You’ve heard it before:
“No one actually reads a cover letter.”
Or this one:
“Cover letters are pointless.”
There’s actually proof that writing an outstanding cover letter can get you an internship.
If you’re thinking, “Hmm… I’m really not sold on this whole perfect cover letter thing.” Or maybe you’ve heard that college students don’t really need them. Hang tight.
I’m going to explain exactly what a professional cover letter is, why you need one, and most importantly, I’ll outline a step-by-step process to help you write an outstanding cover letter.
And the best part?
This article includes multiple, full-length cover letter samples. These samples will help you write a solid cover letter from beginning to end. One that’s good enough to secure your dream internship.
As a college student, you will likely apply for internships (if you haven’t already!) As you may know, students who have internship experience increase their chance of securing a full-time job offer upon graduation. Many interns actually accept offers before they even graduate.
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.
Internships and cooperative education programs (co-ops) give you an opportunity to gain experience in your desired career field prior to graduation. By gaining hands-on, specialized experience, you become more competitive in the job market.
What’s the bottom line?
Internship experience is important.
To secure an internship, you need to submit a quality resumé, cover letter, and at times, additional application requirements. 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.
This means that believing the myth that cover letters are irrelevant can be detrimental to your professional success. Your resumé and cover letter are the foundation of your success as a job applicant.
What is a cover letter?
Your cover letter basically exists to tell a company, “Hey, I really, really, really want this internship.” In a more professional way, of course.
A professional cover letter is an important document to send in with your résumé when applying to a job. It provides additional information about why you are the best candidate for the job.
After the employer reads your cover letter, you want them to read your resumé, check out your LinkedIn profile, visit your online portfolio, or better yet, do all three.
Think about it this way:
On nearly every social media site, the first thing you do is create a profile, or at minimum, a username. Let’s take Instagram for example.
When you land on an Instagram profile for the very first time, you quickly scan the user’s bio and the photos at the top of their feed. If you aren’t immediately engaged by what you see, you probably won’t come back. Follow for a follow? No thanks.
The same thing happens in the job search. Your cover letter acts as your Instagram bio. Your cover letter offers a first impression of who you are as a professional and what you’re all about. It’s your chance to grab a recruiter’s attention.
This means your cover letter has to be good!
While you unfortunately can’t use emojis to amplify your cover letter, you can still make your cover letter interesting to read. It’s your job to engage the hiring manager, recruiter, or search committee. In a sense, you want them to follow you. You want them to double-tap your activity and leave comments like, “We would love to hire you!”
If you’re thinking, “But that’s not always the case. People don’t always read cover letters.” You’re right. There are definitely recruiters who don’t read cover letters.
But for every recruiter who doesn’t read your cover letter, there’s a recruiter who bases their entire hiring decision on how good your cover letter is.
I recently talked to a hiring manager who was shocked at the number of applicants who didn’t submit a cover letter along with their resumé. She said, “I will NEVER hire an applicant who doesn’t submit a cover letter. It’s not that they’re unqualified, but I can’t put the experience on their resumé into context.”
Don’t make that mistake. Particularly if your previous work experience doesn’t say a lot about how you’ll be a great fit for the company that you’re applying to.
If you truly want an internship, you need a cover letter. Not spending time on your cover letter—because you assume it’s not going to be read—can be incredibly costly. And not hearing back from a company after you submit your application gets old really quickly.
So, what’s the purpose of a cover letter anyway?
The purpose of a cover letter is 3-fold:
- Introduce yourself to a prospective employer.
- Communicate your interest in a specific position and company.
- Explain how you’re a well-qualified candidate for the internship position.
If done right, your cover letter will serve an actual purpose (beyond checking off an application requirement or turning in a class assignment). Your cover letter can get you an interview.
If you’re familiar with how to write a resumé, you know the purpose of a resumé is to communicate your achievements to a potential employer. Unlike a cover letter, a resumé never uses personal pronouns like “I” or “Me”. Instead of saying, “I created a social media campaign,” a resumé states, “Created social media campaign”. Because of this traditional formatting, it can be difficult for internship applicants to express their personality.
“I feel like my resumé makes me sound super boring.”
Guess who’s here to save the day? The misunderstood cover letter.
For some reason, cover letters don’t get the love they deserve. But cover letters are actually pretty cool. They can help you tell your professional story.
Let’s look at an example. Say your resumé 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
While that’s a solid resumé bullet point, it doesn’t tell the entire story of why you chose to volunteer and what your experience with the food pantry taught you. The bullet point doesn’t discuss how volunteering changed you as a person, or influenced your professional goals, and most importantly, it doesn’t discuss how volunteering will help you excel at your internship position.
If we assume this volunteer experience is relevant to the internship you’re applying for, 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 nonprofit business. Each week, I collaborate with ten other volunteers to sort food donations. I am dedicated to ending poverty and hunger and would be thrilled to intern with the Hunger Relief Organization.”
Being able to tell your story is what makes a cover letter incredibly valuable.
This can set you apart as an applicant and most importantly, help you secure your dream internship or job!
Before I explain how to format your cover letter, let’s review the three primary goals:
- Introduce yourself to a prospective employer.
- Communicate your interest in a position and company.
- Explain how you’re a well-qualified candidate for the position.
