Completing internships to gain practical experience during your studies is strongly recommended. But how can you find a suitable placement? And how do you write a convincing application for an internship? If you’ve ever pondered these questions, this is the perfect article for you! We’ll provide a whole host of useful tips and advice, all focusing on one key question: “What’s the best way to apply for an internship?”
Internships – a crucial way to open doors and launch a career
Completing internships while studying at university is an excellent way to shape your future career path and gain practical experience. When it comes to securing a job after graduation, it is clear that practical experience is a decisive factor in whether an application is successful or not. It is vital to refine your profile and gain professional experience – especially when it comes to business, a discipline that attracts high student numbers and offers numerous career opportunities. In addition to providing experience, internships also enable you to make valuable contacts in the world of work. Ultimately, internships and the practical experience they offer have a positive influence on graduate salaries after studying business.
We can therefore see that internships during university have an important role to play. With this in mind, a growing number universities are integrating internships as fixed components of study programs. Munich Business School is no exception. For example, students on our International Business bachelor’s program must complete three mandatory internships of 10 weeks each.
How many internships should I do while studying?
There is no hard-and-fast rule for how many internships students should complete while at university. Two to three internships is a good average figure and gives you the opportunity to gain insights into different fields and sectors. If you have already settled on a firm direction for your career by the time you start your studies, it would make sense to find a part-time job, a working student position or an internship in that specific field, rather than completing a random string of internships in different areas. By contrast, if you have completed four internships and still feel you have not found the right field for you, it might be worth finding a fifth, potentially more interesting internship. It is important to ensure that your internships do not prolong your studies too much. Ultimately, there is no correlation between the number of internships a student completes and how successful they are in their post-graduation job search.
However, given the importance of completing internships while studying, you will probably still have two key questions: How can I find a suitable internship? And how do I write an effective application for an internship?
How can I secure an internship?
Like “real” job vacancies, internship placements are advertised on jobs portals like LinkedIn, StepStone and Monster. There are also dedicated internship platforms, which in Germany include praktikumsstellen.de and meinpraktikum.de. As a student, you also benefit from your university’s careers office and corporate partners. At Munich Business School, for example, students have access to our university’s internal recruitment platform, which companies exclusively use to advertise internship placements and entry-level jobs.
If you are hoping to complete an internship at a specific company, you could register for their careers newsletter, which many larger firms routinely send out. This way, you can avoid actively searching for a position and instead apply directly for advertised positions. This is exactly how MBS student Julia Church secured her internship at Allianz Global Investors:
“It was through LinkedIn that I discovered that Allianz offers many opportunities for students. So, I decided to register directly on the Allianz career portal in order to be notified of positions that could be of interest to me.”
Another option is submitting a speculative application. In this case, your application has not been solicited and you are not applying for a specific position. It is important to prepare very carefully when submitting this type of application. This preparation includes familiarizing yourself with the company and its corporate culture, identifying a suitable contact in the HR department, and writing a cover letter to set out what has motivated you to send a speculative application and exactly why you want to complete an internship in that specific company. It is also advisable to draft a potential outline for your envisaged internship (and make sure you meet the requirements in terms of both expertise and personal skills).
If you find an advertisement for an internship placement and decide to apply, you should invest sufficient time in preparing your application to maximize your chances of success.
Writing an application for an internship
There are a few points you should bear in mind when writing an application for an internship. These relate to the content of your application, its structure and other formal aspects.
1. Documents: What should you include in an internship application?
At its heart, an application for an internship is not all that different to an application for a job. Documents traditionally submitted as part of an application include:
- Cover letter: You should take this opportunity to outline your motivation and skills.
- Résumé: This needs to provide an overview of you as an individual and your (academic) career to date.
- References/certificates: If you have already completed an internship, you can also attach a certificate of completion along with your highest academic qualification. It might also be worth including a transcript of the results you have achieved on your program to date.
The documents you need to provide will usually be detailed in the advertisement. In some cases, an internship during your university studies might only involve a brief application comprising a cover letter or a résumé. Other companies might require references or a letter of recommendation from a university lecturer.
