Magazine Intern Cover Letter

Over the last five years, I’ve read something like 500 applications for entry-level media jobs. Over time, I’ve spotted many talented people, including a number of recent college graduates who are now valued Slate employees. Slate is a small company, so when it’s time to make a hire, a list of three great HR-approved candidates does not magically appear on my desk. I write the ads (like this one) and read all of the responses myself—and after scaling mountains of cover letters I’ve developed some opinions I can no longer hold back.

The most important one is this: Many young people seem to have no idea how to apply for a job. What I see time after time from young media hopefuls are not the classic no-nos, like misspellings and typos, but what appears to be a fundamental lack of understanding of how to sell oneself to a prospective employer. While I certainly don’t speak for all media folk or even all of the editors at Slate, allow me to offer some guidance to current college students and recent grads. Some of my advice may sound familiar, but based on the applications I’m seeing, there are plenty of green job-seekers out there who could use these pointers.

Focus on the cover letter. It is not uncommon for me to get 100 applications for one spot, so I’m constantly looking for reasons not to advance a candidate to the interview round. Writing a good cover letter is your best shot at getting noticed. If I hate a cover letter, I won’t even look at the résumé.

Keep it short. I started putting word limits on cover letters because I couldn’t stand, nor did I have the time to read, the epically long letters I’d receive. I’m going to give your letter maybe 30 seconds of my time. If you are interested in a job in journalism, you should be able to tell me about yourself and why I should hire you in less than 200 words. I’ve never hired someone with a longwinded cover letter. Same goes for résumés. No one with fewer than four years of full time work experience needs more than a page. Your summer lifeguarding job does not need five bullet points.

Avoid awkward phrasing and attempts to be overly formal. Introductions like “With this statement, I declare my interest in the position you have advertised on your website” are clumsy and should be avoided. Start with a strong but simple opener, like “I'm excited to be writing to you to apply for the blogging position at Slate.” Conversational is much better than stilted.

You are your best advocate. It’s not uncommon for me to get a cover letter that opens with, “I am sure you are getting many qualified applicants for this job, many of whom are more qualified than I.” If you don’t believe you are the best candidate, why should I? This letter is your chance to sell yourself. Don’t plant the seed in my mind that you aren’t the best candidate for the job. You don’t want to be overly cocky, but I’ll take confident over meek any day.

Show me that you read my site. It’s common for cover letter writers to say, “I love Slate,” but that doesn’t stand out to me. Be more specific. Who are your favorite writers? What are some recent articles you enjoyed? Detailed flattery will get you further, because it shows you’ve done your homework. Ninety percent of the cover letters I read for our news blog, the Slatest, mention nothing specific about that particular blog. Here’s what one applicant for a recent position wrote (spoiler: I hired him): “I'm particularly drawn to a dynamic news outlet like the Slatest. I appreciate its blend of politics and current affairs, as well as its ability to consistently sniff out the most compelling news pieces and narratives. I dig its sense of humor, too—I can't resist a news blog that picks up on the latest North Korean, pigeon–eating propaganda pieces.”

Explain how selecting you will benefit me. This is where candidates often get it totally backward. I frequently read lines like: “I am applying for this paid internship because I think working at Slate would be highly beneficial for me, and would do a lot to help my future job prospects for a career in media for after I graduate from college.” I know how working at Slate would strengthen your résumé. But I am looking to you, candidate X, to solve a problem for me. My problem is that I need good interns. Explain to me how choosing you will solve my problem. Here’s how one candidate convinced me that his skills were pertinent to the role I was hiring for: “From my editorial experience as managing editor of 34th Street Magazine here at Penn, to my experience in news and culture blogging at LAist.com last summer, I've picked up the tools I need to perform as a Slatest intern with excellence.”

I’m not interested in anything you did before college. Leave anecdotes like this out:I am a born storyteller, and I’ve loved writing ever since I won an award for playwriting in the third grade for my series of puppet fairytales.” If you are early in your college career, then hopefully you still have relevant experiences and interests to write about. If you don’t, know that you’ll be competing with upperclassmen, college grads, and graduate students who do.

I’m not interested in your life journeys. This includes your experiences studying abroad, even if you had an amazing time. I get too many letters with paragraphs like: “I’ve wondered to myself, how can I translate my natural talent for the written word into a life path that is interesting and meaningful? I asked myself this question many times during my study abroad in Morocco. I loved working with the Moroccan farmers in helping feed their families, but I also longed for a way to feed my own passions for books, literature, and writing. As I enter my senior year, I think more and more that my true calling could be to be a journalist.” Save these musings for late night dorm room chats with your best friend.

When I read “senior thesis” my eyes glaze over. Despite the fact your academic advisers have convinced you these are really important, most people don’t care about them in the real world. Be wary of dwelling on what your topic is and PLEASE do not attach a chapter with your application. Writing a senior thesis has nothing to do with journalism. I’ll never open it, and I’ll resent you for sending it.

