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How to write a top-notch Investment Banking cover letter



Cover letters are annoying. They are cheesy and time-consuming. Many people say there is no point. Recruiters don’t even read the entire letter and directly skip to your CV instead. And even if they read your cover letter, they will only spend about 30 seconds and then move on. This is all true. So why bother with a cover letter after all?


A cover letter is only a small part of what matters to get into Investment Banking. It’s a necessary formality. It’s about ticking the box, not messing it up and moving on. The little secret: a stellar cover letter won’t set you apart. However, a bad cover letter will make you look bad and tarnish your first impression. Every application will have a cover letter. That means you cannot skip it. You will immediately stick out like a sore thumb if you do so.


Writing a good cover letter is more art than science. It’s not like your CV, where you abide to formatting conventions. A cover letter is a sales letter. There is no right or wrong answer. There are, however, more convincing and less convincing answers. In other words, there is no black and white. There are shades of grey. You are struggling with cover letters because nobody taught you proper copywriting and how to sell yourself properly.

In this post, we’ll tell you what matters in a cover letter and how to get it done as efficiently as possible. You want to get it done, get it done right and move on. As we already laid out, a great cover letter won’t set you apart, but a bad one might get you rejected. So, let’s find out how to avoid that.


How to submit cover letters

Email cover letters vs. attached PDFs

If you email your application to an actual email address, we’d say both ways are possible. You can paste your cover letter in the email itself or you can PDF your cover letter as an attachment.

If you copy your cover letter into an email, you can get away with making it shorter and save some time because you don’t have to fill out and check the address section of your template.

A separate PDF cover letter is more formal and looks a tad nicer, but you will not get any minus points if the content of your cover letter appears directly in the email. The content of the cover letter is more important in this case.

In general, we would say that an emailed cover letter is more efficient and a bit less formal. You can do that with less important tier 2 or tier 3 applications. A separate PDF cover letter is more formal and looks better. If you want to appear more formal for your favorite leads, go ahead and attach a separate PDF cover letter.

Paste cover letter into a text box vs. uploading a PDF cover letter

This may happen during a typical online application process. You can either upload a fully-fledged PDF cover letter or paste the cover letter content into a white text box. Here, we would say it’s up to you. Both methods don’t make any difference. You can pick and choose which way works better with your workflow.

If you are already used to churning out cover letters with your template, then go for it. If you want to save some time and only copy/paste the cover letter paragraphs into the text box, go for it as well. Whatever works better for you.

What if it says cover letters are “optional”?

This usually happens when you are applying online and the click funnel says something along the lines of an optional cover letter or that a cover letter is not required to proceed.

In that case, we would say just upload one. It’s the complete package. An application is always cover letter + CV. These are your marketing materials. So, you might as well hand them your complete marketing materials.

With a good template, you only need to adjust 2-4 sentences at max, so you might as well make the effort. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t submit one, but you must assume that your competition is submitting one – particularly those who really want that position. They will go above and beyond.

What makes a good cover letter?

With that said, what makes a good cover letter? A cover letter is more of an elevator pitch describing why you want to work at that company specifically. It is the introduction to your candidacy, whereas your CV gives the details of your profile.

The main point here is to tell your story in three short paragraphs, explain why you want to work there and what you bring to the table. Telling your story is about researching all job tasks, understanding your past experiences and linking those two together by highlighting commonalities. In other words, it is about describing how your past experiences relate to the job tasks of the position you are interviewing for. Yes, this means you have to research all your job tasks.

Be short and concise. A little bit of exaggeration is fine. It’s a sales letter, after all. But don’t go overboard. Don’t make stuff up or be too generic. Too much is also not good.

Next to having a strong profile, the way to set your cover letter apart is to name-drop the people you have talked to at the firm. This can be an Analyst or it can be the hiring managers themselves. This is also good content to drop when interviewing. Why do you want to work at our bank? Because you talked to A and B. They gave you a detailed impression of the culture and you like XYZ. You have successfully demonstrated that you know how to build relationships.

