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Top Tips: How to nail your cover letter for an internship with no previous experience

A person in a yellow sweater types on a laptop

Whether you’re applying for your first professional role or are making an industry change, you may end up writing a cover letter for an internship with no previous experience. This might seem like a daunting task, but don’t worry. Most professionals apply for at least one position they don’t have the experience for in their careers. Keep in mind that having no relevant professional experience isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, particularly when it comes to internships.

Unlike full-time roles, the primary goal of an internship is gaining experience, and using your skills in a professional setting. The main focus of most internships isn’t to be the company’s top performer or to act as a full-time employee. In fact, many of the internship placements you’ll see advertised don’t require any prior experience. Instead, organizations tend to ask for relevant coursework or even just a passion for the field.

Of course, even if an internship position doesn’t require previous experience, it probably does require you to submit a cover letter. Now, usually, when you write a cover letter for a job, you dig into your prior professional experience that makes you well-qualified. It’s obviously difficult to write a cover letter for an internship with no experience. But you don’t need to have prior internships or jobs to explain why you want a specific internship, or to describe the specific value you’ll add to a team. Consider focusing on your studies, your goals, your transferable skills, and anything that might make you stand out. If you’re wondering where to start, try these five tips:


1. Focus on your transferable skills

Transferable skills are the name of the game when it comes to finding an internship or job. If the first thing you think when you read about transferable skills is “I don’t have any,” think again! It’s impossible to go through life without acquiring certain transferable skills. Think about how you spend your time – are you a student? Do you work in a grocery store? Maybe you’re a nanny, or you mow lawns over the summer. Maybe you’re an aspiring artist. Each of these activities comes with valuable transferable skills. Some of the most common and useful transferable skills include self-motivation, creativity, organization, and communication. In an internship, you’ll likely be asked to call upon each of those skills, even if not directly. In a cover letter, think about which of your transferable skills will be the most useful in the role you hope to be hired for. Focus on your experience using that skill, as well as how you envision yourself using it as an intern.


2. Be specific about why you want the internship

If you don’t have prior relevant experience, it’s particularly important to be specific and intentional in your cover letter. Explain to the hiring manager why you’re interested in this company, this role, and this particular field. Your cover letter should make it clear that you’ve done your homework on the internship, and know what it entails. It’s also a great way to loop in your professional goals. In addition to explaining what you’ll bring to the internship, take some time to illustrate what you’ll do with that experience. What doors will the position open for you?Again, remember that most companies view internships as opportunities to help young professionals learn, and to provide an experience that will help them excel in the field.


A young woman working at a laptop laughs at the camera


3. Explain your long-term career goals

It’s a great idea to discuss your longer-term goals, and how the position you’re applying for fits that plan. Or, maybe you don’t quite have a plan, and you’re hoping to do an internship to hone your interests and get a sense of the field. Whatever the case may be, make sure you outline your intentions and trajectory, however briefly, in your cover letter. This tip ties in closely to tip #2, because you want to be as specific as possible about your goals, and how the position will help you achieve them. If possible, mention how your personal and professional goals align with the mission of the company or the team you’re hoping to join. Outlining your goals is also a great way to demonstrate that you’ve done your research on the organization, its culture, and values.


4. Illustrate an experience that makes you unique

Even if you don’t have prior professional experience, you still want to stand out in the application process. Try to identify an experience that makes you unique, and articulate what you have learned from that experience that you’ll bring to the role. Did you always think you wanted to be a lawyer, but realized in your last year of university that your true passion was journalism? Maybe you’ve known the career path you wanted to follow since you were a child. Maybe a very specific person or experience inspired you to follow this particular professional path. Find something that might be different from other applicants. While you don’t need to focus your cover letter too much on this experience, it adds a bit of color, and can act as a nice introduction to your transferable skills and goals.


5. Phone a friend

If you’re still unsure about how to approach your cover letter, reach out for advice. If you have a friend or a connection who works at the company you’re applying to, ask them if they’d be willing to chat for a few minutes about what it’s like to work there. Take time to ask them about what matters most to hiring managers, and what qualities make a successful team member. If you don’t have any connections at the company, reach out to someone in the industry, and ask for their advice about what is most important. This insider look might help you decide what to focus on most, in both your cover letter and your application in general.


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  1. Work flow, by Christin Hume on Unsplash.
  2. Photoshoot of two young lawyers, by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash.
Photos and blog by Maeve Allsup

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The International Internships Blog is a collaboration by The Intern Group staff, alumni and current participants to give you career advice & tips, program information, & so much more!

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