I don’t really care what classes you’ve taken, either. I’m much more interested in what you’ve done that relates to the skills needed for the position than I am in what you’ve studied. An interesting Tumblr account, a vibrant Twitter presence, or a personal blog on a topic you are passionate about is 10 times more compelling to me than your course load.

Your college and GPA aren’t as important as you think. This may be the biggest blow to you, grasshopper. In general, I don’t care about your GPA or whether you went to an Ivy League school, so definitely don’t expect this alone to swing open any doors for you. Of all the entry-level people I’ve hired, the one that went on to have the most successful career in media never finished college. If you are still in college, you should mention where you go and what you study. But the further out of college you are, the less I want to hear about where you went or how you did there.

Follow the application instructions to a T. I often give really specific instructions in the job posting, listing a word limit on cover letters, requesting exactly two writing samples, and noting a firm deadline for when applications are due. This is my first test in how good you are at taking direction. If you send four writing samples rather than two, that doesn’t make me think you are overqualified, it makes me think you can’t edit yourself or aren’t good at doing what is asked of you. Small mistakes like this help me figure out whom to eliminate, so tread carefully.

If you follow these instructions, you should have a good shot at making it to the top of the pile. It might not be long before you’re on the other side of the desk, reading cover letters yourself. Good luck.


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How to write an internship cover letter

Writing an internship cover letter is like peeling one of those big oranges. It’s tricky, and you can lose hope along the way, but it is necessary if you want to get to the fruit.

Read on for a step-by-step guide to writing a cover letter for an internship.

Before we begin...

Before we dive in, it might be a good idea to identify what an internship cover letter actually is. Otherwise, this could all get very confusing. A cover letter is a formal letter that is sent to an employer with a CV. Your cover letter should outline who you are, why you are interested in the internship, and why you are sending the employer your CV.

The primary aim of a cover letter is to introduce yourself to an employer, and silently urge them to read your CV. A cover letter should be short, and to the point. You do not need describe every single one of your talents.

The content of your cover letter should tease what is to come in your CV. To tantalise the employer, so that they are certain to read all of your CV, and invite you for an interview.

Step 1: To whom it may concern,

The opening address in a cover letter is remarkably important. It’s like the first flight of an albatross chick. If it takes to the wind, it will soar off the beach and into the sky, to a life of internships and career opportunities. If it falls and lands in the ocean, its feather will get wet, and it will almost immediately be ripped apart by tiger sharks.

If you address your cover letter to the wrong person, or to nobody all, tiger sharks will be the least of your problems. Recruiters and employers are woefully unimpressed by cover letters that are addressed to –

Dear Sir/Madam, and they go absolutely bananas if an internship cover letter begins with –

To whom it may concern,

How do you avoid their wrath? Find the name of the person who will be reading your cover letter. Start your internship cover letter like this:

Dear Full Name,             e.g. Dear John Smith,

Dear Mr Surname,          e.g. Dear Mr Smith,

Dear Ms Surname,         e.g. Dear Ms. Smith

(always write Ms instead of Miss/Mrs, don’t presume marital status)

Finding the recruiter’s name is not always easy. Sometimes, it can be like trying to find Where’s Wally in a book that is smaller than the ankle socks on a particularly small beetle. If you are struggling, you have a number of options…

  1.     1. Ring the company, and ask for the name of the person who is tasked with reading the cover letters for the internship you are applying for. (You could do this by email too).

Many organisations have a ‘no name’ policy for confidentiality reasons, so if they can’t give you a name…

  1.     2. Address your cover letter to the head of the department your internship is in.
  2.     3. If you cannot find the name of person that handles recruitment, address your internship letter to someone that works in human resources (HR).
  3.     4. As a last resort, address your cover letter to someone in the team you are applying to join.

If you address your cover letter any of these people, they will forward it to the relevant person. Your efforts will be recognised. There will be much cheering and clapping of hands.

Address your cover letter for an internship with Dear Sir/Madam or To whom it may concern… and your application will be treated like a turkey at Christmas – and not in a good way.

If you’re interested in finding out more about internships, visit our Internship Zone.

Step 2: Intro

Now that we have the first three words of your internship cover letter sorted, you can relax. For about three seconds. It’s time to tackle the body of your internship cover letter.

You need to specify what internship you are applying for. Write something along the lines of…

I am writing in regards of the vacancy for the consultancy internship with PwC,

Employers might be hiring interns for a number of different programmes; you need to ensure that you are being considered for the correct role.

It’s also a good idea to reference where you found the internship vacancy. Employers love to know what channels students use when looking for jobs. Here is an example –

as advertised on RateMyPlacement. Please find my CV attached.

Step 3: Company research

Now it’s time to let the recruiter know why you are interested in the internship. Don’t write ‘because mother told me to’. You want to give specific reasons why the company, or the content of the course have drawn you to this internship.