Let’s look at each goal in more detail.
Goal 1: Introduce yourself to a prospective employer.
The first goal is pretty straightforward. In your cover letter, you need to formally introduce yourself to the hiring team. You can accomplish this in a single, well-crafted sentence. Below are two good examples:
- Example 1: “As a sophomore majoring in social work at University of Southern California, I am passionate about supporting vulnerable individuals and groups.”
- Example 2: “As I prepare to graduate in May with a Bachelor of Business Administration from University of Southern California, I am excited to obtain a Financial Advisor internship where I can pursue my passion of promoting financial literacy.”
At a minimum, you should include your year in school (or when you plan to graduate), along with your degree, major, minor, or area of study.
Goal 2: Communicate your interest in a position and company.
A second requirement is 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:
- Example 1: “When I discovered the psychology internship with the Counseling Center on Internships.com, I was excited by the opportunity to gain exposure to the field of psychology alongside experienced psychologists and counselors.”
- Example 2: “When I discovered the graphic design internship with ABC Magazine on Internships.com, I was excited by the opportunity to brainstorm new ideas and innovative concepts with a creative team of industry experts.”
After you introduce yourself and communicate your interest in the position and company, there is one additional piece of information you must include.
Don’t miss this step:
Goal 3: Explain how you’re a well-qualified candidate.
This is the most common mistake students make. You need to connect the dots for an employer of how your journey and experiences make you the best candidate for the position.
Don’t just say, “I’m the best candidate”. Prove it.
Explain what makes you well-qualified. Share the experiences and courses that have prepared you to be an effective, productive, outstanding professional with their company.
Let’s look at an example.
Say a company is seeking a graphic design intern. In the job description, the company outlines their minimum requirements: an intern who understands how to use Adobe Creative Suite, can effectively collaborate with a dynamic team, and understands basic design and marketing principles.
Here’s one way to demonstrate how you’re the right pick for the job:
My coursework, campus involvement, and professional experience make me a well-qualified applicant for this position.
- Coursework. I have completed courses in Graphic Design and Photoimaging. As a result, I am proficient in Adobe Creative Suite.
- Campus involvement. For the past two years, I have been a member of the Graphic Design Club. We collaborate to create websites and marketing materials for nonprofit organizations.
- Professional experience. As an employee with the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, I design marketing materials for on-campus events including Greek Week, along with various philanthropic events.
There you have it! Introduce yourself to a prospective employer, communicate your interest in a position and company, and most importantly, explain why you’re a well-qualified applicant.
Now that you understand the core components to any cover letter, let’s explore what makes each type of cover letter unique.
What types of cover letters are there?
As a college student, you should know about three different types of cover letters:
- Internship Cover Letters
- Entry-Level Cover Letters
- Cover Letters for jobs where you do not have any relevant experience
I’ll outline what makes each of these cover letters unique and explain exactly how to write a cover letter tailored to an internship and an entry-level position. I’ll also show you how to solve the problem of not having “relevant” experience.
What makes an internship cover letter unique?
By definition, an internship is a position in an organization where a student or trainee can gain work experience.
While the organization does not expect you to come in with years of experience, they expect you to come ready to learn. Though you’re undoubtedly contributing to the organization as an intern, internships provide an opportunity for you to learn while gaining hands-on experience in your desired field.
So what’s the bottom line?
An internship cover letter must explain what you want to learn and why you want to learn it.
Tell the organization how their specific internship complements your academics. Outline why you’re interested in joining the organization. Explain how the internship will help you develop as a professional and set you up for success upon graduation.
But don’t forget, you also need to communicate mutual benefit. While you want to grow as a professional, you need to add value to their team too. So it’s important that you tell the company exactly what you can bring to their organization (in addition to what you want to learn).
What does this look like?
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
- Example 1: “I am excited by the chance to contribute to ABC Company and am prepared to engage in continuous learning. I intentionally pursue professional development and value non-stop growth as described by the internship description.”
- Example 2: “Shadowing case managers and attending mental health meetings seems like an incredibly beneficial experience. I am excited by the chance to contribute to your organization and am prepared to engage in continuous learning.”
Both examples not only explain what the applicant is excited to learn, but also each applicant mentions how they’re excited to contribute to the organization. Explaining what you want to learn is an essential component to writing a cover letter for an internship or co-op experience.
What makes an entry-level cover letter unique?
If you’re in your last year of college, then this section is for you. You’re preparing to start a full-time job upon graduation. Congrats!
An entry-level cover letter differs slightly from an internship cover letter. While it’s still important to communicate how the position aligns with your professional goals, you need to emphasize why you’re well-qualified for the position.
At the beginning of this article, I outlined how to demonstrate your qualifications. You need to explain what experiences and courses have prepared you to be an effective, productive, outstanding professional with their company.
Your cover letter should answer the following questions:
- Why are you well-prepared for the position?
- What specific experiences prepared you for the position?
- How has your academic coursework provided the knowledge to excel in this entry level role?
Entry-level positions are undoubtedly competitive. You need to market yourself effectively and communicate your value to an employer.
Convince them to hire you!
How do I write a cover letter if I don’t have relevant experience?
If you don’t have “relevant” experience, come on down off that ledge.
