The Best-Ever “Internship-Wanted” Letter – Seven Thoughts to “Open the Door”

“If I had any humility I would be perfect.” 

Ted Turner

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORY”: According to recently published reports, an “Internship-Wanted” cover letter sent by a San Diego University student to a Manhattan investment firm was so humble, so straightforward and so refreshingly honest that it simply “wowed” those who reviewed it, and got him the position. In fact, it seems, it also “wowed” other firms who received it, and may even get him internship offers from them. No top school. No genius skills. Only a top-notch cover letter. 

The young fellow, an undergraduate finance major who penned the acclaimed “best ever cover letter,” described himself in his resume cover letter as “a fairly average student” who has “no unbelievably special skills or genius eccentricities.” So what got him the hard-to-get job at the highly prestigious investment bank in Manhattan? Mainly the words and phrases that conveyed a top-notch attitude of honesty, humility and deep desire.

According to reports, this young man portrayed himself as humble, eager to learn, and willing to do whatever tasks he was assigned – and I do mean “whatever”: in his letter he openly and powerfully stated that he had no problem with either “fetching coffee” or – get this – “shining shoes.” Well, perhaps this is going a tad too far. 

Humility, confidence, candor, willingness to do anything needed . . . all the attributes of an employee with a great attitude. Every employer loves job candidates  – and employees – with great attitudes. Who doesn’t? Everyone, whether or not they are employers, employees or otherwise, like to be around people with great, positive, productive attitudes.  

One of the investment firm partners commented, “We thought he had the kind of values we want – humility, transparency, a strong work ethic.” A company spokesperson added, “We get a lot of interest in a limited number of positions . . . he broke through the clutter.” “Break through the clutter” – what a great turn of phrase to describe what an “Internship-Wanted” cover letter needs to make happen, because I will tell you, as an employer, after reading through 200 resumes for one or two job openings, it all does start to feel like “clutter.” 

It turns out a lot of Wall Street firms got a copy of this particular college student’s cover letter and resume, and the feedback has been entirely positive. To his surprise, he may actually have to choose which of several internship offers he wants to accept. Quite a turn of events for a young fellow who describes himself as “a fairly average student.”

LESSON TO LEARN: As we all know, there are more job candidates seeking job openings than there are job openings seeking job candidates. The situation is even more dire for college students and recent college graduates now entering the workforce, and that is the case for even graduates of the most “prestigious” colleges and universities. 

Over the last ten years or so, internships – both paid and unpaid – have become the path that takes inexperienced job candidates and gives them both (i) experience on their resumes, and (ii) the most effective “introduction” possible to potential employers. And the trend is bound to continue; more and more employers use internship programs as a decidedly low-way to efficiently recruit promising young employees who are worthy of their investment of time and training. 

So, then, how do you get an internship? There are a number of ways, from your Uncle Mortimer’s friend, to your camp counselor’s cousin. For the majority of young job candidates who don’t have such “connections,” the best path to an internship is submission of a resume accompanied by a “best ever” cover letter. 

Is there one “best-in-the-world” resume cover letter? Of course not. But there are more effective cover letters and there are less effective cover letters. To make sure yours is closer to “best ever,” here are a few helpful thoughts to bear in mind if you are preparing to seek internships:    

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Here are seven thoughts for the internship-seekers among us to help them make their own cover letters the “best ever”:       

1. The Focus to Keep: The Reading “Experience.” Bear in mind the underlying purpose of your resume and its cover letter: to sell yourself. If there is one thing every job seeker must learn, it’s that you must focus like a laser beam on the prospective “buyer’s experience.” Would you go back to a restaurant if the waiter ignored you, or the management yelled at you? If the room temperature was freezing, and bathrooms smelly? Probably not.

Always put yourself in the “customer’s” shoes, and think about their “experience,” as if you were the “customer,” yourself. What would your thoughts be if you were the employer, and received your cover letter and resume? Hopefully, that you like what you read, and want to make a “purchase.” Consider testing your view by having others read your letter. At least for the moment, forget about what you want and need, and think about what the prospective employer wants and needs. At this moment, it is more important than anything else.   

