As a college student (and beyond), it can often feel like everyone around you has everything all figured out. And when you start hearing from your peers about the internships they’ve secured, that feeling only gets worse—especially if you’re still searching for an opportunity of your own.
The reality is you’re not alone, and there’s still time. As a career advisor who has worked with many students going through the internship search process, I promise that not everyone has it nearly as together as you may think, and it’s possible that the only things standing between you and a great internship are a few well-crafted emails. (The same is true for non-students looking for an internship!)
While job boards and online postings can be useful leads, networking is key. Reaching out directly to a recruiter or to people you know can make all the difference in your internship search. Whether you've been searching for a while and haven’t had any luck securing interviews or just want to be proactive, take the time to write a personal note to a professor you’d like to work with or an alum of your school who’s currently employed by your dream company. It can really set you apart.
Sending an email to ask for an internship might seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! In general, people are very open to giving advice and helping out when they can. Not sure where to start? Follow these four steps for reaching out to different connections (including reading through a few sample emails to help get you started writing your own).
1. Do Your Research
First, start brainstorming who you might want to reach out to about internship opportunities and keep a running list. Is there a specific company whose work you’re interested in? Use online tools like LinkedIn and your school’s alumni directory to find connections at your top companies. Are there any professors whose work you particularly admire? Add their names to your list. You can even tap into your family’s network! Does a family friend work for a company you’d be interested in interning for? Their name belongs on your list as well.
Once you’ve mapped out everyone you might want to reach out to, be sure to prioritize and plan out what order you’ll reach out to people in. Use your level of interest in the opportunity or organization and how comfortable you feel connecting with the person as two guiding factors.
As you’re making and refining your list, make sure you know why each person is on it. You’ll want to craft a personalized message every time and have a specific goal for each note. For example, are you looking to land a particular internship or is this more of an exploratory email to see what might be available at a certain company? If you start thinking about these questions early on, you’ll be ready to go when the time comes to sit down and write your emails.
2. Craft Your Emails
Now that you’ve identified a list of people you want to reach out to, it’s time to compose the actual messages. Here’s how to go about writing them:
Use an Appropriate Greeting
Always use an appropriate greeting when reaching out. It’s one of the first things the recipient will see and, let’s face it, first impressions matter.
- If you’re emailing a recruiter or someone who you’ve never met, it’s a safe bet to start with “Dear Mr./Ms./etc. [Last Name].” Just make sure to do your research so you avoid using the wrong honorific or pronoun; if you really can’t tell which you should use, try “Dear [First Name] [Last Name].”
- If you have reason to believe they’d be happy with less formality (e.g. if they work at a startup with a casual culture), you can go with “Dear [First Name].”
- In the case of a professor, writing out “Dear Professor/Prof. [Last Name]” is the proper way to greet someone.
- If you feel more comfortable with the person—if they’re a family friend or mentor, for example—it’s acceptable to start your email with, “Hi [First Name].”
Be Mindful of Your Tone
If you’re cold emailing a recruiter or professor you’ve never spoken to before, it’s better to err on the formal side. When emailing a family friend, it’s OK to follow the lead of your past conversations and be a bit more casual than you’d be with a stranger.
Reference Your Connection
Always make sure you highlight the way you’re connected to this person. Are they an alum of your college? Is this a family friend that you saw at a get-together last month? If you’re emailing a professor, make sure you reference either the classes you’ve taken with them or a way in which you connect to their work. Even when reaching out to a recruiter, mention how you heard about the company or if another connection referred you (just make sure that connection is comfortable with you using their name).
Highlight What Interests You
It’s important to show the person you’re emailing that you’ve done your homework and aren’t simply mass emailing about internship opportunities. The best way to show your interest is to highlight what excites you most about this internship role, research project, or company.
If you’re applying to a specific internship, it’s pretty straightforward: Just make sure you reference certain aspects of the role that you find interesting and exciting to work on.
At times, however, you may be emailing without a specific internship in mind. Maybe the organization doesn’t have a formal internship program, but you’d love to have a chance to be involved with a particular team or project. This is OK, too! But make sure you explain why you’re interested in working with that company or department and be specific. This is essentially your way of asking for an internship to be created, and people are much more likely to want to help you do that if you come off as genuinely enthusiastic.
When reaching out to a professor about research opportunities or possible lab work, make sure you mention how their work aligns with your academic interests and long-term goals as well as what you’ve already done that sets you up to contribute to their project.
Make a Specific Request
Don’t be vague. The more specific you are, the easier it will be for the person on the other end to understand what you’re looking for and act on your request. Are you asking to meet up and hear more about the organization they work for or for them to put you in touch with the hiring manager? Are you interested in one specific internship posting or is this an inquiry to see if an internship could be created? If you’re emailing regarding a specific internship, include either the reference number or a link to the posting in your note. In any case, you want the reader to know what it is that you hope will happen next, whether it’s a phone call, an email introduction, or a meeting.
Keep It Short
Show that you appreciate people’s time by keeping your email short. Introduce yourself, highlight your interest, insert your ask, and propose a next step quickly and concisely. People often want to help, but they’re also busy—so they’re far more likely to respond to your request if your email is succinct and it’s easy for them to do what you’re asking.
