The Importance of Cover Letters

Follow these five steps to write an effective and thoughtful internship application, plus more tips, FAQs and perspectives! 

Give yourself ample time to write a cover letter. While we know it isn’t always possible to have weeks of advanced notice, it takes hours and effort to carefully craft statements on why you are excited about an opportunity and strong examples of why you are the best candidate for a position. The more you practice, the easier this process will become. Remember that you need to write an original cover letter for each position you apply to: it should be specific to the qualifications the organization states they are looking for and specific to the organization itself.  

Cover Letter Writing in Five Steps, modified from our Cover Letter How-To Guide: 

Step 1: Gather your materials

  • Have your resume and the job description on hand to review.  Find something to take notes with (i.e. Google doc, sheet of paper, etc.), and make a new document for the cover letter.

Step 2: Review the position description 

  • Read the job description fully, making sure you fit the desired criteria, and highlight key words and phrases that you find to be important and/or interesting to you.

Step 3: Research the organization

  • The knowledge you gain from researching the employer will allow you to write a more informed and customized letter, targeted to the position and organization. 

Step 4: Select your examples 

  • Choose the 2-3 most important aspects of the position description that you believe match your qualifications. Select important or relevant experiences in your life that show you have demonstrated these abilities.  
  • Use the STAR Method to write a paragraph about each of these selected experiences succinctly and effectively. Remember that these are situational examples you are describing, not lists of tasks you completed.  

Step 5: Align with your resume 

  • Go back to your resume and make sure that the way you describe your experiences in your cover letter aligns with how you are framing them in your resume. Update or rearrange information when necessary (remember that this is called targeting your resume!).

Cover Letter Truths, Myths and Tips

  • I don’t have to write a custom cover letter for each internship I apply to, right? 
    • Wrong! Each of your body paragraphs in your cover letters should be illustrating skills and qualifications outlined in a position description, while the letter should also showcase your knowledge and interest in the organization. How could you possibly do this effectively with a template cover letter? 
  • How do I end a cover letter without sounding presumptuous or repetitive? 
    • Former PCAs Shikha Jha ‘22 and Jenny Jung ‘22 put it best, “To end a cover letter, Jenny and I both suggest using something along the lines of “Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.” to finish the last paragraph. I think it’s a great way to end a cover letter with gratitude but still keep the tone as one looking into the future.”
  • Is CV short for cover letter? 
    • No! It’s a common mistake. CV stands for the Latin term curriculum vitae, which is an ongoing list of all academic and professional accomplishments used in certain professional fields. It is a term that some people use interchangeably with the word resume, but in the US, they are technically two different kinds of documents. 
    • If an application requires a cover letter, it will always be written out in full. Learn more about CVs in our Resume How To Guide
  • What’s the difference between a cover letter and a personal statement? 
    • A cover letter asks you to dissect the job description, pull out key criteria and match those qualifications to experiences you have outlined in your resume to show that you are the best candidate for the position. 
    • A personal statement usually asks you (check each prompt to confirm) to think about past experiences that have prepared you for the opportunity while looking ahead to how the opportunity can help you achieve future goals. Make sure that you address every point outlined in the prompt.
  • Should I approach short answer questions on an application like a cover letter? 
    • Usually! Use the STAR Method to describe a contextual example in order to showcase your past experiences and qualifications– just be sure that you are answering the question that is being asked, and, if a cover letter is also required, that you’re not repeating yourself. 
    • If short answer questions ask about the future, you can still use the STAR Method to imagine how this experience will help you attain your goals.

Peer Career Advisor Perspectives On Cover Letters

Carla Mattaliano ’24 Writes…

  1. First, it’s important to be as detailed as possible. When I read your cover letter, I don’t want to only hear you fundraised money for an organization; I want to know what you did exactly. Did you write/edit donation request letters, develop a GoFundMe page, manage bookkeeping, etc.?
  2. Another tip is to sound confident. Students often use a cover letter to explain why they don’t have as many relevant experiences as they would like. I say, instead of dwelling on where you feel you fall short, emphasize the skills and knowledge that you do possess.
  3. Lastly, show genuine interest in your relevant past experiences. It’s impressive you were selected to be a teaching assistant for a 40-student class, but it’s also helpful to talk about why you enjoyed this position—getting to know other students, learning to problem solve, etc.
Ashley Sanchez smiling

Former PCA Ashley Sanchez Melo ’23 suggests…

  1. Use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) Method!!! It helps you be specific and really paint a picture for readers of what you did, why you did it, and what came out of it.
  2. If you are unsure how to tackle the cover letter, try talking to a friend or pretend that you are talking to someone else. Explain the experience you want to write about and what you are trying to convey out loud. Imagine someone asking you questions like, “How did you do that? How many times did you do that? How many people were there? Why were you doing that? But what did you do specifically? Why is that relevant?”
  3. Remember, a cover letter (and a resume) is not the end of the conversation. Be as specific as you can, but also do not feel like you need to expand on every single experience you have had. You can always say more about anything that is on (or not on) your resume/cover letter in an interview!

Looking for more information about cover letter development? Check out our How-To Guide

Supplemental Cover Letter Content 

By Emily Tareila
Emily Tareila Program Director, Charles Hamilton Houston Internship Program