An internship, or any first accounting job, is an essential step in any career path. The better the opportunity, the more valuable the experience and connections gained. It’s worth the effort to win one of those coveted spots. And it is an effort: an often fierce competition with similar applicants. To stand out, you need a powerful cover letter that strikes the right tone, shares the best information, and makes the perfect pitch for the position you want.
The Art of the Cover Letter
There is a specific art to writing a cover letter. It’s a business letter, in format and tone. In content, however, it falls into the category of sales material. You’re selling yourself: your education, skills, and abilities. A cover letter is not the place to rewrite your resume in paragraph form. Instead, it is a supplement to your resume. A powerful cover letter will help you create a connection while also telling the story of who you are, what you offer, and why you’re right for the position.
The right tone is professional, confident, and friendly without being too casual. Be sure to follow the accepted structure and formatting rules for a cover letter. You can use a cover letter template, but any formal business letter template will do. Once you’ve written the letter, proofread it carefully. Let it sit for a day, then proofread again. You might be surprised how often employers receive cover letters with the wrong firm name or position listed—show your potential employer that you’re detail-oriented and take pride in your work.
Get feedback from a trusted professional mentor, if possible. At the least, have a friend or colleague review the letter for errors you might have missed. Cover letters are brief—a few paragraphs, at most—so each sentence counts. Hiring managers will spend mere seconds scanning, then make a quick decision. Any errors in your cover letter hinder your ability to stand out as a candidate.
While the entire cover letter matters, the first few sentences matter most. Your introduction is your first impression. It determines whether the hiring manager keeps reading or moves on to the next applicant.
Make a First Impression
The problem with most cover letter introductions is simple: they are boring. They tend to state the obvious. While you don’t need to create an ingenious hook, you should provide a backstory and sincerely share why you’re applying.
Use those first sentences to paint a picture of yourself as a person. Your story could come from anything that connects to your career choice. Consider your passions and interests, including how your current position impacts the organization and industry you serve. Think back on your family history, your early fascination with numbers, and your high school career. Be sure to share any special ties you have to the industry and why you’re interested in working with that company specifically.
Consider this standard introduction:
I learned of Smith Financial Firm’s career opening from a college professor, and I am very interested in securing an internship for the upcoming summer with Smith’s Summer CPA Internship Program. I am a second-year student at State Public University, with a concentration on accounting and finance.
Now consider this introductory story:
I became fascinated with Smith Financial Firm in my first accounting course. My grandfather almost lost his jewelry business due to disorganized books and a poor understanding of tax laws. Smith’s focus on helping small business owners establish a sustainable family legacy ties into my own career motivation. Since that freshman course two years ago, gaining an internship in the annual Smith Financial Summer Program has been my aim.
The second introduction conveys the same information as the first, inside a personal story. It creates a connection between your family history, career motivation, and the internship.
Mention Key Relationships
“The relationships you form during an internship have the potential to influence your entire career. Being intentional and proactive with your network could mean having possible references that will speak on your behalf in the future,” says Melissa Berndt, Partner of Shared Services and General Counsel. “And the connections you already have can help begin that process.” Outside of professionals in your desired industry, peers, professors, and other mutual connections to the company all count toward your network. In most cases, if you have a relevant network connection, it’s best to mention it in the introductory paragraph. Assume that any person you mention will be contacted as a reference. Include the nature of your relationship and the specific recommendation, if any.
One sentence is enough:
I learned of ABC Firm’s internship opportunity through Professor Hamilton, who thought it would be a good fit.
My mentor, Jamal Jones, has worked with Smith Financial Firm for years and recommended that I seek an internship this summer.
An old family friend, Tim Patel, is a long-time client of the firm; he brought the Smith Financial Firm to my attention.
Be sure to include why you’re applying and why you see yourself as a great candidate. Outside of a recommendation or referral, why are you applying? What are you hoping to learn? Many internships are built around technical training, but sharing your goals and skills can help hiring managers set you up for success.
Know What the Firm Wants
All accounting firms—from the Big Four to a smaller firm—value similar qualities in an intern. “Interns with a strong work ethic and a positive attitude who are interested in continually learning and improving are going to get more out of their internship experience and provide true value to the firm,” says Hayley Dolfay, HR Specialist. “Investing in people who are coachable and willing to work is crucial to our business at Aldrich. Our ideal intern, at their core, is enjoyable to work with and contributes positively to our company culture.”
In your cover letter, you can show both your baseline qualifications and your long-term interest in working with the firm.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Why did you apply for the position?
- What are you looking for in a new role?
- Why do you want to work at this company?
- How does your prior experience fit the role?
This is your chance to explain why you are the best match for the internship position. Highlight the experiences you have that best match what is listed in the internship description.
If you want to stand out, however, don’t stop there. Research the firm and the internship program. Discover the skills and specializations most important for the position. Then, share a particular combination of information: qualifications enabling you to excel and specific achievements making you an even more valuable contributor.
Close with Confidence
Finally, close the letter with a confident appeal. You’ve told a story and demonstrated your qualifications, both general and specific. Use the closing to make a good final impression:
Reiterate your interest: A summer internship with ABC Firm is the perfect way to prepare myself for an ongoing role in the future.
Highlight an experience on your resumé: My experience as a bookkeeping assistant will allow me to be productive without delay.
Or wrap things up with a reference to your opening story: My grandfather would certainly be impressed with an internship at such a prestigious firm.
Then end with a call to action neatly packaged in appreciation, such as “I look forward to hearing from you,” or “I am eager to learn more about how I can best contribute to the firm’s continued success.”
The time and effort needed to write a powerful cover letter are substantial. However, the right internship could be a pivotal stepping stone for your career. Putting the time and energy into a cover letter is an investment in your future and could result in a meaningful job that aligns with your skills and passions.