2. The Impact to Make: “Break Through the Clutter.” I just love the phrase “break through the clutter,” as there is so much “clutter” in life, and it is a constant challenge to “break through” it. There is no one secret to grabbing the attention and touching the heart of a reader. Instead, it’s a combination of what you say, how you say it, and the reader’s own receptiveness. Bearing in mind who your readers will likely be, try to make your cover letter a bit different, on the unique side, and one that will “reach through” and make an impact of the positive kind.   

3. The Image to Project: A Team Player. Every employer is a kind of large team, or a large organization composed of many small teams. When considering who to hire, employers rarely if ever seek loners, individualists or antisocial people. Don’t fail to mention how much you have worked with teams – sports teams, volunteer teams, or taken part in other group efforts – and how you have thrived as a team player.  

4. The Attitude to Convey: Humble, Authentic, Hard-working and Hungry-minded. What kind of person do you like working with? Someone who refuses to get his or her hands dirty, even when there’s “dirty work” to be done? Or someone who is ready, willing and eager to do “whatever it takes” to get the job done? A braggart who really has nothing to brag about, or one who delivers even more than he or she promises? In landing a job, some say that “Attitude is everything.”     

5. The Message to Send: You represent a “value proposition.” Those seeking internships have something of a disadvantage: they have little or no experience. On the other hand, that may actually have a great advantage: they are not expected to have any experience, and so represent – excuse the expression – “raw material” that can be molded by the employer into exactly the employee they seek. So, all they are really expecting is the best possible attitude, drive and personality. The winning “value proposition” is this: “I know I am not of much value to you now, but – look at the person I am – if you give me the opportunity, experience and training, I will be the best you ever saw.”

In business, that is called “low investment, high return,” that is, high return on investment (“ROI.”) That is a very compelling “value proposition.”   

6. The Boundaries to Keep: Perhaps it’s a “Facebook” Thing. My own advice – and I am out of college a mere 40 years – is that you should take care not to possibly offend anyone in your cover letter. This means, among other things, not using any kind of “off-color” words or phrases.

On the other hand, the “best ever” cover letter noted above included the phrase “line of crapp,” and no one seemed bothered by it. I have seen a successful “Internship-Wanted” cover letter promise to be a “kick-ass intern,” another phrase I would have warned against. Recently, I saw a highly successful internet pioneer publicly suggest to aspiring interns that “you need to show you are not a douche-bag.” Not my style, that is for sure, but as they say, “the world is changing,” and some people seem to think such language shows authenticity, individuality or personality. I still caution against potentially upsetting words and phrases.    

7. The Length to Aim For: One Page Maximum. While there has never been a rule that did not have an exception to it, it’s generally not a good idea to make your cover letter into a book-long “novel.” If, even for a moment, it seems like a lot of work to read your “novel,” chances are it is headed toward the garbage can. Keep it short, brief and crisp. One page, maximum is the “rule,” unless you have a very good reason to break the rule.

You may want to obtain by instant download – in your hands in just one minute – our two Model Cover Letters for Seeking an Internship. Both have been used by others successfully – and one is the exact “best-ever” cover letter noted above. Like all our Model Letters and Memos, they show you “What to Say, and How to Say It,™” and are available for your adaptation and use. If interested, just [click here.]

These Seven Thoughts to open the door for internship-seekers should be of significant help to you in preparing your own “Internship-Wanted” cover letter. No one letter is perfect for all seekers, and all situations, but these guidelines are universally applicable and should prove universally helpful. At SkloverWorkingWisdom,™ that is what we strive to offer.      


SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and build value and avoid risks at every point in your career. We strive to help you understand what is commonly before you, and know what to “watch out” for. Regarding “Internship-Wanted“ cover letters, these are the essentials you need to know. Now the rest is up to you.       

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about. 

*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.     

Please Note: This Email Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale. 

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© 2013 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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