Get it done, get it done right and move on

Now here is the catch, an application with a stellar cover letter with networking references will not make the cut if your GPA and internship experiences are not competitive enough. In that case, it will be difficult finding someone who will let you put their name on your cover letter. You need a high enough GPA and some relevant experience to get into Investment Banking. A cover letter with networking references alone is not enough to set you apart. It is only one small moving part of your entire candidacy. So, going overboard and drafting an extra creative and passionate cover letter will not win you any bonus points.

A cover letter is more of a thing you have to do. You can’t win; you can only lose. If you have an inroad, by all means, talk to that person and ask them if you can reference them in your cover letter. However, you should not network for three months for two sentences in your cover letter. You are better off casting your net wider.

Your best course of action will be to avoid all major pitfalls and get as efficient as possible in churning out cover letters. Avoid any type of typos and mixing up company names. Avoid being too generic (aka did not research the company) and don’t use the identical cover letter for every company. Ideally, you would only customize 2-4 sentences per cover letter. Highlight the sentences that need to be changed with the highlight function in Word. That’s how you keep track of the items that need to be updated with every application you submit.

Only change about 2-4 sentences. This degree of customization will prevent you from being too generic while keeping efficiency high. You don’t have to start from scratch every time. Writing cover letters is more art than sciences. It’s a balancing act of customization and networking vs. efficiency and casting your net as wide as possible.


How to structure your cover letter

There are multiple ways to write a cover letter. As pointed out, it’s more art than sciences. There is no definitive right or wrong. What worked for us was a clean three-paragraph structure:

  • Paragraph 1 – Introduction and how you learned about the company

  • Paragraph 2 – What you bring based on your past experiences

  • Paragraph 3 – Why you are a good fit and closing words

This structure forces you to get to the point. You don’t beat around the bush with unnecessary fluff. You don’t go overboard and write your entire life story. Yes, you can write four or five paragraphs, but this structure has what worked for us.


Paragraph 1 – The introduction and how you learned about the company

The first paragraph is always an introduction to yourself and how you learned about the job. It’s like talking to a new customer who comes into your store. Just that you are the product and you are selling yourself as a promising candidate. You want to gracefully introduce yourself and make a good impression.

If you have networking contacts, this is the time to named-drop them. This is where it fits in the best. You learned about the opportunity because you talked to ABC and/or XYZ and were impressed by the current deal flow and dynamic company culture. If you participate in a networking event, mention it and the people you have met. But of course, make sure you ask them before you drop their name in your cover letter.

If you don’t have any fancy angle, then that’s fine. Just say that you learned about their company via their website and job posting and move on. If you have an inroad, by all means, try to use it. If you don’t, you are better off pumping out another 10 applications vs. networking for three months just to get rejected after the first round.


Paragraph 2 – What you bring based on your past experiences

After introducing yourself, this is the part where you explain what you bring to the table. This part will either make or break your cover letter. This is your paragraph to position yourself as a promising candidate based on your background.

Here, you tell your story in one short paragraph. Aim for 100 to 150 words. Again, telling your story is about researching all job tasks, understanding your past experiences and linking those two together by highlighting commonalities. It is about describing how your past experiences relate to the job tasks of the position you are interviewing for. So, go through your most relevant experiences and link them to why you will make a good Investment Banker.

Highlight the usual skills that Investment Bankers want to see – analytical ability, accounting, financial modeling, ability to work in teams, leadership, work endurance, etc. If you have relevant internships, now is the time to name-drop them. You want to brand yourself as the finance guy.

However, don’t go overboard. DO NOT list your 7 internships and 4 full-time jobs you have had. Investment Bankers have a short attention span. Pick the top three highlights. Do not reference all of your internships. Instead, point to the top 2-3 most relevant experiences for that specific position. That’s how you look smart because you are pointing the attention to the most relevant items only. Again, aim for 100 to 150 words for this paragraph. Your cover letter should be one page only. No life story. Highlights only.