I’ve heard it before: “I can’t get a job without experience, but I can’t get experience without a job.”
Yes, you can. Here’s how:
Let’s say you want to apply for a marketing internship. Below are the requirements of the internship as outlined by the job description:
- Sophomore or junior standing
- Pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in business, communications, advertising, or related field
- Strong teamwork, communication, and critical thinking skills
- Familiarity with Adobe Creative Suite
- Experience with SPSS
Pretend you’re currently a sophomore at a large, public university. Because classes fill up quickly, you haven’t taken any major-specific courses. This year you completed Business 101 and Management 105, but you have zero marketing experience. Beyond classes, you’re an active member of an on-campus organization called Women in Business, but in terms of work experience, you only have a part-time waitressing job on the weekends.
You’re still qualified. This is where transferrable skills come in.
What’s a transferable skill?
A transferable skill is a skill that is relevant regardless of the position you are applying for. You take these skills from job to job. Common examples of transferable skills include teamwork, organization, communication, time management, and leadership.
Think back to the example above. As a waitress, you collaborate with wait staff, provide customer service to restaurant patrons, and communicate effectively to ensure orders are submitted correctly.
Are you thinking: “Okay, but how is that relevant to marketing?”
The internship outlined above requires strong teamwork skills. You have those. It’s your job to demonstrate your ability to work in a team.
Here’s an example of what you could write in your cover letter:
“As a member of Women in Business, a 60-person student-run organization, I collaborate with my peers to plan leadership events and bring speakers to campus. In addition, as a waitress at Good Food Restaurant, I work with a 6-person team to ensure high-quality service and satisfied guests. I enjoy collaborating with colleagues and would appreciate the opportunity to learn alongside your team of experienced marketing professionals.”
You have the skills. You just have to prove it.
Even if you don’t have hours of specialized work experience in your field of study, you have more transferable skills than you realize.
Give yourself some credit.
At this point, we’ve already covered quite a bit. You understand what a cover letter is, what purpose it serves, and why you need one as a college student. You know three types of cover letters and what makes each type unique. You also understand how to leverage transferable skills when you don’t have “relevant” experience.
Let’s get to the actual writing.
How should you format your cover letter?
Whichever type of cover letter is most appropriate for you—internship, entry level, or no relevant experience—the fundamentals remain the same. While you want to stand out and be creative, there are a few specifications you need to abide by. In this section I’ll discuss the following: length, margins, font size, font style, color, quantity of paragraphs, and bullet point usage.
Length: As I’ve mentioned, a cover letter gives you a chance to tell your story. But slow down. 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 1-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, you’ll typically use black font. If you’re applying to a creative industry, a tasteful splash of color may be appropriate (recommendations are covered at the end of this article in more detail). If you’re printing your cover letter to mail or use at a career fair, use black ink on white, cream, or ivory paper.
Paragraphs: A standard cover letter is comprised of 3-5 paragraphs. If you opened up a textbook to one solid block of text, you’d be quickly overwhelmed by the prospect of reading it. And it’s likely you might actually close the book and stop reading. The same goes for a recruiter reading your cover letter. Break your cover letter into several short paragraphs.
Left align each paragraph. There is no need to indent the first sentence of each paragraph. Instead “Return/Enter” between each paragraph. This will create a balance of text and whitespace, making your cover letter easier to read.
Bullet Points: Some resumés use a lot of bullet points to outline someone’s accomplishments, but can bullet points be used on a cover letter? Sparingly. Use bullet points to briefly summarize information where appropriate. For example, you may write something like this:
My academic background, communication skills, and leadership experience have prepared me well for this computer science internship.
- Academic background. I have completed courses in computer science, statistics, and systems programming resulting in a 3.9 Major GPA.
- Communication skills. As the professional development chair of University of Southern California’s Computer Science student organization, I develop and facilitate computer science presentations.
- Leadership experience. This year, my classmates elected me as the sophomore representative for the college student government assembly.
Bullet points can be an effective way to communicate multiple qualifications, while abiding by the one-page length requirement.
Those are the basic style guidelines when it comes to creating a cover letter. Now let’s check out the key sections of a letter.
What are the key sections of your cover letter?
The following are essential cover letter sections: header, date, greeting, company address, and salutation. I’ll define each section and discuss exactly what to include. I’ll also share detailed examples of what to write.
Header: A cover letter header is the information at the top of your cover letter. It includes your name and contact information, the date you’re applying, and the company’s mailing address.
In the header, it’s important to include your full name. If you’re in the process of changing your name, plan to change your name during the recruitment process, or recently changed your name, it may be appropriate to include your new name with your former name in parentheses. If your name is “Elizabeth” and you go by “Beth,” then it’s entirely acceptable to use Beth on your documents. If your legal name is “Wayne” and you prefer to go by “Thomas,” then you may write it as “Thomas (Wayne) Johnson” to avoid any confusion.
The header also includes your contact information. It’s no longer required to include your physical mailing address on your resumé and cover letter. This is becoming the new norm to protect from identity theft. This is especially relevant if you’re attending a job fair and handing out hard copies of your documents. That being said, you may choose to include your city and state if you’re applying locally.
