Do you really need to write a cover letter when you’re applying for a job in an investment bank? These days, it’s surely all about the skills in your CV – who’s got the time to read that extra blurb saying how perfect you are for the role?
Not recruiters working with experienced hires. Most of the banking recruiters we speak to treat the cover letters (or ‘cover emails’) they receive from experienced candidates as an irrelevance. “For experienced roles, we rarely look at cover letters,” says Logan Naidu, CEO of London-based financial services recruitment firm Dartmouth Partners. “I don’t really read the cover letter, I just go for the CV,” agrees Richard Hoar, director of banking and financial services at Goodman Masson. “I look at the CV and then I phone them. – If the CV is relevant, I’ll get everything that would have been in the cover letter from that call.”
Before you start sending CVs and resumes for banking jobs without any preamble whatsoever, though, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are some situations in which cover letters can make all the difference.
- When you’re applying for graduate jobs in banking.
- When you’re applying to banks directly (without going through external recruiters),
- And… when you happen to be using a recruiter who simply likes cover letters (hard to tell!).
“For graduate hires, cover letters are very important,” says Naidu. Just how important is reflected by the fact that some banks specify them as a must-have in their graduate recruitment process.Banks like Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Barclays, Morgan Stanley and Macquarie all demand that their would-be analysts in Europe write cover letters or something very similar, says Victoria McLean, a former Goldman Sachs recruiter and founder of banking CV specialists, City CV.
Goldman Sachs is particularly demanding – it requests that graduate applicants write a personal statement which is effectively a cover letter in 300 words or less. In theory, Goldman Sachs is ditching its cover letter process and will soon be using HireVue digital interviews to select all its student hires, but for the moment the 300 word killer cover letter is still an integral part of the Goldman recruitment process. A former recruiter at the firm told us it’s very important. “Some students were excellent until they got to the cover letter,” – those 300 words let them down.
What makes a good banking cover letter? Mai Le, a former Goldman Sachs investment banking associate runs CoverLetterLibrary, a community which houses a collection of cover letters that have enabled juniors to get jobs at banks in the past. Le says the best cover letters have two things in common: narrative structure (they emphasize your story and show the choices that brought you here) and facts and figures that underscore your background and achievements. By comparison, Le says the worst banking cover letters suffer from key-word stuffing, irrelevant information and spelling and grammatical mistakes.
It can help to follow a general template…
You need to tailor your cover letters for each job you apply to. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t write a cover letter that follows a template. It does mean that each time you apply for a new job, you will need to fill in the template all over again.
McLean suggests your template follows the following format: Introduction. Why me? Why you? Why this job? In total, the text within the template should be no more than 750 words, or one A4 page, long. Le says some candidates also use a format that’s ordered as, Why this job? Why this bank? Why me? “It’s a matter of personal preference,” she says. Ultimately, you want all these elements in the cover letter and should go with which ever you feel comfortable with.
Either way, here’s what to include.
The easy introductory paragraph
The first paragraph is all about explaining why you’re writing. If you’re applying for a graduate job in a bank, keep it short and sweet.
“The first paragraph is just to say who you are and why you’re writing the letter,” says McLean.
This paragraph might read something like. “I am an X with X year history of X at global banking firms including X as well as X. I have been working for X for the past X years.”
If you’re writing a Goldman Sachs cover letter that’s 300 words or less, you can ditch this style of opening paragraph. – There’s just no space for it.
If you’re writing to a recruiter, there’s less need to be quite so brief with your introduction. Say who you are, and explain why you’ve approached that recruiter in particular: “If someone says they’ve been referred to me by someone I know and respect, I will sit up and pay attention,” says Branthover. “The same applies if they say they’ve learned that I mentor women and that this is something they’re interested in too.”
In other words, when you’re writing a cover letter to a recruiter, you need to know who you’re writing to. Use this introductory paragraph to address them in person. Flattery will get you everywhere.
The selling yourself paragraph. ‘Why you?’
The second paragraph is usually harder. This is where you need to start selling yourself, expressing your personality, and explaining why you’re such a hot catch. It’s here that you can add in some of the narrative explaining how you came to apply for this role, plus some of the substantiating figures that Le says make successful cover letters so effective. Don’t use bland and empty phrases like, “I am a determined, motivated person.” Do look at the key words and skills used to describe the job you’re applying for and (without too obviously reiterating the ad) explain how you match them. Focus on the results and on outcomes you’ve achieved in similar situations in the past. You need to be specific and you need to bring yourself to life.
If you’re writing a cover letter to accompany a graduate application, McLean says you can use the second paragraph to talk about what you’ve studied and how it’s relevant. If you’ve studied finance and know how to do a DCF, now’s the time to mention that. If you haven’t studied finance but have good relationship management skills and you want to work in M&A (a relationship-focused business), say that here. Provide EVIDENCE for the skills you’re claiming to have.- List any awards you’ve won. Never, ever, make empty statements. “Many successful trading cover letters feature the candidate’s trading return profile and their rationales for their success or failure,” says Le. ” – Cover letters for sales positions highlight the candidate’s track record that evident their ability as a natural salesperson.”
The motivational paragraph. ‘Why thisjob (in this sector?)’
