Want to get into Investment Banking? You may have gone to the right school, have excellent marks and have ticked every other box but if you mess up your resume or your cover letter then you’re not going to be land that coveted investment banking job or internship.
This post will go through what you need to cover in your cover letter and what you should avoid, however I will not include a template cover letter. Cover letters (unlike the resume) should not be pro-forma. They are to sell you individually and as such they need to represent you alone.
The cover letter is incredibly important
I cannot stress how important the cover letter is to your application. While some bankers don’t even bother reading the cover letter and go straight to the guts of the CV, I promise you that there are just as many bankers (including myself) who read every single cover letter. It gave you more of a sense of the person themselves.
Whereas your CV is purely informational, your cover letter allows you to explain to the person sorting through hundreds of resumes why you should be chosen for an interview. Note that I have seen bad cover letters get people dinged and good cover letters land candidates an interview where their CV alone would not have merited the interview.
So why are cover letters so important?
Your cover letter is the best avenue you have to explain your ‘story’. That is – why do you want to be an investment banker, what have you done to prove this, why do you want to work at that particular investment bank and why would you skills be of use to the bank? The cover letter is essentially a document which is trying to sell you to the assessor.
Whereas the resume is incredibly clinical and basically just sets out the facts of your experiences and marks etc, the cover letter can be descriptive and gives you a (short) opportunity to sell yourself.
What should your cover letter look like?
Here are a few rules that you should follow for your cover letter. These rules are based on my own experience and the types of cover letters that I saw that were particularly effective when I was assessing investment banking applications (and thy were also rules that I used when I landed my investment banking internship and graduate position). You may see other guides recommend you do things differently but this is what worked in my experience.
The cover letter should be no more than a page long
If it is longer than a page it almost never gets read in it’s entirety. Also don’t try and squeeze everything onto a page. Be brutal and cut the unnecessary waffle. 3 – 4 short paragraphs is more than enough
Addressing it as Dear Sir / Madam is perfectly acceptable
I’ve seen other investment banking websites recommend you making a contact in the Investment Bank and then address your cover letter to that person. I have never understood this approach (and have seen it several times when I was assessing applications. The reason it doesn’t work is that you have no idea who will be reading your resume. In all likelihood your resume and cover will be read by several people as they decide who to give interviews to. It will also be read by every person who ends up interviewing you (and reading a letter addressed to someone else is always a little bit odd).
There is so little upside in addressing a cover letter to a particular person and some serious downsides. You can run into trouble if you spell a persons name incorrectly (I have seen this) or if you refer to an Associate that you met as a Managing Director (this one caused an incredibly amount of laughter in the office).
Your formatting needs to be perfect
Don’t be sloppy when it comes to formatting. I covered this on the post on Investment Banking resumes. Investment bankers are insane when it comes to formatting and are trained to spot formatting errors from a mile away. So stick to the following rules:
- Make your font professional and easy to read
- Conventions regarding where the address, date, your details go should be strictly adhered to
You are writing a formal letter so make sure it is formatted like one.
What should you include in your cover letter?
Content is all important in the cover letter. You have a few paragraphs to sell yourself so you need to use the space well. Your cover letter also needs to be tailored to your particular skills and experiences. Never submit a bland, generic cover letter – these will get you nowhere. Below I have outlined how your cover letter could flow. It is not a template so feel free to deviate from this but it will give you an idea of a cover letter format that works well
Paragraph 1: Who are you and what are your credentials
If you are college / university student going for internships and have no prior experience (and that is fine – none is really expected) then say “I’m in my penultimate year of my [insert] degree at the University of [your university] and have an [xx] average”. Go on to briefly talk about your major – if it is finance and economics say you chose the major to help you get into the finance industry and investment banking is what you are looking to do. Don’t spend too much time on this area. It is crucial but you can do it in two to three sentences.
Paragraph 2: Discuss your interest in finance
Part of my 7 steps to landing an investment banking job includes doing tasks and activities which allow you to demonstrate an interest in finance…and this is why. You want to be able to show that you are interested in finance. If you have done finance related competitions and activities mention this and specifically say that you did this because of your interest in finance. If you invest in shares or even if you just read the financial press then this is where you mention how finance is your where your interests lie.
