CIEE logo
  Explore All CIEE Programs

Writing a Cover Letter and Résumé

Often you only have one chance to get the attention of a prospective host organization – so make it count, with a concise cover letter and a well-crafted résumé.

First, the cover letter

This is the first thing a prospective host organization will see. While a cover letter is not always required in some countries, it is standard practice in the United States.

  • Keep it short, and keep it specific to the position you’re applying for
  • Address it personally if you know the name of the person who will be reading it
  • Start with a short introduction, and explain why you are a good candidate. Include two or three specific examples of relevant skills, experiences, and personal strengths.
  • As an international candidate, you also should mention that you’re applying for a J-1 visa through the CIEE Internship USA program. If a host organization knows that it’s not responsible for your authorization documents, it will be more likely to welcome you.
  • Reinforce your interest in the position with a brief closing paragraph requesting a phone or Skype interview.
  • As a supplement to your application, you may consider sending the Dear Prospective Host Organization letter. This letter describes the J-1 visa requirements and application process to a potential host organization. Note that this letter is an additional resource and does not replace your cover letter.

Next, the résumé

American-style résumés are quite different from CV formats used in many other countries. They vary in length and how they’re organized, but here are some general guidelines:

  • Shorter is better — no more than a single page
  • Tailor your résumé to the position you’re seeking. Find ways to make your experiences in other areas relevant to the prospective host organization.
  • Don’t overinflate your accomplishments to date – but don’t minimize them, either
  • Be specific about your accomplishments and the results of any jobs or other internships you might have had. What did you learn? How did your work help improve your company’s performance?
  • When listing your education and experience, start with the most recent and work backward
  • Carefully consider the formatting. Organize the information logically, and use a visually pleasing font and type size.
  • Do not include graphics, photographs, or icons unless specifically requested
  • Leave out personal information such as your age or marital status

To help you get started, review our templates to familiarize yourself with common styles of résumés and cover letters in the U.S. We’ve also created sample résumés and cover letters for several types of positions:

General guidelines

  • If possible, use a page size of 8.5 x 11 inches. If you have A4-sized documents, reformat them to that size to make it easier for the employer.
  • For most companies, emailing your résumé and cover letter is appropriate, but sending a paper copy as well is a good way to stand out from the crowd
  • Give your files logical names. Companies receive hundreds of email attachments named “résumé” and “cover letter.” Use a clear combination of your name, the words “cover letter” or “résumé,” and the date. For example, if your name was Andrew Martin: “A_Martin_Cover_Letter_2016.”
  • Unless a company states otherwise, send your documents as PDF files. This will ensure that they are viewed as you intended.
  • In addition to attaching the files, paste the text into the body of the email to give the recipient another option for reading them
  • In both your cover letter and résumé, be clear about how and when you can be reached, and make it as easy as possible for employers to contact you if they are interested

After applying

  • Contact the prospective host organization again a week after you’ve sent your résumé and cover letter. Explain that you’re still interested in speaking with the organization about possible internship opportunities. While it’s never a good idea to be too aggressive, it’s reasonable to make contact more than once.
  • Stay positive and keep trying. Some employers will never return your email or phone call. Others will send you a standard letter saying “No, thanks.” But the more companies you contact, the better your chances will be to get a positive response.
  • Keep track of emails you’ve sent and calls you’ve made. You never know when hiring managers will get back to you, so make sure you know who they are when they respond, and when you last contacted them.

Back to top of page