Attach an Updated Resume
Make sure you attach your most up-to-date resume. In some cases you might also choose to attach your cover letter—if, for example, if you’ve applied to a specific posting separately and want to include your letter as an FYI. Your documents should be tailored to the type of internship you’re looking for—or to the exact role you’re applying for, if that’s the case.
It’s impossible to fit all of your credentials into this one short email, so take the opportunity to further demonstrate your interest and qualifications. If these documents align well with the role you’re interested in you’re much more likely to have someone respond or put you in touch with another person.
3. Look to These Sample Emails for Inspiration
Still hesitant? Take a look at these sample emails for inspiration as you start to draft. Here’s what it might look like if...
...You’re Emailing an Alum of Your School
Reaching out to an alum can be a great strategy during your internship search. If you’ve noticed an alum working for a company you’re interested in, you might think about sending them a note like this.
Subject Line: MIT Undergrad – Materials Science Internship
Dear Mr. Cho,
My name is Jane and I’m a junior at MIT studying mechanical engineering. I recently started my summer internship search and discovered that the Bosch Group is currently hiring for a summer engineering intern in your department. I saw on LinkedIn that you work for Bosch’s materials science group, and noticed that not only are you an alum of the mechanical engineering department, but like me, you were also a member of the Educational Studies program on campus.
I wanted to be sure to reach out as I am extremely interested in this internship opportunity and would love to hear more about your experience working at Bosch and any advice you might have about the hiring process. Do you have any availability for a quick call next week? I know you’re busy and would really appreciate any time you have. I have also attached my resume and the cover letter I submitted with my online application in case it’s helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions.
...You’re Emailing a Professor
If you’re emailing a professor about a potential research experience, use the sample below to guide you through your draft.
Subject Line: Summer Research
Dear Professor Jones,
My name is Jane, and I’m a first-year student studying mechanical engineering. I am very interested in biotechnology and am fascinated by your medical device research in particular. Currently, I am taking several related classes, including medical device design and a microcontroller lab class.
I am wondering if you have any availability in your lab for an undergraduate researcher over the summer. I would love the opportunity to commit 20-25 hours a week toward a research project in your lab.
I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss this possibility and am happy to attend your office hours on January 9 if that is most convenient. Additionally, I am free on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 4:30 PM. In the meantime, I’ve attached my resume for your review. Thank you so much for your time.
...You’re Emailing a Recruiter
When emailing a recruiter, it’s important to reference a specific open role and/or to talk about why you’re interested in the work that company—or better yet, a specific department or team—is doing. A note like this one would be a great start.
Subject Line: Summer Engineering Internship Application
Dear Ms. Hernandez,
My name is Jane and I am a junior studying mechanical engineering at MIT. I was thrilled to see a summer engineering internship opportunity advertised with Medtronic (posting ID #7648) because I have a deep interest in engineering and device design, and am particularly fascinated by Medtronic’s work on patient engagement.
I’ve applied for this role online, but have also attached my cover letter and resume here for your review. I believe my relevant skills and engineering experience would be a good fit for this position and hope to have the opportunity to discuss with you in more detail how I could help support Medtronic’s patient engagement initiative this summer.
...You’re Emailing a Friend of the Family
When emailing a family friend it’s okay to be a bit more casual, especially if you’ve met and been on good terms in the past. Use the sample below to see how you could reach out to someone in your personal network.
Subject Line: Summer Internship Interest
I hope all is well! It was great to catch up with you at the Chatterjees’ open house last week. I’m reaching out because I’m currently in the process of searching for a summer internship, and I remembered from our conversation that you’re a product designer with Medtronic.
As you know, I’m finishing up my junior year, and would really love to spend my summer as an engineering intern with Medtronic. I’m wondering if you have any time next week to meet for coffee and chat about opportunities at the company. Additionally, if there’s anyone else you think I should connect with, I would appreciate any introductions you could make.
I’ve attached my resume for your reference. Please let me know if you have any questions or if there’s anything else I can send you that might be helpful. I really appreciate any guidance you can give and hope to see you soon.
4. Follow Up
Once you’ve sent your emails, be sure to give your contacts some time before following up. Waiting can be stressful, but it’s important to remember that everyone is busy, and they may just need a few days to get to your note. If it’s been a week or so and you haven’t heard, you can follow up with a friendly reminder.
Here’s an example of what this could look like:
Dear Ms. Hernandez,
I hope this message finds you well! I recently inquired about a possible summer internship with Medtronics and wanted to be sure to follow up. I am very interested in working with Medtronics and would love the opportunity to speak with you regarding the engineering intern position. I appreciate your time and hope to have the chance to speak with you soon.
You might feel awkward and nervous about sending these types of emails, but it’s worth it to try reaching out anyway. Keep in mind that even if an email doesn’t directly result in an internship, each connection you make is still a valuable opportunity to network and learn about potential career paths and internship possibilities. And you never know, someone you connect with now might remember you a few years down the line when another great opportunity comes up.
Photo of student sitting in a coffee shop working on a laptop courtesy of ferrantraite/Getty Images.
Kendyl Maher-Trumble works as a communications specialist and career advisor with MIT’s Career Advising & Professional Development Office. Her background in communications includes eight years of public affairs and community outreach work. When not working, Kendyl serves on the leadership team of an animal rescue in the Boston area. Find Kendyl on LinkedIn.More from this Author