Paragraph 3: Why are you applying to this bank?
This paragraph is fraught with danger…so be careful here. Anyone reading your application has done exactly what you have done and they know that you will take an investment banking job wherever you can have it. Don’t go over the top. It’s fine to talk about the bank’s reputation, training program and maybe a deal that they have done but keep it restrained because lies here are really easy to see through.
Paragraph 4: What skills do you have that will make you valuable to your employer?
Too many applicants focus on why they want to do investment banking and forget that they are trying to sell themselves to the bank. You want the bank to think of you as having potential – someone that can be trained into an effectively analyst and senior banker (down the track). If I was going to recommend skills to mention – they would be those which the bank cannot (or doesn’t want to teach you)…i.e. skills that make you easy to train. For example
- Mathematical skills, research skills, communication and teamwork skills are all valuable because they are bedrocks that can be built upon
- Don’t say excel skills. Too many people do this but it’s a silly thing to say. New hires are almost never as good as they think they are at excel and in any case the investment bank will teach everyone how to be incredibly competent in excel
Make sure you back up any skills with evidence (in the paragraph). For example saying “I’m a great communicator” is useless but if you say “My communication and teamwork skills have been enhanced by my participation in debate and public speaking competitions” (or something similar) then it makes it much more believable.
Also don’t claim something which conflicts with other parts of your resume. For example talking up your numerical ability with poor mathematics marks on your transcript this will instantly call the rest of your claims into doubt.
That’s all you need…seriously!
You don’t need to include anything more than this. You may look at your 3/4 cover letter and think…”shouldn’t I be including more?”. The simple answer is NO. Your short resume which hit every point and backed it up will grab your assessors attention, make them read every word and will sell you for better than if you had a rambling, unstructured letter which went on for much longer.
Things to AVOID doing in your cover letter
The following will get an instant ‘ding’ and get your application thrown in the bin. Worst it will get your application passed around the office for a good laugh (and in the very worst of cases they can get forwarded between banks…we’ve all seen this happen).
DON’T forget to change the name of the bank your applying to
You will be amazed how often I would receive an application saying “I believe that Goldman Sachs would be the ideal place to start my career because…” when I didn’t work at Goldman Sachs. This is an instant ding. I know why it happens – you are sending out a ton of resumes and it’s easy to miss that one small thing…but as an assessor I don’t care. It’s a lack of attention to detail and I’m never going to overlook this…no matter how awesome the rest of your resume is.
Always use Spell Check (in the language of the country you are applying to)
Spell check is so easy to use…I don’t know why I’m still writing this today…but the fact is that I would constantly get applications which obviously hadn’t been proof read and a spell checker hadn’t been used. Also make sure that your spell check language is on the right setting. If you are applying in the UK or Australia make sure you’re not using the default US spelling for words…it’s incorrect spelling even if I do know why it’s happened. Once again this goes to attention to detail [Note that I wouldn’t automatically cut a resume with misspelled words…but it doesn’t make you look good]
Grammar is also important and harder to pick up. The easiest way is to read through your application several times…and then give it to someone else to read before you send it in.
Don’t be arrogant, rude or flippant
I once saw an application that said “you have never seen anyone work as hard as I can”. I had just done 3 incredibly long nights and found the idea quite amusing…but they got dinged all the same. I will not list some of the more rude or flippant examples I have seen…but you get the idea – professional is the right way to go.
Don’t use words you don’t understand
The people assessing your resumes are probably going to be in the 24- 28 year old age bracket – their command of the language is probably going to be similar to yours. You gain no points if someone has to look up a word that you have written in your resume…and if you use it incorrectly you have potential downside there as well. I’m not saying to dumb down your application but ordinary business language is the safe way to go.
Do NOT try and be ‘different’
This is the most important tip I can give you. As much as Investment Bankers are looking for someone who is well rounded they are also looking for someone who fits into a particular mould. The applications they favour tend to be those that show professionalism and determination. For some reason applicants think they need to stand out from the crowd. You DON’T! Your application is going to be read and if you hit all the right buttons you are generally going to make it through for further consideration.
Do you have any questions about writing your Investment Banking Cover Letter? If so write them below and I’ll try and help you out!