We've written a lot about the link between college and the workforce — and the kinds of skills graduates will need in the 21st century to succeed. One of the skills you need is knowing how to present yourself. To put your best foot forward in the workplace, and in life.
And so, as we started to read the current round of internship applications, we have some advice for you.
The problem we see, over and over and over again? Well, let's just say your cover letter needs some work.
More often than not, the problems are there right from the very first sentence. Actually the first three words: "I am writing ..."
As in: "I am writing to express my interest in an internship" or "I am writing to apply for the internship with NPR."
Think about that for a moment: You've written to us to tell us that you're writing to us to apply for the internship that you've applied for.
(By the way, we blame the Internet for a lot of this form-letter stuff.)
In letters that start off that way, things usually head downhill from there. You're then probably going to tell us, in a lot of multisyllabic words, how you'll apply your creativity and your passion and your research and analytical skills, and the perspective you've gained in your academic work/daily blog writing/study abroad semester/volunteer experience to become a "dynamic" and "hard-working" member of our team.
Read that sentence out loud. Try doing it without taking a breath. See what we're talking about?
Continuing from there, you'll then praise us at NPR for our dedication to the mission of exploring the complex policy initiatives that are something something about America's something something education system.
Then, having put us to sleep with writing like that, you'll tell us about your writing skills.
Now, all of this isn't meant to poke fun at you. We're just trying to make it clear that, when you write us that paragraph, we pretty much tune out from there. Which is sad, because so many of you are amazing and talented students who've done some incredible things. You've started a nonprofit or traveled the world or raised a sibling or learned a third language or have insights into a culture or community that others don't know about.
It's sad, too, because in many cases you really like us and really want to work here. Usually, you're about to tell us, that's because you grew up listening to NPR in the back seat of the car while your parents had us on the radio and you came to admire the work that we do.
So, instead of all that, here are five things you can try:
Tell us a story
Here at NPR, that's what we do for a living. We tell stories, and the goal is to be interesting and exciting and make people want to keep on listening or reading. Stories have characters and movement ... well, you get the point. And so to introduce yourself to us right off the bat, and get us eager to know more about you, show us your stuff writing-wise.
Let's illustrate. Which of these, drawn from actual examples, would you rather read?
I am applying for the position of NPR Fall Intern. I believe that my strong interest in education topics and background in research qualify me for this internship. My undergraduate and postgraduate academic careers have taught me to critically analyze and synthesize large amounts of data quickly. I also have experience conducting research in corporate and office settings.
The first time I ever went on live television, I was in Lahore, Pakistan. By the time I ended up in Pakistan this past January, being on camera wasn't new to me. I had several years of on-camera experience under my belt traveling around the world with an educational travel show for kids. When I lived in Los Angeles, I spent my hard-earned bartending money on TV hosting classes for a year.
If you're like us, you'd much rather read that second one. It was written by one of our actual interns, Kat Lonsdorf.
Don't bury the lede
We're always afraid that, hidden down below, somewhere after that awful first paragraph, there's a fascinating person with great ideas. And we might not ever find out. It's a basic lesson of journalistic writing: Put the good stuff right up there at the top. Grab us and hold us and keep us reading.
Ask not what your internship can do for you ...
To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, don't tell us what you'll get out of the internship, but what you can do for us.
Here's what you should avoid:
As a recent college graduate in the humanities, I believe I stand to benefit from the development of skills and career direction which an NPR internship provides.
I believe that NPR is the ideal internship for me as the position will allow me to explore ...
Aim at the right target
It's so nice when we get letters from people who've made it clear they're interested in our topic: how learning happens, and that you've read what we do. Slip in a comment that shows you've listened to a story or two, or checked out our blog. And maybe tell us — without a lot of big words and jargon — what you think about schools or teaching or education.
Instead of, "To Whom It May Concern," put our actual names (If you're applying to the NPR Ed internship, our names are at the top of this story) in the heading of your letter.
** Extra bonus: a story idea or two that you'd like to see us write about.
Have someone else read your letter
We call this editing. Spellcheck is great, but take the next step: Have someone look over your letter to check for misspellings. They can find punctuation mistakes or long, clunky sentences. If you can't find someone, read your letter out loud.