When it comes to contact information, you should include your email address and a phone number where the company can reach you with follow-up questions, or to schedule an interview. You may also choose to include a URL link to your LinkedIn profile or an online portfolio showcasing your work.
Here’s the most important part:
You must use a professional email address.
Your school email address is a good option. 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. Create a generic johnsmith1@ account, or use the .edu email address provided by your university.
Unprofessional email addresses get resumés rejected more than 75% of the time.
Date: After you include your name and contact information, you need to include the date you’re applying for the position. Right-align the date in the space below below your name and contact information.
Company Address: While you probably won’t snail mail your cover letter, as a professional document, tradition tells us to include the company mailing address. Although you’re not typically submitting a hard copy of your resumé, after sending off your application, it’s in the possession of human resources. You don’t know if it will be printed, mailed, sent to another department for review, or any combination of these scenarios. Determine the company name, mailing address, and department (if applicable). Left-align this information after the date.
Greeting: The most appropriate option for a greeting is ‘Dear’. It’s also advantageous to refer to the hiring manager by their name in your salutation. For example, “Dear Ms. Mary Johnson,”. When writing the salutation, ensure the 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. Make sure you use the correct title before their surname. If you don’t know what to use, opt for their first and last name only.
Salutation: Don’t use “To Whom It May Concern”, or “Dear Sir/Madam”. Do your homework and figure out the “Whom” actually entails. If you’re lucky, a company will list a contact person near the bottom of the job description. Use this contact name in your cover letter. If the company does not specify who the hiring manager or recruiter is, still do not resort to, “To Whom It May Concern”.
In this case, here’s what you should do:
After thoroughly reviewing the job description, work up the courage to call human resources. HR is your friend, so there’s no need to be anxious.
Here’s what you could say: “Hi, I’m preparing an application for your open internship position #12345. I’m wondering who the hiring manager is for this position.”
Oftentimes, human resources will provide you with the information. Other times, they may say, “Just address it to HR.” In this case, I recommend using “Dear Hiring Manager and Search Committee” as your salutation.
Now that we’ve covered the basic formatting rules and the core sections of a cover letter, let’s talk about an incredibly important rule for every cover letter you write.
Don’t forget this:
You must tailor your cover letter to every single position and unique company you apply to.
What does it mean to tailor a cover letter?
Tailoring a cover letter is exactly what it sounds like. A tailor, or a person who alters clothing, 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 (like you forgot it was even their birthday). 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. In short, 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’ll use this information to create a unique cover letter that is appropriate for a specific job and a unique company.
Why does this matter?
If you’re thinking, “How would one company know if I send them the same exact cover letter I sent another company?”
Here’s the deal:
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 enough. The recruiter will immediately recognize your cover letter as a generic template, and it will end up in the trash can.
How do I tailor a cover letter?
Let’s go back to the birthday gift analogy. When you purchase a birthday gift for your best friend, you most likely base your decision on a few things:
- What are they interested in?
- What do they enjoy?
- What do they need?
- What do they want?
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 and enjoy?
- What needs and pain points does the company need to solve?
- What does the company want from you as an applicant?
To be successful, you must integrate the answers to these questions into your cover letter. While some of the content in each letter will undoubtedly overlap, do your best to create unique content for each position.
While the term ‘research’ can be intimidating, I have 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, there are a few key resources:
- 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, but you’re also passionate about protecting the environment, then it would be great to reference how you’re drawn to their mission.
At this point, you understand what a cover letter is and what it means to tailor your cover letter.
To illustrate why it’s important to tailor your cover letter, let’s look at a bad example:
This cover letter template is not tailored to any specific company or position. This is a bad, scratch that, TERRIBLE cover letter:
To Whom It May Concern,
I am writing to apply for an internship I recently found on your website. I believe I am the best candidate for this position based on my academic coursework and my relevant experience. 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 resumé which explains my experience in further detail.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to the possibility of interviewing.
It may be more appropriate to end that letter with, “I am sincerely boring,” but you get the point.
In brief, this is what is wrong with the above example:
X No header (i.e. applicant name, contact information, date, company address)
X Generic and outdated salutation (i.e. “To Whom It May Concern”)
X Cliché and boring introduction
X No mention of the internship title
X No mention of the company name
X No proof as to why the applicant is the “best candidate”
X Applicant includes generic skills (i.e. Microsoft Office and Excel)
Don’t write a cover letter like this. You will put the recruiter to sleep.
Now, let’s look at a good example:
Minneapolis, MN 12345
Ms. Debra Glod
Fashion and Design
New York City, NY 56789
Dear Ms. Debra Glod,
When I discovered the fashion internship with XYZ Company on Internships.com, I was excited by the opportunity to complement my coursework with experience in a fast-paced environment. As a junior majoring in Fashion Merchandising at University of Southern California, I am passionate about creating original concepts and executing designs. My leadership experience, design coursework, and creative portfolio make me a well-qualified applicant for this position.
- Leadership experience. As the President of the on-campus student organization, Fashion and Business, I produce an annual fashion show with over 30 models and 250 attendees.
- Design coursework. I have a 3.9 Major GPA after taking 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 by visiting email@example.com.
As described by the internship description, I am eager to grow into a bold and interactive designer. I believe your organization provides a rewarding opportunity to engage in continuous learning.
