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Securing an internship can be a solid step on your path to a career. It's often difficult to get hired in any profession without prior work experience. An internship -- whether paid or unpaid -- will count as experience, and can also help you make connections in your chosen field.
What Is an Internship?
An internship is either a part- or full-time position at a company or organization that lasts for a set period of time, typically the summer. Internships vary widely in scope and are available in most industries. They are often offered to undergraduates or graduate students who are looking to gain experience in their chosen field. An internship achieves two important goals: It helps you figure out the type of career you wish to pursue, and it provides experience in your field.
To get an internship, you need to apply for one, and most applications require a cover letter.
Importance of a Cover Letter
If you're new to the world of work, you may be wondering what a cover letter is and why you need to know how to write one. Think of this letter as a personal introduction. You're saying, "Hello, this is who I am and why I am particularly qualified for this internship." Your cover letter should highlight your personal skills and relevant background, and request a meeting in person with the hiring manager or head of internships.
How to Write a Cover Letter for an Internship
Your cover letter should be short and sweet and never longer than a single typed page. Lay out this letter as you would a business letter. Begin with your name, address, phone and email, then the date, followed by the employer's name, title and address.
It's always best if you can address your letter to a specific person. This way, you won't need to use the generic, formal greeting "To Whom It May Concern," and you'll have a greater guarantee that it will reach the correct person. If a name isn't readily available, it's worth taking the time to call the company or organization and ask who is hiring for this internship.
The first paragraph states why you are writing and a brief description of who you are.
Then next two or three paragraphs should highlight the most important aspects of your resume. If you have a particular qualification that makes you a good fit, be sure to include this in the cover letter. The person reading your cover letter will also look at your resume, so do not restate the entire thing, just pull out the key points.
The closing paragraph should ask for a meeting to further discuss the position, and list what is included in the application. You can then reemphasize your interest in the internship and thank the reader for taking the time to consider you.
Other Requirements for an Internship
In addition to the cover letter, you'll want to create a resume for your application. It will help if you are currently in a related field of study at college or have just graduated in that field of study. You may also be asked for supplementary materials, depending on the type of internship. These could include writing samples, details of related lab work, or a design portfolio. Any referrals or letters of recommendation from professors or past employers will also help improve your application.
As is the case with many jobs, it always helps if you know someone either in the organization where you want to intern, or have another personal connection. A personal referral is great if you have one, but if you don't, it shouldn't discourage you. A strong background along with a well-written cover letter and resume should get you in the door.
Heather Skyler is a journalist and novelist who has written for wide variety of publications, including Newsweek, The New York Times and SKY magazine.