An internship is one of the best paths to landing a full-time job after graduating. You'll gain on-the-job training, experience in your field, and a chance to build helpful connections. Successfully leveraging what you learned — as well as the network you've built —can help separate you from other job applicants.
Understanding how to write about an internship experience in your cover letter is critically important; you need to convey your newfound knowledge in the letter in a manner that is both compelling and succinct.
Here are six tips for writing about an internship experience in a cover letter.
1. Take time for reflection
Jodi Pavol, the associate director for partnerships at Ohio University, encourages graduates to reflect on their internship experience with a mentor or faculty member.
Through these conversations, you'll gain valuable perspective on the work you've done from a professional in the field.
"Students don't [always] make an obvious connection between the work that they're doing and the transferable skills that work provides," says Pavol. "I think that it's really critical for them to spend some time reflecting on that piece before they write a cover letter or go into an interview."
During these discussions, talk through the following questions:
- What was your most significant accomplishment during your internship?
- Did you develop any new skills?
- What kind of supervisor and work environment are you looking for, now that you have some hands-on experience?
If a professor or mentor isn't available for this reflection, find someone else in your major, or even your roommate. If you're short on time, just spend some quiet moments jotting your answers down in a notebook. You'll gain insights and perspective from any self-reflection you make time for. Use these notes when you craft your unique cover letters for each position.
2. Consider how your internship applies to each specific job you're applying for
Your explanation of your internship experience should be customized for each cover letter you write.
"A lot of students make the mistake of writing a generic cover letter and sending that to every contact," she says. "It needs to be distinct."
Your cover letter (and resume, too) should be precise and tailored to fit each specific job. "We advise [students] to highlight one really specific example in their cover letter," says Pavol. "It could be from a project they worked on in their internship or an event that they were a part of — walk through what they accomplished in their cover letter and highlight the skills that are relevant to the position they're applying for."
3. Call out specific skills you learned or used during the internship
Your internship can count as valuable work experience. Describe your internship duties and how you spent your days, including skills and any equipment you used.
Here's an example: If you edited photos for your school newspaper, you could say "utilized Photoshop to edit photographs for campus newspaper." Using a piece of software in an actual work scenario can differ from using it in class or for homework, and your internship allows you to show that you're 'workplace ready.'
Check out our Cover Letter Builder to get additional help on this critical piece of your application.
4. Leverage your LinkedIn connections in your cover letter
LinkedIn is where you'll solidify the professional connections you made during your internship and receive endorsements on your work. Your profile is a place where potential employers can quickly gain valuable insight into your internship experiences and work history.
In addition to connecting with your internship supervisor, your digital network should include colleagues from the internship, professors and TAs, and classmates and peers from your student organizations.
Before writing your cover letter, search your LinkedIn network to see if anyone in your network has connections at your potential employers. A quick touch-base with them may provide valuable insight you can work into your cover letter to show that you are qualified and passionate about the job opportunity.
5. Speak to your internship supervisor about the potential job
Even if the company where you interned isn't hiring right now, keeping in touch with your former boss helps you stay top of mind. Send out periodic email updates, check in to see if you can still use them as a reference, or congratulate them on a promotion you saw announced on LinkedIn.
Once you're applying for a job in the same field as your internship, connecting with your supervisor will help guide the direction of your cover letter. Think of your supervisor as a trial run as you figure out how to best express your motivations and qualifications for a job. When you sit down to write your cover letter, you won't be putting into words for the first time what you really want from this next step in your career.
6. Talk about what you can offer an employer
When you apply for a full-time position, use your cover letter to highlight what you have to offer the company or hiring manager. Articulate the skills your internship and education have taught you, and note how you will put those skills to work in your new position. If you can convince the employer that your skills and experience will make you an asset to their organization, you'll be a highly valuable candidate.
You not only have to gain skills and experience during the internship, but you also have to transfer that knowledge into your application materials and interview. Use our Cover Letter Builder to craft your cover letter with internship experience, and include a unique pitch for why you're the best candidate. If you can show that your internship helped you gain the right skills for the job (and connect those skills to the job you are applying for), you're one step closer to securing your first full-time position.