Trying to figure out how to write a cover letter for an internship can feel like a paradox. How do you explain your professional experience and skills — when you’re applying for an internship so you can gain professional experience and skills?
It is confusing, but luckily, you can still write a successful cover letter without professional experience. This guide will cover:
- What Do Employers Look for in an Internship Cover Letter?
- Internship Cover Letter Example
- How to Write a Cover Letter for an Internship With No Experience
- How to Write a Cover Letter for an Internship: The Bottom Line
What Do Employers Look for in an Internship Cover Letter?
Because you’re applying for an internship, employers don’t expect you to have years of experience and well-established job skills.
“Prior work experience is always a plus, but what also matters is anything that provides a sense of the person’s character, commitment, passions and interests, drive, ability to overcome challenges, and willingness to learn,” says J.R. Lowry, founder of PathWise.io, a career coaching company. “As an employer, you can teach skills and provide experience, but we’re looking for intern candidates who will work at it.”
Instead, they’re looking for interns with interest, passion, and soft skills.
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Interest and Passion
Employers want to know why you’re particularly interested in the specific role at the company and why it excites you.
“Focus your cover letter on who you are, why the company or what you do is meaningful to you, and what YOU can bring to the organization,” says Ayanna E. Jackson, career and leadership consultant. “That requires research. Many times interns focus on ‘I want, I want, I want,’ versus focusing on what they can give to an organization with their ambition and skill. Usually, it’s a confidence issue, but hiring managers know you don’t possess all the skills. They want to know that you want to work there and not just anywhere. Be specific. Be confident.”
Wendy Reimann, owner and writer at Lighthouse Writing, a writing and editing services company, emphasizes that soft skills are essential in an internship cover letter. Companies are looking for interns who don’t just have technical skills, but also skills like communication and collaboration that will make them valuable to the team.
“Employers are also desperate for employees who demonstrate emotional intelligence alongside standard skills in their fields so that they can positively add to the company culture,” she says. “Currently, the biggest skills and experiences needed in most industries are the ability to effectively collaborate and communicate across diverse populations, including gender, race, culture, and socio-economic status.”
Internship Cover Letter Example
How to Write a Cover Letter for an Internship With No Experience
Where do you start if you don’t know how to write a cover letter for an internship without experience? Jill, from our example, doesn’t have any professional work experience, but she still writes a convincing cover letter that shows off her skills and passion. So, if you’re like Jill, here’s how to write your internship cover letter.
>>MORE: Should you use ChatGPT to write your cover letter? Learn what the chatbot gets right (and wrong).
Start With a Header and Greeting
Every cover letter starts with a similar type of header. You write your information at the top, then include the hiring manager’s or company’s information (depending on whether you know who the hiring manager is).
You don’t need to give your full address in the cover letter; however, even if you’re applying for a remote position, you can just include your city. This will give the recruiter or hiring manager an idea of where you’re located — and help them understand your time zone, whether you’re near one of the company’s offices, or if you qualify for relocation assistance.
Make sure you’re addressing the right person at the top of the letter. This should be the hiring manager for the role. If you don’t know who the hiring manager is, you can get savvy with your search:
- If the role was posted on LinkedIn, look for a “meet the hiring team” section underneath the job description.
- If the job description shares who interns report to, search on LinkedIn for people with that title who work at the company.
If you still can’t find the name, that’s okay — instead, address your letter to whatever team you’re applying for. For example, Jill could have addressed her letter to the product team.
The first paragraph of a cover letter should summarize who you are and why you’re uniquely excited to apply for the role.
If you’re a student or recent graduate, you can include your major (if you’ve declared one), class year, and university. You can also include any other key information about your work. In this example, Jill mentioned she has experience with graphic design.
Explain Your Experience
You don’t need professional experience to write a cover letter, especially for an internship. You can include:
- Academic experience: Courses you’ve taken that apply to the role, skills you’ve learned, and projects you’ve worked on
- Extracurricular activities: Clubs you’re a part of (or lead!), events you’ve led, projects you’ve worked on
- Volunteer experience: Places you’ve volunteered or community service projects you’ve done
- Personal projects: Independent work you’ve done, even if it’s not formally published or part of a formal project. (Make sure to include an online portfolio so the team can see it!)
“Highlight any clubs, events, or activities that you’ve helped plan,” Jackson says. “Think church, community, school clubs, sororities, fraternities or volunteer experiences. What role did you play? What did you accomplish? Who did it help? How many? How much? I’ve told my interns to think about why they are interested in that particular company or function and hone in on good storytelling. The WHY behind what they want to do is sometimes more important than having direct experience in that space.”
Emphasize Your Skills
When explaining what experiences you’ve worked on, be sure to call out any relevant skills you have. You don’t need to say outright, “I have communication skills” or “I have programming skills.” Instead, infuse these skills naturally into your descriptions.
For example, Jill mentions her hard skills when she says she uses Figma and InDesign, two applications that are relevant to the internship she’s applying for. However, she also mentions a soft skill, collaboration, when describing who she’s designed for.
Your final paragraph of the cover letter should summarize everything you’ve discussed and show why you’re right for the role.
You don’t need to parrot back precisely what you mentioned in the first paragraph. Instead, drive home why you’re the best fit. You can include your top experience highlights and say how that aligns with the company’s mission or an initiative you’ve researched. In Jill’s letter, she references the company’s mission and adds that her work could benefit the company by helping them reach a target audience.
“Frame your desire for the role in a way that showcases you’ve done your research on the organization: know a bit about their products, services, recent mergers, or customers and tie your genuine interests to that,” Jackson says.
Ask for Next Steps
End the cover letter with gratitude and a call to action. The reader should know you appreciate their time and understand what next steps you’d like them to take. Like Jill, you can ask them to let you know what else they need from you. You could also ask them when you should expect to hear back from them or tell them you’re looking forward to the next steps.
Finally, include a professional sign-off and your full name.
>>MORE: Unsure what sign-off to use? Learn eight sign-offs to use and six to avoid with How to End an Email Professionally (With Examples).
How to Write a Cover Letter for an Internship: The Bottom Line
Writing a cover letter for an internship when you don’t have any professional experience can be daunting, but employers aren’t looking for experienced interns with advanced skills. Instead, your cover letter can discuss any academic, extracurricular, volunteer, or independent work you’ve done and highlight key hard and soft skills the employer mentions in the job description.
“Even if you haven’t had a ‘real job’ before, you likely have some relevant experience — what you’ve studied in school, school or other groups you’re involved in, any leadership roles you’ve played in those, sports team you’ve been on, things you’re interested in outside of school that might be relevant, etc.,” Lowry says. “Focus on what’s made you good at those things and what you learned from them.”
In the midst of internship applications? Check out our other internship guides:
- How to Find Internships That’ll Jumpstart Your Career
- Ultimate Guide to Internship Application Deadlines and Open Dates
- How to Apply for an Internship
- How to Ask for an Internship (Email Examples)
- How Long Does an Internship Last?
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