Do some research about the company that is organising the internship. Below is a list of areas that you should focus your research on…

  • Origins of company
  • Has the company been in the news recently
  • Any major projects the company have been involved in
  • Background of directors or the manager of the team you're applying to
  • Company values/vision

If you want to do some research on the programme you are applying for, check for any case studies or reviews written by previous interns.

RateMyPlacement has nearly 20,000 reviews of internships with some of the UK’s top employers. Each review is written by an intern, to offer honest advice and insight into their work experience. You can find our internship reviews here…

Now that you’ve done your research, you can return to your cover letter. Craft this paragraph around the question: why do you want to do this internship? Here is an example of how to approach this –

I am particularly drawn to this internship at PwC because of its concentration on sustainability and climate change consultancy. PwC is the market-leader in this field, and I am fascinated by the strategies PwC puts in place to help an organisation meet its social and environmental goals. I have been reading about PwC’s recent project, involving the implementation of new sustainability procedures in government buildings across the UK. My involvement in the ‘Clear Up Our Campus’ campaign at university was similar, and makes me a perfect candidate for this internship.

Here, you have shown you have specified why you are attracted to the course; you have demonstrated that you understand what the internship consists of; you have even commented on a recent project.

You have killed three ostrich-sized birds with one stone. Fantastic.

Step 4: Work experience & qualifications

Now we move onto your work experience, skills and qualifications, and why they make you perfect for the internship.

Ensure that you continue to keep the content of your internship cover letter relevant to the role on offer. If you can do a passable impression of Morgan Freeman, that’s great, but it won’t improve your chances of getting an interview.

What unique skills can you bring to the company? What previous work experience has prepared you for this internship? If you can answer these questions, employers will be under your spell. As if you were Hermione Granger. Or Ronald Weasley.

Try something like this –

As my CV describes, I am two years into a Sustainable Engineering degree, achieving high grades in modules that focussed on sustainable planning in urban environments. My studies have imparted a groundwork of knowledge, and analytical skills that are crucial for a career in this field of consultancy. I also have three years of work experience at The Bear Factory, which has imparted great collaborative skills.

Step 5: Outro

In this closing section, thank the recruiter for considering your application, and express your interest/availability for attending an interview. One sentence would do it.

It may seem strange, thanking a recruiter for considering your application. It’s very polite. Very wholesome. Something Tom Hanks would do. It is a great way of finishing your cover letter for an internship. Write –

Thank you for considering my application, I look forward to the opportunity to discuss the programme further in an interview.

Step 6: Ta-ra

If you started your covering letter with a personal name, such as ‘Dear Susie,’ end it with Yours SincerelyIf you didn’t manage to find the recruiter’s name, put Yours Faithfully.

Pen down and go find some cake. You’ve just finished your cover letter.

Internship cover letter example

The examples from each step in this guide have been put together to form a full example of an internship cover letter. This example is for a consultancy internship with PwC.

Dear John Smith,

I am writing in regards of the vacancy for the consultancy internship with PwC, as advertised on RateMyPlacement. Please find my CV attached.

I am particularly drawn to this internship at PwC because of its concentration on sustainability and climate change consultancy. PwC is the market-leader in this field, and I am fascinated by the strategies PwC puts in place to help an organisation meet its social and environmental goals. I have been reading about PwC’s recent project, involving the implementation of new sustainability procedures in government buildings across the UK. My involvement in the ‘Clear Up Our Campus’ campaign at university was similar, and makes me a perfect candidate for this internship.

As my CV describes, I am two years into a Sustainable Engineering degree, achieving high grades in modules that focussed on sustainable planning in urban environment. My studies have imparted a groundwork of knowledge, and analytical skills that are crucial for a career in this field of consultancy. I also have three years of work experience at The Bear Factory, which has imparted great collaborative skills.

Thank you for considering my application, I look forward to the opportunity to discuss the programme further in an interview.

Yours Sincerely,

Your Name.

Before you leave!

Before you return to watching The Crystal Maze, here are some top tips for you to remember when writing your cover letter.

  • - DON’T lie about work experience/qualifications. Recruiters are like Jessica Fletcher (from Murder, She Wrote) when discovering the truth.
  • - DON’T overshare. A cover letter (and CV) shouldn’t include personal information.
  • - TAILOR your cover letter to the internship you are applying for.
  • - DON’T undersell yourself. Remember Enrique Iglesias’ Hero. Your cover letter shouldn’t be a list of things you don’t have.
  • - DON’T forget to proof-read, and check for spelling and grammar.
  • - DON’T use clichés, or describe yourself using application buzzwords, such as ‘conscientious’ + ‘dynamic’. A panda can be conscientious and dynamic.

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If you are applying for an internship, check out our blog Internship CV: Your Guide & Template. It has an absolutely cracking CV template, and seven foolproof steps to writing a CV that employers will want to take home and frame.

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