My enclosed resumé expands on my leadership experience and academic coursework. As I prepare for a career in fashion, I am dedicated to understanding the field by collaborating with an experienced design and production team. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
In brief, this is a great example because it includes the following:
✓ Name, contact information, date, and company address
✓ Tailored salutation including the hiring manager’s first and last name
✓ Unique introduction that communicates the applicant’s interest and passion in the position, company, and industry
✓ Specific internship title “Fashion Internship”
✓ Company name, “XYZ Company”
✓ Use of the term “well-qualified applicant” vs. “best candidate”
✓ Unique skills that are relevant to the position (i.e. leadership, design, and creative work)
✓ Description of the applicant’s desire to grow as a professional
Use this as a model when crafting your letter.
What to include in your actual cover letter?
Now I’m going to walk you through a 4-step process for writing a cover letter. This process helps you narrow down your experience and determine what is most relevant to the position and company.
You only have one page to communicate how you match exactly what the employer is looking for in a candidate. Let’s use a 4-step process to accomplish this task.
Step 1: Highlight the job description.
Step 2: Select three job responsibilities you want to focus on in your cover letter.
Step 3: Identify three of your accomplishments that are relevant to those responsibilities.
Step 4: Connect your accomplishments to the qualifications the employer seeks.
I’ll take you through each step and describe exactly what to do. This is an effective way to write a cover letter. Let’s jump in!
Step 1: Highlight the job description.
You may be asking, “What’s the point of this?”.
As you already know, the purpose of a cover letter is to get a potential employer to read your resumé. You do this by demonstrating how you match exactly what they’re looking for
Well, what are they looking for?
The answer to this question is in the job description.
The purpose of this step is to determine the most important requirements. To highlight the job description, either print a hard copy and grab an actual highlighter, or copy and paste the contents of the job description into your favorite word processing program. You should make note of the following:
- Core responsibilities
- Required qualifications
- Preferred qualifications
- Patterns and themes
A job description will typically label the core responsibilities, required qualifications, and preferred qualifications. Those should be easy to determine. That being said, there won’t be a section labeled “Keywords” or “Themes.” This is where you have to do a little work.
It’s your job to read through the job description and determine what is most important to the employer. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What words are repeated throughout the job description?
- What responsibilities are emphasized in the job description?
Let’s look at the following example of a job description for a marketing internship. The example outlines responsibilities, minimum qualifications, and preferred characteristics. Carefully read through each section.
Marketing Internship Job Description
- Conduct social media marketing campaigns
- Collect quantitative and qualitative data
- Perform market analysis and research on competitors
- Collaborate with co-interns and marketing team to analyze data
- Support marketing team in daily administrative tasks
- Present findings to marketing team
- Sophomore or junior standing
- Pursuing a bachelor’s degree
- Interested in marketing and/or business-related career
- Effective writing and verbal communication skills
- Pursuing a degree in marketing, business, graphic design, communications, or a related area of study
When you review this job description, a few things should be obvious. You know the employer is looking for an intern who is interested in social media marketing and data analysis. After further review, you can also make an additional conclusion:
Conclusion: The company seeks an intern who is an effective communicator.
Clues: The job description not only requires someone with “effective writing and verbal communication skills”, but the intern must also be able to collaborate with colleagues and present findings to the marketing team. Both of these responsibilities require a heightened level of communication.
That’s a pattern or theme. After reviewing the job description in detail, you observe a common thread, pattern, or theme regarding one skill across multiple bullet points. Use this knowledge to your advantage. Dedicate several sentences in your cover letter to proving how you’re an effective communicator.
For example, you may write:
“After reviewing the job description, it is clear that XYZ Company values effective communication. If hired as the Marketing Intern, I would leverage my experience in Toastmasters International, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping members develop public speaking and leadership skills. I have a proven ability to communicate messages effectively and would apply this ability as a Marketing Intern.”
Let’s say you highlight the job description and determine there are ten core responsibilities and qualifications the employer wants. Do you write about all ten?
Probably not. If you remember correctly, a cover letter can only be one page long. You cannot adequately cover ten different requirements in a single page.
So how do you determine which skills to focus on?
This is where step two comes in.
Step 2: Select which job responsibilities you want to focus on.
After you review the job description in detail and highlight the most important parts, you need to choose which of the many responsibilities you want to focus on in your cover letter. Unless the job description is very short—and the company only highlights three requirements—it’s unlikely you will be able to discuss every single requirement in your cover letter.
Here’s what you do:
Determine what the company values the most.
What does the company emphasize in the job description? Take into consideration your own experience and qualifications. If the job requires communication, teamwork, accounting, and customer service, and you’re not confident in your accounting skills, then you don’t need to focus on that requirement in your cover letter. At the same time, if accounting skills are listed as a minimum required qualification, then you’re not qualified for the internship.
Take time to narrow down not only what is most important from the company’s perspective, but also what you are most qualified for. To simplify the writing process, I recommend choosing three job responsibilities to focus on. Once you do this, you’re ready for step three.
Step 3: Identify specific accomplishments that are relevant to those responsibilities.
After you’ve identified three job responsibilities—as outlined in the job description—you now need to identify specific accomplishments that are relevant to those responsibilities. You should only highlight the most relevant accomplishments. Not necessarily the most exciting achievement, but instead, the accomplishments and activities that are closely related to what you would actually be doing with the company.
