Welcome back to week two of my internship series! Today’s topic is everyone’s least favorite part of applying to internships: cover letters.
Cover letters feel so awkward to write – you don’t want to restate your résumé, but there’s only so much new content you can come up with to fill the page. Cover letters also can hurt you more often than they help you. Grammatical errors or accidentally misstating the company’s mission can cause your application to get denied. (For this reason, I’ve actually heard a lot of people suggest not writing a cover letter if it’s optional. I’d suggest still writing one, but make absolutely sure you don’t make any glaring errors.)
CHECK OUT PART 1 IF YOU MISSED IT!
MAJOR NO-NO: Mass cover letters
When someone is reviewing cover letters, it’s painfully obvious which cover letters have been written in a one-size-fits-all style. If the only thing you change between cover letters is the name of the company you’re applying for, there’s a good chance your cover letter won’t sound genuine. Just like with your résumé, it’s worth the effort to write a cover letter that’s customized to the position and company you’re applying to.
Step 1: Plan it out
If you go into writing a cover letter without a clear outline, there’s a pretty decent chance it’ll turn out a bit ramble-y. Go in with some sort of structure – it’ll flow more naturally and you won’t find yourself going off on unnecessary tangents. Typically, I like to start my cover letters by talking about why I want to work for the company, then go into my relevant experience, and wrap it all up by connecting the content of those two paragraphs.
Step 2: Tell them why you want to be there
This is one thing that can’t be conveyed in your résumé, so it’s important to kill it in your cover letter. Connect the organizational mission with your personal ambitions. Feel free to use the company’s website to get a little inspiration for this section, but be sure to explain why you would fit with the company and how the internship will help you achieve your future goals.
Step 3: Tell them why to deserve to be there
This is not an opportunity to restate your résumé, but rather an opportunity to go into greater detail about something on your résumé or to add an additional experience that doesn’t fit on your résumé but is still relevant to the position you’re applying for. For example, I don’t put my blog on my résumé, but when I’m applying for writing or social media positions, I’m always sure to mention it in my cover letter.
Step 4: Wrap it all up
My cover letters are almost always three paragraphs. Steps 2 and 3 are each a paragraph, and I end with a short paragraph that ties everything together. Turn everything you just wrote into a cohesive narrative. Weave your experience, your ambitions, and your desire to work for the company into a few short sentences. There’s no one way to do this – just write what feels the most natural. A cover letter that shows genuine personality and style will do much better than one that follows a fill-in-the-blank format that you find online.
Step 5: PROOFREAD
If I didn’t emphasize this enough in my last post, spelling and grammatical errors are the Achilles’ heel of job applications. Little errors suggest that you are careless and miss important details – even if that’s not the case in real life. Read it out loud, get someone else to read it, do whatever it takes to make sure you avoid ruining a well-written cover letter with an embarrassing minor error.
With cover letters (and internship applications in general), quality is always better than quantity. I promise you’ll get more interviews/offers from 10 customized, well-written applications than you will from 30 mass-written ones. See you next Monday for some interview advice!
This is all such good advice. I think the biggest thing I’ve always heard emphasized is your major no-no! You should ALWAYS tailor your cover letter to each job you apply for!
I helped with intern selection at one of my past internships, and one the the most painful things was coming across a cover letter that was so obviously written as a mass cover letter. Tailored ones just sound so much better and more genuine!