Updated: Aug 25, 2020
I have good news and bad news for you. The bad news is that cover letters are real, and, when applying for full-time jobs or internships, you may be asked to submit one as part of the application. The good news is as follows:
They're becoming less and less common - in the investing realm, many firms don't require one - although Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, and Goldman Sachs do.
It doesn't take long to write a good one
Once you've read this article, you'll have all the tools at your disposal to create a great cover letter.
DISCLAIMER: I don't claim to have the perfect cover letter. It is something that I'm continually adapting and improving. However, the tips mentioned in this article are guaranteed to help you form the foundations of a good cover letter.
What Is A Cover Letter?
A cover letter accompanies a CV/resume in a job application. They're required by many companies, although it is suggested that they're becoming increasingly less important. Why? Maybe because it is hard for students to stand out on a piece of paper, and recruiters don't want to have to sift through thousands of cover letters that all contain the same general information.
What Purpose Does A Cover Letter Serve?
A cover letter is written to express your interest in a role. Imagine that the CV is your jam or peanut butter, but the cover letter is the bread that holds your sandwich application together. Why do you want to work for Company X? Why are you interested in working in the field/division/team that you've applied for? A CV tells recruiters that you're experienced or qualified, but a cover letter should tell them why your experience or qualifications would make you a good fit for the role at their company.
What Should Be Included In A Good Cover Letter?
That's a great question! There truly is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, a strong cover letter should always express five things:
Your motivation to apply for the role
Your motivation to work at Company X in Division X
How your experience makes you an ideal candidate for the role
How your skills (developed through your experiences) make you an ideal candidate for the role
How you can add value to the firm/team/division
#5 is probably the most important factor. Recruiters want to know what differentiates you from other candidates - what do you offer that will leave your name lingering in their mind, that will leave your cover letter on the top of the pile of thousands, that they'll remember in the interview process? One must carry out due diligence on the firm that they're applying to so that they know what the company does, where it's heading in the next few years, and how they can add value to the team.
Everyone can write the same generic lines about why they want to work at a firm. Maybe it has a great reputation? Maybe they have friends that work there who love the company? However, in a cover letter (and throughout the application process), it is important to be authentic, personal, and original. The more unique a reason you have for wanting to work with a company (maybe you're big into sustainability and Company X only invests in ESG stocks?), the more you'll stand out, and the more genuine you'll come across.
Other Do's And Don'ts Of Cover Letters
Research the company thoroughly before writing your cover letter. Know which responsibilities you'll have, what skills are required, and what kind of experience/knowledge is expected.
Use formal language. Write "I am" instead of "I'm," or "they are" instead of "they're."
Sell yourself. A cover letter is not just about why you want a job - it's also about why you're right for the job.
Have someone review your cover letter before sending it. A second pair of eyes is so crucial to ensure that there are no grammatical mistakes and that it reads well.
Adapt your cover letter to each role or company you apply to. There's nothing worse than applying to a Risk Management position at Lazard with the same, unhanged cover letter you used for your application to HSBC for a Capital Markets role.
Be arrogant. Just because you've completed six investment banking internships, it does not mean you're guaranteed to land the job. Express ambition, drive, and passion, not arrogance or indifference.
Make spelling errors. Your cover letter and wider application will probably be discounted if you make spelling/grammar errors. If you're unwilling to put the time and effort into writing a flawless cover letter, what hope do you have for a full-time job!?
Sell yourself short. If you believe that you have the relevant experience, skills, passion, hunger, and determination to succeed in the role, prove it! Put your money where your mouth is and back up your statements with clear examples.
Give up. Cliché, right? But seriously, the more practice and more refining you do to improve your cover letter, the greater chance you have of success in the long-term. Those who throw in the towel after being rejected in the early stages won't make it. Don't be one of those people.
Exceed one page of A4. The cover letter should maintain relevance to the role you're applying to at all times - this is not the place to be talking about your fascination with dinosaurs and cars in childhood (unless you can somehow remarkably link it to an investment/finance role)!
If you have any advice or questions about cover letters, I'd love to read them in the comments section below!