2. Application structure and content: What does a good cover letter include?
While references and a résumé are relatively self-explanatory and require little preparation or processing, writing a cover letter for an internship application requires skill and tact.
Cover letter length
Your cover letter should not exceed one side of A4. Whether you fill the entire page depends on the amount of experience and expertise you have gathered to date and wish to outline. You should always follow a basic principle, namely that your cover letter should only cover aspects that are genuinely relevant.
Cover letter structure
A cover letter comprises various sections:
- Header: This includes the applicant’s contact details, the company’s address, the current date and the location from which you sent the application.
- Subject: An impactful subject line refers directly and precisely to the internship position (including a reference number, if applicable).
- Salutation: You should always use the names of the specific contact person; using a general greeting such as “Dear Sir/Madam” gives the impression that it is a generic application you have sent to numerous companies. If you do not know the name of the contact person, you should contact the company and ask – this shows initiative.
- Introduction: In the first few sentences, you should emphasize what has motivated you to apply for the internship.
- Main section: This section should cover your skills, including your expertise, practical experience and personal interests.
- Final section: Show that you are willing to respond to further questions and looking forward to an invitation to an interview.
- Sign-off: Use a serious sign-off to end your letter. In an English cover letter, you could use “Yours sincerely” if you know the name of your contact person.
- List of attachments (e.g. certificates, references, résumé), if applicable
Cover letter content: Introduction, main section and final section
The introduction is all about capturing the attention of the HR specialist reading your internship application. People often say that the first sentence is the most important – and with good reason. Your first sentence will determine whether you grab your reader’s attention and encourage them to read the rest of your cover letter. Find an original idea or formulation that will stick in their mind. Above all, you should avoid dry, worn-out formulations, such as “I would like to apply for an internship in…”, “My name is…” or “I am writing to you because I have to complete a mandatory internship”! Instead, consider the following questions to guide your first sentence: What could the company offer you? What would you provide in return? What makes you a good match for the company? Show that you know what the company does, what sets it apart, and explain exactly how and why you want to work for them in an internship.
In the main section of your letter, you should outline your current circumstances. This includes the university you’re studying at, the course you’re studying, how far through your degree you are, which concentrations you’ve chosen, and whether your application is for a mandatory or voluntary internship. This information is vital to help companies determine how much to pay you as an intern. You should then emphasize the qualifications and expertise you would bring to the internship. This includes work experience from past internships, a part-time job or previous training, hard skills (e.g. language skills, computer skills) and soft skills (e.g. excellent communication skills, creativity or the ability to work well in a team). It’s important that you don’t list every single skill you have; instead, you should select a few skills that are relevant to the internship. Let’s say you’re applying for an internship in a sales position but your only previous work experience was as a babysitter. Although this experience might not be directly relevant to your application, you could use it to highlight valuable soft skills such as assertiveness and empathy. This raises another important point: don’t just list your soft skills – use concrete examples to back them up. If you fail to do so, you can certainly expect to be asked for examples if you are invited to an interview. Even if you have limited experience and find it hard to identify specific skills as this would be your first internship, you can concentrate on underscoring your interests and motivation instead.
Before you finish your letter, make sure to include a final section, which should fulfill two specific purposes. First, you should sketch out your proposed framework for the internship, detailing the period for which you are available and how long the placement should last (if not explicitly stated in the advertisement). Second, you should invite questions from your prospective employer and state your willingness to attend an interview. In this case, you should use direct, assertive formulations rather than wordy phrasing in the conditional voice. So, instead of writing “I would be very grateful if you would offer me an interview”, you might write “I would be happy to convince your further of my skills and suitability in a face-to-face interview”.
Cover letter layout
When it comes to applying for an internship, you have some latitude when it comes to your cover letter’s content – but some of the formal aspects are relatively fixed. This means that your cover letter will likely convey much more than you first think. Using a sensible layout and a formal structure for your application will give the impression of a candidate that takes care in their work. Your ability to express yourself effectively will also have an impact.
