So You’re Writing Cover Letters

List of sites: check. Updated CV: check. Essays: check. Time to start working on cover letters. As with the essays, I suggest giving yourself plenty of time to work on your cover letters. Unlike the essays, which can be written with a somewhat general emphasis towards a type of internship, your cover letters are unique to each internship to which you apply. You have to write a personalized cover letter to go with every application you plan to submit. Every. Single. One.

On the up side, you will most likely be applying to sites that are similar to each other, so you can recycle paragraphs to save a lot of time. Just make sure you change the DCT’s name and name of the site throughout each letter. In Phase II last year, I was operating under a time crunch to get all of my applications in, and I realized after the fact that one of my letters concluded with “For all of these reasons, I am very interested in pursuing an internship with [different site].” The funny thing was, the site to which I submitted that application offered me an interview. That’s Phase II for you – I will go more into this in a later post.

With the internship crisis, there are more applicants than there are internships available. Students are applying to more and more sites to try and increase their odds, and sites are receiving more and more applications. It’s getting more and more difficult to stand out from the crowd and get an interview. When I first started writing my cover letters, I went to some business blogs to get tips. One thing that stood out for me was a business executive who pointed out that the first word of almost every cover letter is “I.” The writer suggested opening with something more creative. Then I found another blog that said not to diverge from a prototypical cover letter because any risk or divergence from the prototypical application could be taken negatively by the recipient. (I could not find the links to put here, sorry.)

I chose to take the “go big or go home” approach to my applications, but that is certainly not the only way to go. My cover letters all opened with a question: “What is the most important factor in evaluating prospective interns?” I went on to discuss the elusive “fit” component and articulate why I felt I belonged at that site. I then went on, per the advice of my DCT, to briefly describe my program’s qualifications and my dissertation progress. My next paragraph provided a specific account of the components of that internship and how they fit with my training goals, followed by a description of my previous experiences that I felt had prepared me to thrive at that internship. Then I discussed briefly my career goals, tying them into my reasons for pursuing this particular internship, and reiterated my interest in that program.

Don’t forget to double check all training brochures for anything the site might want you to include. For example, one site wanted cover letters to be 500 words or less (really?), and another site wanted a paragraph about my strengths and weaknesses as a candidate. Also, APPIC has a really big character limit for cover letters, so I would recommend not going too much over a page with your cover letters. No one wants to read a three page cover letter.

My last piece of advice has to do with editing. When I started my cover letters, I wanted to plow through the first drafts as quickly as possible. Since I was going off of a template, this became a major annoyance later on when I had to correct for typos in identical paragraphs across 17 different letters. Write your first cover letter and let it sit for a day or two. Then proofread. Then proofread again. Then have 1-3 others proofread it also (remember the people who reviewed your essays?). Then, when you know you’re happy with that letter, use it as a template for the other letters. It will save you so much hassle in the long run, trust me.

Your cover letter is a representation of why each program would meet your training needs, and why you would thrive in that program’s environment. It’s your change to catch the eye of the DCT and make them want to get to know you better in an interview.

Next week I will talk about supplemental materials.