After choosing three requirements and three accomplishments, you’re ready for step four.
Step 4: Connect your accomplishments to the qualifications they seek.
In a sense, you need to put together the pieces of the puzzle. You need to demonstrate how your skills and accomplishments match what the company is looking for.
You have three responsibilities and three accomplishments. Connect the dots. We’ll look at additional examples of how to do this in the next section.
How do I write the introduction, body, and closing?
As with any good story, the cover letter has a beginning, middle, and end. I will refer to these as the introduction, body, and closing. Let’s look at each section in further detail. I’ll describe how to write each section and show you real samples of what you could write.
How do I write the introduction?
Th intrduction two a covr leter is crushal.
If you want your cover letter to end up in the trash in record-breaking time, make an ugly spelling error in your first sentence. Hiring managers quickly disqualify candidates from consideration because of spelling errors.
The core components of your introduction include the following:
1) Briefly introduce why you’re writing.
2) Give a short overview of who you are.
3) Tailor the introduction to the company and position.
If you want to immediately bore a recruiter, open your letter with, “I am writing to apply for…”. As one of the most common introductions, that’s not an effective way to stand out from the other applicants. Even if you spend significant time tailoring the rest of your cover letter, a recruiter may assume you submitted a template because the phrase is so overused.
It’s cookie cutter and unfortunately, we’re not making cookies.
Avoid this phrase and replace it with something more creative. Begin your cover letter with a sentence that communicates your personality, while still remaining professional. You can accomplish this by starting with a personal anecdote. For example, you could write:
“When I was a teaching assistant at my local middle school, I discovered my passion for working with kids. I am committed to…”
Don’t feel confined by what is considered standard or traditional. As long as your content is professional, you can be a little creative. This is your opportunity to infuse your personality.
Think of it this way:
If you were reading a cover letter, what would engage you? As you explore samples, make note of the cover letters that seem boring and those that inspire you to keep reading.
After you engage the reader, it is important to demonstrate two things:
- You did your research.
- You tailored the letter to the specific company and position.
Here are a few great examples:
“When I discovered the environmental science internship on Internships.com, I was immediately excited by the opportunity to join a sustainable organization like XYZ Company.”
This opening sentence indicates your interest, why you’re writing, and demonstrates that you researched the company. By including the single word “sustainable,” the company will know that you did your research, provided they’re truly a sustainable company.
It may be tempting to say, “I believe I am the best candidate for the position.”
This is an empty claim. Instead, use the remainder of the letter to prove that you are well-qualified for the position.
Those are the building blocks of a quality introduction. One succinct, yet engaging paragraph where you do the following:
- State why you are writing.
- Provide a brief overview of who you are.
- Tailor to company and position.
- Give a brief overview of what you’re about to discuss in the body.
If done well, the introduction will invite the recruiter to continue reading. Let’s talk about what you include in the body.
How do I write the body of a cover letter?
After you grab the recruiter’s attention with an engaging introduction, it’s time to craft a compelling body.
The purpose of the body is to prove your qualifications to the reader. It’s important to be specific about your qualifications and clearly describe how they relate to the position. This is where you need to match the requirements outlined in the job description with your most relevant skills and qualifications. Let’s look at two different examples.
Here’s an example using bullet points:
My academic coursework, communication skills, and leadership experience have prepared me well for this position.
- Academic coursework. I have completed courses in business communications, marketing, and strategic human resource management, resulting in 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.
- Leadership experience. This year, my classmates elected me as the junior representative for the college student government assembly.
I am excited by the chance to contribute to your organization and am prepared to engage in continuous learning. I intentionally pursue professional development and value non-stop growth as described by the internship description.
Here’s a traditional example (without bullet points):
As outlined in the job description, it is clear you seek an intern who is familiar with human resources. Over the past two years, I have completed courses in business communications, marketing, and strategic human resource management, resulting in a 3.8 Major GPA. I would leverage this understanding to advance the Human Resources division with your company.
Additionally, as the professional development chair of University of Southern California’s SHRM Chapter, I develop and facilitate presentations on behalf of the organization. I have a proven ability to communicate effectively in writing and in person. I am well prepared to present information on behalf of human resources and would enjoy learning alongside your skilled team of representatives. I am excited by the chance to contribute to your organization and am prepared to engage in continuous learning.
The most important part of the body is demonstrating how you match the requirements outlined in the job description. If you can do that, you will set yourself up for success.
How do I write the conclusion of a cover letter?
Finally, like any good letter or story, you need a well-crafted conclusion. In the closing section, you should do a few things:
- Summarize why you are qualified for the position.
- Express your appreciation for their time and consideration.
Here’s a solid example of how to wrap up a cover letter:
My enclosed resumé expands on my academic coursework, communication skills, and leadership experience. As I prepare for a career in human resources, I am eager to gain a more detailed understanding of the field. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
That’s it. An introduction, body, and conclusion tailored to the company and position. Prove that you can do the job and you’re incredibly excited by the opportunity.
We’ve covered a lot so far. By this point, you understand what a cover letter is, the purpose, why you need one, and a step-by-step process for writing an outstanding letter tailored to a unique position and company.