In principle, there are no hard-and-fast rules for your cover letter’s layout. The most important thing is that the letter is well organized and looks uniform. You could use the specifications of DIN 5008 as a guide:
- Page margins (starting from the top, listed clockwise): max. 4.5cm incl. page header, 1.5–2cm, 2cm, 2.5cm
- Line spacing: 1 or 1.5 (depending on text length)
- Text alignment: left aligned or justified. (Note: Make sure that justified text does not include unwanted or undesirable hyphenation. You can use the “Don’t hyphenate” setting in Word for this or make manual adjustments.)
- Font and size: Use a font that is easy to read, such as Arial, Calibri or Helvetica. The standard font size is 12. If your letter goes over one page, you could reduce the font size to 11.
- Put your name and address in the header, right aligned.
- Put the name of the company, its address and the name of your contact in the header, left aligned.
- Add the date and your location (i.e. town/city) below the addresses, right aligned.
- After the date and location, add two line breaks and then insert your subject line. It should be left aligned, in bold, and no longer than two lines.
- Then add two further line breaks and insert your salutation, (e.g. Dear Mr. Smith).
- Divide your letter into paragraphs, with each paragraph separated by a line break.
It is also important to focus on the language you use. Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are out of the question, as are inconsistencies and informal language. Proofread your cover letter several times and have another person read it through to be on the safe side.
3. Online application: What should I write in an email applying for an internship?
Nowadays, most internship applications are submitted online rather than by mail. This means that you will either submit your application documents through the company’s application portal or send them to the company via email.
If you’re applying via email, there are a few important points to remember:
- Use a professional email address
- Choose a concise subject line that clearly indicates it is an application for an internship
- Address your email to your contact person
- Put together two or three sentences that outline your request.
“Dear Ms. XY,
Please find attached my application for the advertised internship position in the XY department. I would be happy to answer any further questions you have. I look forward to hearing from you and hope to receive an invitation to interview.
- Attach your application documents as a PDF file. It is best to combine all your documents into a single PDF file. Give the file a clear name, including your name and the name of the company.
- Send your email at a suitable time. After work is fine, but not in the middle of the night. If you send an email at the weekend, you run the risk of your application being swallowed in the mountain of emails in the HR manager’s inbox at the start of the next week.
4. Language: What language should I use for my application?
There’s a very basic rule to follow: write your application in the same language as the internship advertisement.
English job titles are becoming increasingly common in Germany and a growing number of companies are using English as standard in their recruitment processes. This could be because the people making recruitment decisions are English-speakers, because the company hopes to attract international applicants to Germany, or as a ploy to reduce the number of applicants by scaring off people who simply apply for everything. You might well be wondering whether it’s best to apply for an internship in Germany in English or in German. Remember the basic rule: reply to English advertisements in English (and vice versa). This does not necessarily mean that you will communicate exclusively in English throughout your internship. If a German company publishes advertisements for jobs and internships in English, you can follow the above structure and simply – but accurately – translate the content of your application into English. For non-native English speakers, small grammatical errors (like misplaced commas) are likely to be forgiven when submitting an application to a German company. However, you should still spend enough time translating your documents properly – and native English speakers should make sure there are no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors whatsoever.
The situation is somewhat different if you are applying for a position overseas. In these cases, you should definitely write in English (or the language used in the advertisement) and follow standard conventions and requirements for that country. In the USA, for example, including a letter of recommendation is a basic requirement of any application. And, while including a photo of yourself might be standard practice in Germany, you should avoid doing so in the USA for legal reasons.
Equipped with these tips for finding an internship and writing an application, there should be nothing to stop you securing an invitation to a face-to-face interview. This will also require intensive preparation. How, you ask? Well, we’ve put together a list of the 30 most common interview questions as well as exclusive expert tips for answering them.
However, even if your internship application is rejected, it’s important not to give up! You can always apply to the company again at a later date. Always make sure your profile is a good match for the advertised position. With this in mind, you should tailor your application accordingly each time. Submitting the same documents over and over not only signals a lack of imagination, it also conveys desperation rather than a genuine interest in the company and position. If you’re looking to improve your chances, it’s certainly worth contacting a company after receiving a rejection by email or telephone to ask for detailed reasons and feedback. You should stay polite and engaged at all times – and under no circumstances should you allow your disappointment to dominate or color the conversation.