In the journalism world, all these things are important. But they might help you in lots of other fields, too.
Good luck! We're looking forward to reading your letter. Oh, and the deadline is Sunday, March 4. No extensions.
This post was updated Feb. 7, 2018.
What Should You Include in a Cover Letter for a Law Internship?
A strong cover letter can help you stand out from other candidates
Internships go hand-in-hand with law school. If you're currently pursuing your law degree, you’ve probably heard countless times how important it is to complete an internship before you graduate. Many experts recommend that you do several internships to give yourself the best chance at getting a full-time job.
But it can be difficult to set yourself apart from other candidates when you’re a student with limited work experience.
This is where a well-written, thoughtful cover letter comes in. It can be a powerful tool for securing a law internship, an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise, work ethic, knowledge, and passion for the subject.
Don’t just repeat and retell your resume. Tailoring your cover letter to a particular firm's specialties and needs can help you stand out as a polished and professional applicant. Your cover letter should show your personality and give specific examples—either from your work in school or in a previous internship—of how you can fulfill the internship's responsibilities.
Some Tips and Some Things to Keep in Mind
You’ll notice from this sample cover letter that the student wastes no time explaining who she is and what she’s accomplished so far. It’s right there in the first sentence, and that's good. This is important information. Don’t make your reader hunt for it.
The third paragraph in this sample letter demonstrates the writer’s knowledge and understanding of the law firm she's applying to.
She understands the types of cases it takes on and what it seems to want to achieve. The writer uses this to mention why she would be a good match for this firm given these considerations.
Close by expressing your gratitude for the opportunity and for the time this individual has already invested in reading your letter and your resume because the words “thank you” can go a long way.
It’s always better to offer more contact information than less. Consider if you only provided your cell number, then you lose your phone. The law firm can't reach you and might decide to just move on to the next candidate. You want to be reachable 24/7.
You might also pave the road for follow-up. Mention that you’ll be in touch by phone within a certain period of time if you don’t hear anything back.
Sample Cover Letter for a Law Internship
Helen Marie Jenkins
4 Birch Court
Los Angeles, CA 43212
February 11, 20XX
Ms. Kerry Ann Monroe
Vice President of Human Resources
l Jones, Mills, and Peters, LLC
566 Treeway Avenue
Newport Beach, CA 89079
Dear Ms. Monroe:
As a current law student and previous intern with the prestigious law firm of Jenks, Jenks, and Jenks, LLC, it is with great enthusiasm that I am writing to apply for the summer internship position as a legal intern for Jones, Mills, and Pets, LLC. My knowledge, skills, and experience are a perfect match for this summer internship, and I think you’ll agree that I meet all of the qualifications as stipulated in the LA Gazette.
As president of the Student Government Association at UCLA, I participated in numerous clubs on campus and assisted in identifying and working on many causes for the betterment of the community.
Our environmental club initiated a project that cleaned and restored safe drinking water in a local stream bed that had become polluted over time, and our Community Action Club worked with the local domestic violence and homeless shelters to offer assistance and compensation for clients to get back on their feet after experiencing hard times and social isolation. I worked with each of the club presidents to develop a financial plan that not only increased revenue but also permitted donations to stream into these local charitable organizations.
I am a community minded citizen who wants to make a positive change in the world. I believe my talents and motivation would be an asset to Jones, Mills, and Peters, LLC, in the work they do for the local community and their commitment to making the city a safer and better place to live.
The mission of Jones, Mills, and Peters, LLC, is exactly the type of environment in which I hope to work upon graduation next year.
I am excited about the possibility of speaking with you further about this outstanding opportunity with your firm. I will call next week to discuss my candidacy in hopes of securing an interview in the near future. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Helen Marie Jenkins
You're Not Finished Yet
Write your letter, proofread it, then proofread it again. You must avoid any grammatical errors or typos. Both can indicate that you just don’t care about your work. Consider asking someone else to read your letter, too. A cold eye can add a layer of insurance even when it comes to your delivery—if your reader doesn't understand a certain point you're trying to make, odds are that the law firm won't either.
Above all, double-check to make sure you have the name of the firm and its hiring personnel correct. Can you spot the error in the sample letter here? You can bet Ms. Monroe will.