Now let’s check out the top 10 tips for crafting your cover letter.
Top 10 cover letter tips and hacks
- Be a person.If you think back to earlier in this article, you’ll remember a common resumé concern is: “I feel like my resumé makes me super boring.” The same can happen with your cover letter. I highly recommend infusing your personality. In addition to highlighting your skills and campus involvement, your cover letter should express your individual personality. You’re a human after all. Make sure your cover letter expresses who you are.
- Address the right person. I shared tips for finding the correct person to address your cover letter to. Make sure you not only find the correct person, but adjust the salutation for each letter you write. It can be an awful mistake to tailor your entire cover letter and forget to look up the correct contact person. Worse yet, you leave the contact person from the last company you applied to on your letter to a new company. Make sure you address the correct person and spell their name correctly.
- Engage the reader at the beginning.Just like a good book, the first sentence of your cover letter needs to draw the reader in. Avoid cliché phrases like, “I am writing to apply for your internship.” Or, “I’m writing in response to your recently advertised position.” Instead, write something unique, yet professional. Share your passion.
- If you have a connection with the company, don’t be afraid to name drop. Name dropping is when you include the name of a friend, family member, or acquaintance who is connected to the company. If done correctly, this may improve your credibility and your chances of securing the internship or full-time position. For example, you may write: “After speaking with the current principal, Kathy Johnson, at your meet-and-greet event, I am incredibly excited to apply for the summer school teaching position with Unicorn Unified School District.” Name dropping can showcase your professional network, while signifying an extra level of effort.
- Focus on the most relevant examples. Do not include a comprehensive list of your college involvement. Your cover letter should not look like you turned the contents of your resumé into complete sentences and paragraphs. Instead, choose a few relevant examples and tell a story.
- Be specific. Don’t write, “I conducted in-depth marketing research”. Instead write, “I used SPSS to analyze survey data.” Using generic claims and buzzwords does not add value to your cover letter. Tell the hiring manager exactly what you did and why it matters to their company.
- Showcase the results of your work. Let’s extend the previous example, “I used SPSS to analyze survey data.” Why did you do that? What was the result of your work? And most importantly, why does it matter to the employer? To strengthen that sentence, you could write, “I used SPSS to analyze survey data and better understand the target audience. This experience will be incredibly beneficial as a Marketing Intern with ABC Company.
- Include key ideas as outlined in the job description. Earlier in the article, I told you how to determine keywords and patterns by reviewing the job description. Here’s a trick for finding keywords. Use the ‘Find’ function. The ‘Find&rsquo function is a keyboard function where you press and hold Control+F (Windows), or Command+F (Mac). After you release the buttons, a search box will appear on your screen. Type in likely keywords such as “communication” or ldquo;communicate”. Your computer will highlight every appearance of this word. Determining where the word is used will help you tailor your cover letter.
- Keep it brief. No cover letter should be longer than one page. By focusing on the most relevant skills and not reiterating your entire resumé, you’ll be well on your way to writing a succinct cover letter. At the same time, you need to find a happy medium. Your letter should not be several sentences. Create 3-5 well-written, concise, yet detailed paragraphs.
- Follow the employer’s instructions. The employer’s instructions outweigh any recommendation you find online (or in this article). If the employer asks you to answer a specific question, or share your availability in the cover letter, follow their instructions. There are a few exceptions to this rule. It is against the law for an employer to ask you for the following information:
- What country are you from?
- Is English your first language?
- Do you drink socially?
- Are you married?
- Have you ever been arrested?
- What religious holidays do you observe?
- Do you have children?
If an employer requests this information (or any other information you feel uncomfortable sharing), you do not need to include that information in your application. It may be a red flag and you probably do not want to work for that company.
Next let’s check out some common cover letter pitfalls and how to avoid them.
Top 10 cover letter mistakes to avoid
- Typos. I can’t say this too many times. Ensure that your cover letter is free of typos. Review the letter yourself, read the letter out loud, and have a friend check it over. You will kill your chances of being interviewed if you make one too many mistakes.
- Focusing too much on yourself. A cover letter is your chance to explain why you’re qualified and passionate about the job 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. You need to explain why you’re interested in the company. Be careful not to focus on yourself too much.
- Not tailoring your letter to the company or position. Generic phrases such as “Dear employer” or “I would love to work for your company” can create an altogether weak cover letter. Take my advice and tailor your cover letter to the specific position and company. Dissect the job description and conduct company research. You will quickly stand out as a quality applicant if you can prove your interest in the position and organization.
- Including taboo topics. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what’s allowable and what is taboo. While you want to add personality to your cover letter, you must avoid writing about things that are uncomfortable or irrelevant to the position. Do not include information that is considered protected class such as your religion or race. Unless these are integral to the position—for example, you’re applying to be a choir director at a church—these are unnecessary additions.
- Being cliché. I get it. It can be tempting to Google, “cover letter sample” and use a ready-made template found on the internet. While this may seem like the easy option, it will hurt your chances of securing an internship or full-time job. Recruiters review resumés every day. They can immediately spot a template cover letter. If you found the cover letter example online, so can they. Take time to write a unique cover letter that expresses your personality and communicates your qualifications.