If you’re an experienced hire applying through a recruiter or applying directly to a bank, this is where you explain why you want the job you’re applying for. If you’re a student applying for a first job, this is why you need to explain why you want this job and why you want to work in this sector. Be specific – you’ll need to know about the job and the sector before you start this section.
As a student, you’ll need to link your skills back to your motivation for working in that area of banking above others, says McLean. Why M&A? Why not sales and trading? Why not compliance? – If you want to work in operations, for example, explain how you have a passion for building systems and improving efficiency, as evidenced by your system for serving customers in your weekend job…
The flattering paragraph. ‘Why this bank?’
The fourth paragraph is all about explaining why you want to work for that particular bank. Again, you need to be specific. McLean says graduates often copy and paste from banks’ own websites. For example, it’s not unheard of for them to write, “I want to work for Goldman Sachs because you have 170 locations across 90 cities in over 30 countries.” This will get you nowhere.
The other ex-Goldman Sachs recruiter we spoke to said she particularly looked for, “creativity and effort and writing about Goldman Sachs,” when running through students’ cover letters. People were expected to say exactly why they wanted to work for Goldman rather than, say, J.P. Morgan.
Instead of just reiterating what you’ve read on banks’ websites, therefore, you need to cite some unusual reasons for choosing that bank that will make you stand out. If you’re a student, it helps to say that you’ve met some of the banks’ staff and were impressed by them. Citigroup, for example, suggests that student cover letters reference encounters with the bank’s staff at recruitment events. – Make a note of the staff you meet and explain what they said or did that impressed you, and what made you think you’d like to work with them.
Mark Hatz, a former M&A associate at Goldman Sachs and Perella Weinberg Partners who now helps people get jobs in banking, says stressing your rapport with people you’ve met from the firm is particularly important when you’re applying for a job in M&A or capital markets: “These are advisory businesses and they want to see that you can build a rapport and work in a team. If you get the job, you’ll also be spending a lot of hours in the office with these people, so showing you like them is very important.”
It also helps to reference the bank’s strategy, to mention any awards the bank won, and to cite any conversations you’ve had with or comments you’ve read from other industry professionals and analysts who’ve given concrete reasons why it’s good place to work. Everything in this section needs to be positive. – You need to explain why you want to work for Deutsche Bank specifically without writing anything that denigrates its rivals. The more senior you are, the more you will need to reference solid strategy points at this stage.
“Show a grasp of where they are going, what the plan is and why this appeals to you,” says McLean. Show that you know their strategy and that you agree with the way they’re addressing challenges.
The call to action
Finally, you need to end the cover letter with a call to action. McLean suggests completing the letter with the following sentence: “I really look forward to hearing from you. I am available for interview and contactable by X.’
Simple. Except all of this has to be written in 750 words – or just 300 if you’re a student applying to Goldman Sachs. It’s not so easy after all.
1st September 2012
Dear Sir or Madam,
Re: Capital Markets Origination Placement 2013
I am currently studying BSc in Business Administration at the University of Bath. I am writing to express my interest for the Placement Analyst position in Capital Markets Origination. Please find enclosed my CV in support of my application.
My interest in banking started in 2011, when I started attending insight days at top investment banks to find out more about the industry. I was fascinated by what I had learnt and so I decided to spend my Easter holiday taking part in a Spring Week Programme at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Although I had a brief overview of all the divisions within a bank, I found myself drawn to Investment Banking in particular. I was attracted by the combination of financial modelling and strategic thinking, as well as the transactional nature of the work, and so I was subsequently fast-tracked for a summer internship in IBD. However, after interning at an asset management firm and then at a stock brokerage this summer, I also developed a keen interest for the markets, which is why CMO is particularly appealing to me. The combination of markets, as well as project-based work is exciting and to be able to work for the best in this area would be highly rewarding. Moreover, I liked the people that I met when I visited Citi on an insight day organised by the Gateway newspaper. I was also attracted to the international aspect of Citi. For someone who has a global interest, the wide network that Citi has across the world is extremely exciting and motivating.
Through working alongside fund managers in my first internship, I was able to gain exposure to investor sentiment and explore how various factors may impact their decision-making. Then through working in equity research, I was able to gain a better understanding of how securities are valued and analysed. I wish to build upon these interesting experiences and narrow further into an area in which I believe would best fit my skills and characteristics. Having read the job description, I believe that I possess the necessary qualities in order to succeed in this role. I am a hardworking team player with strong quantitative and analytical skills. My ability to perform well under pressure and manage time effectively has developed through balancing my studies with several part-time jobs and many extra-curricular activities. Furthermore, my interpersonal skills and attention to detail have improved significantly through working in real work environments and dealing with client projects. In addition, having led a team of six interns during my first placement and chaired a society in my second year, I have also had experience in managing others and taking responsibility for their work.
With a willingness to learn and drive to succeed in banking, I feel that this would be an excellent opportunity for me to work with a team of experts, gain exposure to high profile deals and also develop a well-rounded set of analyst skills. In exchange for this, I would work hard, show openness to new ideas and add value. I hope that this has provided you with some insight into the person that I am and I hope I am what you consider to be a suitable candidate for this job.
Headquarters: New York, NY, United States
Size: 10000+ employees
Type: Company – Public (C)
Revenue: £5 to £10 billion (GBP) per year
Competitors: Bank of America, JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley
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