considered protected class, such as your religion or race, and avoid taking any political stances unless they’re relevant to the role.

4. Too long or too short

Your cover letter isn’t a novel, nor is it a Twitter post. It should be 3–5 brief (but content-rich!) paragraphs that say what you need to say as succinctly as possible. And keep in mind that you’re telling a story—make sure you include an introduction, body text, and a conclusion.

5. Typos

Yes, it sounds obvious, but you need to double- and triple-check that your cover letter is free of typos. Review the letter yourself, read it out loud, and have a friend check it over. Don’t rely on spellcheck—I’ve seen cover letters in which the applicant misspelled his/her/their own name. A single typo could land your awesome cover letter in the recycling bin.

6. Being cliché

I get it. Google is right there, tempting you to do a quick search for “amazing perfect cover letter sample” and use that ready-made template. Trust me; this will only hurt your chances of securing an internship or job. Recruiters review dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes every day, and they can spot a template a million miles away. After all, if you found that sample online, so can they.

7. Rewriting your resume

Don’t waste valuable cover letter space by reiterating what’s on your resume. Your cover letter is an opportunity to tell your story, show off your personality, display your passion, and prove what differentiates you from other candidates. Take advantage of that.

8. Over-explaining

Don’t be a rambler. Cut out unnecessary words and phrases. Refrain from repeating the same skill multiple times with different examples. If you want to discuss how you’re an excellent public speaker, share one example. Remember, you submit a cover letter and resume in hopes of securing an interview. If everything works out, you’ll have the opportunity to describe your experiences in further detail.

9. Starting with a boring opening

Starting your cover letter with “I’m writing to apply for the position of  …” or “My name is Kelly Smith …” will put the recruiter to sleep in a second. Tired phrases like these take away prime cover letter real estate. Instead, start with an applicable skill or even an interesting (relevant) anecdote to grab their attention.

10. Sharing all the information

I get it: You want to share absolutely everything with the recruiter; after all, you’ve worked hard to get where you are! But you have to let go. Letting go of extraneous information is key to writing an outstanding cover letter. Yes, it’s awesome that you volunteer with 10 different nonprofits, but not all 10 volunteer experiences are relevant to every internship or job. You need to narrow down your accomplishments, delete what is irrelevant, and highlight what’s truly important.

You’ve seen hundreds of examples of great cover letters, but what does a bad one look like? Just for fun, here’s a truly terrible cover letter example. Believe it or not, recruiters get tons of cover letters just like this every week.


To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to apply for an internship I recently found on your website. Based on my academic coursework and my relevant experience, I believe I am the best candidate for this position. I match exactly what you are looking for in a candidate.

As a college student, I understand how to use Microsoft Word and Excel. I am passionate, detail oriented, and hard-working. I am really excited about the opportunity to join your company. Attached you will find my resume, which explains my experience in further detail.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to the possibility of interviewing.


Iam Boring


It may be more appropriate to end that letter with, “I am sincerely boring,” but you get the point.

So, what’s wrong with the above example?

  • No header (i.e., applicant name, contact information, date, and company address).
  • Generic and outdated salutation (“To Whom It May Concern”).
  • Cliché and boring introduction.
  • No mention of the internship title or company name.
  • No proof as to why the applicant is the “best candidate”
  • Focus on generic skills (i.e., Microsoft Office and Excel).
  • A clear lack of confidence (“I look forward to the possibility of interviewing.”)

Now that you know the top 10 cover letter mistakes—and what a truly awful cover letter looks like—you can ensure that your cover letter is a model of excellence. Time to get writing!