- Rewriting your resumé. A cover letter is not a resumé. It serves an entirely different purpose. Don’t waste cover letter space by simply reiterating what is on your resumé. Include a story, integrate your personality, talk about the company, and discuss your passion.
- Over-explaining. Don’t be a rambler. Take time to 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 resumé in hopes of securing an interview. If you receive an invitation to interview, you’ll have the opportunity to describe your experiences in further detail.
- Being too pushy. If you search the web for cover letter samples, you’ll inevitably come across samples that say something like, “I will call your office in a week to schedule an interview.” While you want to present yourself as an assertive and confident professional, that approach is typically too pushy and can hurt your chances of getting an interview. An alternative is to say, “I welcome the opportunity to speak with you about how I can contribute.” Or “I look forward to hearing from you soon.” You can communicate your sincere interest without being pushy.
- Starting with your name. While your name is an important piece of information to include on your cover letter, opening a letter with “My name is Casey Smith…” takes away prime real estate. Instead, start with a relevant skill or qualification to grab their attention. Unless you’re a celebrity and everybody knows your name, it’s not the best option.
- Sharing irrelevant information. I get it! You care about ALL the experiences you have gained. This attachment can make it incredibly difficult to let things go. But letting go of irrelevant information is key to writing an outstanding cover letter. Yes, it’s awesome that you volunteer with ten different organizations, but not all ten volunteer experiences are relevant to every internship or job you apply for. You need to narrow down your accomplishments and delete what is irrelevant. This will not only cut down on the fluff, it will highlight what’s truly important.
There you have it. Essential tips and mistakes to avoid.
Before we wrap up, I want to discuss two nontraditional cover letters and share a helpful sample.
What do nontraditional cover letters look like?
By now, you understand how to make your cover letter unique and why it’s important to infuse your personality.
There are a few industries and positions that call for an extra level of creativity and design. If you’re pursuing a creative degree, this is for you.
Graphic Design Cover Letter. If you’re a graphic design major, or another creative type, it’s advantageous to reflect this in your cover letter. But don’t forget the basics. Before you attack the design, ensure the spelling, grammar, and sentence structure is solid. Then, take a few liberties with your design. Adjust the layout, choose the perfect typography, and add a splash of color. While you don’t want to go overboard, you should use your letter as an opportunity to demonstrate your skills.
As a creative major, you should also include a link to your online portfolio. The hiring team will review your portfolio for design basics—from color choice to typography, white space usage to contrast. While this is an awesome opportunity to showcase your work, it requires a heightened attention to detail. Check for spelling and grammar throughout.
Video Cover Letter. A video cover letter can be a unique way to showcase your skills. Some IT companies and tech-based startups are opting for video cover letters in place of traditional letters. Just like a traditional letter, you want the content to engage the viewer and encourage them to check out your resumé and portfolio. You’re essentially creating a movie trailer. Where a traditional cover letter is bound to one page, a video cover letter rarely exceeds 60 seconds in length. Brevity is still important.
Keep in mind the purpose of a cover letter and craft your content around these three primary goals:
- Introduce yourself to a prospective employer.
- Communicate your interest in a position and company.
- Explain how you’re a well-qualified candidate for the position
What’s key here is that your personality and energy come through. Unless you’re camera-shy, there’s no need to write an entire script. Choose a few bullet points to focus on and discuss your qualifications. You want to come across as genuine as you can, without trying too hard!
Additional Cover Letter Sample
456 Business Road
Phoenix, AZ 85001
Ms. Nichole Favret
123 Business Street
Phoenix, AZ 85001
Dear Ms. Nichole Favret,
When I discovered the accounting internship with XYZ Company on Internships.com, I was excited by the opportunity to complement my coursework with practical experience. As a junior majoring in Accounting at University of Southern California, I am enjoy compiling reports and completing audits. My academic background, communication skills, and leadership experience have prepared me well for this position.
- Academic coursework. I have completed courses in intermediate accounting, cost accounting, business law, and individual income tax, resulting in a 3.9 Major GPA.
- Communication skills. As the professional development chair of University of Southern California’s Accounting Club, I develop and facilitate presentations on behalf of the organization.
- Leadership experience. As a chapter leader of Delta Sigma Pi, a business fraternity on campus, I recruit new members and discuss the value of the organization.
I am excited by the chance to contribute to your organization and am prepared to engage in continuous learning. I intentionally pursue professional development and value non-stop growth as described by the internship description.
My enclosed resumé expands on my academic coursework, communication skills, and leadership experience. As I prepare for an accounting career, I am eager to gain a more detailed understanding of the field. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
That’s what a solid cover letter looks like from beginning to end.
Here’s the deal:
People read cover letters.
And better yet:
Cover letters aren’t pointless!
As you now know, an outstanding cover letter can get you an internship.
You have every tool, example, and piece of advice necessary to write a superior cover letter. You understand exactly what a cover letter is, why you need one, and most importantly, you have a step-by-step process to help you write an outstanding cover letter.
Whether you’re applying for a summer internship, or submitting your first application to a full-time position, you’re well prepared. Congratulations on getting this far.
Set aside time to write an outstanding letter. It will be easier than you think and more rewarding than you imagine.
You can get that dream position!
Written 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.