When you get around to applying to a position, you really can’t change the experiences in your resume or the grades in your transcripts. What you can change is your cover letter to increase your chances of success. For what skills to highlight, see here.
Cover Letter Sections
1) Header with Personal Information:
You should create a header with your personal information. Typically, you want to include your name, email address, phone number, and the date. You can place some of this information on the same lines so that it’s not too big.
Depending on the internship, you might know exactly who to address here in which case you should write: “Dear ____:” But if you don’t know, then you want to either use “Dear Sir/Madam:” or “To Whom This May Concern:”
If you can do a little research (look at the company website for staff listing or LinkedIn profiles for people that work at the company) and find out the name of the hiring manager or department head, it is always better to address the cover letter to a specific person. If you cannot find the department head name, you can also address the cover letter to the owner of the company. Many people have also had good luck using “Dear Sir/Madam:”.
3) First Paragraph: THE HOOK
So now that you’ve finished with all the introductory information, how can you catch your readers’ attentions? In this section, you want to both explain why you’re interested in the field that the position is in and broadly why you’re a good choice.
Here are some hooks to consider tailoring for your applications with examples:
- Simple, straightforward: I am interested in serving as an online test instructor because I am very passionate about helping people learn key skills and pursue higher education degrees.
- Brag and Compliment: I’m someone who is going to make a difference in solar energy-related policies and I can’t think of a better place to get started than your organization.
- Why You’re Different: Unlike the other business people that I know who want to work for investment banking firms or Fortune 500s, I want to use any skills I gain through my degree to serve our country by helping rebuild impoverished communities through business development.
- Your Call to Action: As a well-informed Counterterrorism major student at Stanford, I read about conflicts, unrest, and terrorism attacks. This is not how the world should be.
or, As a well-informed Counterterrorism professional, I have experience
working for____company.I have in depth understanding of conflicts, unrest, and terrorism attacks. This is not how the world should be.
- Childhood Dream: When I was a kid, I dreamed big – I imagined running missions for the French Resistance, parachuting over Vichy France, and penetrating army forts. My dreams have excited me to serve in the French Army.
- Showy Statistics: The U.S. is one nation out of 195 with 318.9 million people out of 7.4 billion. Yet it feels like our policies affect the entire world, and this is why I am interested in foreign policy.
4) Second/Third Paragraph: QUALIFICATIONS
You then want to dive into why you’re qualified for the position. What skills are important to the position and which experiences do you have that match to these skills?
For example, say I’m applying to a position in customer service. I’d probably write: “I have excellent communication skills, having interacted with international visitors while interning at the Smithsonian Institution.” You want to use this format – you frame all of your experiences in terms of the skills the employer is looking for.
So what skills are employers looking for and how can you tell? First step is to look at the Job Posting. Often, they’ll have a section saying Qualifications that explicitly says what they’re looking for and you can tailor your Cover Letter to that. Here are some common skills:
- Communication Skills
- Multicultural Experience
- Technical Skills (Programming)
- Software Skills (Office, Adobe, etc.)
- Research Experience
- Writing Experience
You also want to make sure to include your Education Experience somewhere in this paragraph.
Show, don’t tell: When you write about your previous jobs, always explain how you learned skills in that position. For example, say “At the Smithsonian Institution, I was responsible for writing public-facing articles that described our astrophysics research in understandable terms.” This shows that you’re good at communicating complex scientific topics and good at writing, without you having to say that.
5) Third (and Fourth if needed) Paragraph: INTEREST AND THANK YOU
In this final section, you’ll want to explain why you’re interested in the particular position you’re interested in, before thanking the reader. Regarding why you’re interested in the position, be genuine. But also look at your application from your employer’s perspective – what does the employer want to hear about why you want the position? For example, if I’m applying to a job it might be because I believe they do good AND because it’s good for my career. But I’m only going to mention the first, of course.
After explaining your interest, you finally need to thank the reader for their time. For example, “Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope to join your team.” This Thank You statement involves two parts. First, you show that you’re grateful. And, second, you reiterate that you’re interested in the position.
By the way, you NEED to use good grammar in your cover letter and re-read it to make sure there are no typos. At the end of the day, your cover letter is how employers check your writing skills – so you need to give them a top notch impression to be considered for the position!
Template and Example
Here is a simple template for you to use and a sample cover letter. Honestly, cover letters are so tailored that it’s probably hard for the example to be very helpful – but it can at least give you an idea of where to get started.
Cover Letter FAQs
- What if I don’t have any experiences that are relevant?
Unless you’re starting out, I can guarantee that you do have at least some relevant experiences. If you’re a customer service rep applying to work in a tech-based internship, your experiences with software at your customer service job might be relevant experience. The idea behind relevant experience isn’t that you’ve had a previous position in the same field – it’s the relevant skills you’ve gained through previous experiences that counts.
- But what if I really don’t have any experiences?
If you actually don’t have experiences, your cover letter should be written personally. Explain why you don’t have experiences (is it because you’ve had a hard life in some way that stopped you?). Also, explain why you’re interested in the job and why they should consider you even though you might not have as much experience.
- What if I want to switch fields to a new one and I’m worried that my resume makes this obvious?
This one is hard, but you should definitely directly address why you’re switching fields in your cover letter. Don’t leave it up to the employer to come to their own conclusions about your career change – let them know why yourself.
- What are the most common grammar mistakes to avoid?
- Capitalization: Make sure to capitalize the first letter in every sentence, the pronoun “I,” and proper nouns.
- Spelling: Make sure you spell things correctly. If you’re applying to a job in English, you don’t really have to worry about spelling things in American vs British English – either will be fine.
- Subject-Verb Agreement: Make sure you’re using the right verb tense and conjugation. These errors stand out the most to employers.
- Articles: Make sure to use “a,” “an,” or “the” as needed. Missing articles makes it hard for the employer to read through.
- Spacing: Make sure you leave only one space at the start of sentences and between words. If you use more, employers might notice that it looks weird.
- Finally, on pain of death, if I have to avoid one mistake, what would it be?
Whatever you do, do NOT mistakenly input the incorrect organization name in your cover letter. If I’m applying for a job at Apple, I don’t want to write Google by mistake. This is the worst error possible – and often means that your application will automatically be dumped in the reject pile. Just double-check this before sending out your applications and you should be good to go!