You’ll read plenty online about how investment banking cover letters are never read, aren’t important and are used by recruiters as bog roll (we might have made that one up). One internet commentator even labelled the investment banking cover letter a “barbaric and sadistic requirement.” Sadistic and barbaric they might be, but if an investment bank asks for a covering letter you probably won’t get the job sending in a letter written in comic sans with just “giss us a job”. Whilst the recruiter won’t spend ages reading your cover letter, they might give it a quick scan through.
So you should put some effort into the cover letter, but doesn’t tear yourself into pieces attempting to create the perfect specimen of investment banking covering letter. Neither is it the time to break out amazingly creative cover letters that defy conventional narrative structures: keep your cover letter relatively conservative and formal. Instead of channelling your inner Shakespeare, you’ll need to put together a concise, businesslike letter than does exactly what it says on the tin, convincing the recruiter that they’d be mad not to interview you.
Tailoring your investment banking cover letter…
JP Morgan, Nomura, BarCap, Morgan Stanley… they are all the same right? Wrong. Sending the same cover letter to every investment bank isn’t going to get you anywhere. You should be able convey why you’ve applied for that particular bank and that particular position in your cover letter. Implicit in your letter should be an understanding of what an investment bank does and the realities of the role that you are applying for. You should know more about the bank beyond what they say in the “About Us” section of their website.
You should also scrutinise the literature surrounding the graduate scheme or the opportunity advertised. There’s no point starting a cover letter until you have a clear idea of the competencies they are looking for and the qualities you need for the role. Then you can set about showing these attributes in your investment banking cover letter. Typical competencies they might be looking for include: attention to detail, communication skills, initiative, ability to work under pressure, leadership and team work skills.
Short but sweet…
Recruiters are pressed for time and don’t want to be confronted with great long essays. Keep your investment banking cover letter to a single page, perhaps three or four paragraphs long. Don’t feel like you have to fill the entire page: really it should be somewhere around 300 to 400 words.
Remember that CVs and covering letters have different functions. Everything important should be in your CV, whilst you can use the cover letter to highlight the best parts of your CV. Essentially, your investment banking covering letter is a sales pitch: you want to persuade the recruiter that you’ve got the competencies and experience to do the job.
Hit the right tone…
It’s all too tempting when writing an investment banking cover letter to adopt a brash city boy/girl persona, but try not to brag or be too aggressive in your letter, e.g. “I’m simply the best at everything I do. I’ll be calling you next Wednesday to schedule a meeting.” Equally, don’t undersell yourself. Quiet confidence in your skills and experience is the way to go. Your letter should be formal and professional at all times and try to avoid the temptation to gratuitously litter it with IB jargon.
Structuring your investment banking cover letter…
Here’s a basic structure for putting together a cover letter, but you can play around with it:
Addressing your cover letter
Try and address your cover letter to a named person (find out who you are writing to). Use a formal business letter template: your address and the name and address of recipient should be at the top of the letter. If you are emailing them, put the cover letter in the body of the email and omit the addresses.
This is where you tell the investment bank who you are and why you are writing. Mention the role you are applying to and how you heard about the position (particularly if you were referred by a mutual acquaintance). Give a unique reason why you personally would be great for the role.
Here you should outline why you want to work for this particular investment bank and you might also want to touch on what attracts you to investment banking in general, citing, perhaps, relevant work experience, academic or extracurricular activities. Try to come up with reasons that sound genuine and unique.
Above all, investment banks will want to know that you have the right skills and attributes for the job. In this paragraph, you’ll need to draw parallels between the skills, qualifications and knowledge you’ve picked up during your degree course and/or placement and the role you are applying for.
Make sure you showcase the skills that they ask for in the job or internship brief. This is the paragraph to really hammer home why you’re an excellent candidate for the role. Be confident, but no bragging.
This should be very brief. State when you’re available for interview and cover any practical issues they ask about. Be positive: “I’m looking forward to your reply.”
You should end the letter “Yours sincerely” if it’s being sent to a named person; if you haven’t managed to find out a name then use: “Yours faithfully” followed by your name (obviously!).
Go through your investment banking letter and scrutinise it for mistakes. It’s not just spelling and grammatical errors you should be looking out for, check you’ve correctly spelt the names of the companies and people and that your sentences make sense and the letter reads well.
1. You should personalise and tailor your cover letter to every job application. And we mean every job application.
2. Your cover letter should be short, sharp and sweet. One page. Two or three paragraphs of snappy sentences.
3. Your cover letter isn’t your life story; it’s your case for why they should interview you for the role.
4. Relate your experiences to the role. So you set up your own finance society at university, why does that mean you’d be an excellent candidate for their scheme?
5. Investment bankers need great attention to detail so formatting errors, dodgy grammar, typos and spelling mistakes won’t wash with the recruiter. Sort it out.