Paragraph 3 – Why you are a good fit and closing words

This is the last paragraph. This is the opportunity to close your cover letter and leave on a good note with a “call to action” (CTA) to get you invited for an interview.

After you have shown them what you bring to the firm based on your past experiences, this is where you conclude that you will be a great fit for the company. After you have “shown” them that your background is relevant, you can now “tell” them that you will be a good fit. You summarize your background in one short sentence and tell them that you will be a good fit and that you will work within their firm.

You can tell them that your CV is attached (optional) and that you are more than happy to discuss your qualifications and learn more about the position at their earliest connivence. Boom, that’s how you finish on a good note while not being too pushy or needy.

Cover letter template

We assume you know how to format a proper business letter in Word. This is the actual wording and copywriting of the cover letter itself. Replace what’s inside the [square brackets] to match your profile.

↓↓↓ Template below ↓↓↓

-----------------------------------------

Application for an Internship at [Big Brand Bulge Bracket]

Dear Sir or Madam,

My name is [John Roberts] and I am interested in joining [insert company] as [an intern]. I learned about your company [via your job posting and website]. I am particularly intrigued by [your focus on mid-cap M&A coupled with a highly entrepreneurial boutique environment].

I am currently a [final year] student at [university]. Prior to this application I have completed internships at [Big 4 Transaction Services] as well as at [M&A regional boutique]. Throughout my internship at [Big 4 Transaction Services] I built a solid [understanding in accounting] – an important skill for Investment Banking. My internship at [M&A regional boutique] allowed me to gain hands-on experiences in M&A. I had the opportunity to support my team with [valuation and marketing documents within the industrials sector]. These experiences have [greatly familiarized me with M&A marketing materials and allowed me to greatly train my attention to detail].

With my background [Big 4 Transaction Services] as well as [M&A], I may be a good fit as [an intern] at [Big Brand Bulge Bracket]. My skills will allow me to work well within your company. I would enjoy the chance to discuss my qualifications with you and learn more about the position at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

[John Roberts]

-----------------------------------------

↑↑↑ End of template ↑↑↑

Checklist to efficiently write cover letters

Ok, that was probably a lot to take in. Here is a more compact checklist of how to draft a “good enough” cover letter. You want to get your cover letter done as efficiently as possible and then move on with more important tasks to get into Investment Banking. The cover letter is just one of the moving parts.

Remember: A stellar cover letter will not set you apart. However, a poor one might get you sacked. You cannot win with a stellar cover letter; you can only “not lose”.

We have divided the checklist into “essentials” and “extra credit”. This should give you a good idea of where to focus on. “Essentials” are the basics. These are your fundamentals. Don’t cut corners here. “Extra credit”, on the other hand, is the cherry on top. If you can tick these boxes, it’s icing on the cake. If not, just move on.

Essentials

  • DON’T have any typos in your cover letter. Tripple-check addresses, names and company names, syntax and grammar. If you mix up company names from past applications, that’s just an embarrassment. Typos, grammatical errors and wrong company names will make you look sloppy. We don’t want that to happen. There are no secrets besides checking your work multiple times. Even the best Investment Bankers and Lawyers check their work sentence by sentence. It’s normal to check your work around 3-5 times before submitting

  • DON’T send the same cover letter to all firms. That’s just too generic. You have to customize your cover letter with a couple of sentences to match that specific company. When there is nothing specific to the company you are applying for, the recruiter will assume it’s a copy and paste template – aka a minus point

  • DON’T say that you are hardworking, dedicated or that you are dying to join XYZ company. That’s begging. You SHOW them with your past experiences that you are hardworking. What did you do in the past to prove that you are hardworking and a team player? Show them, don’t just tell them

  • DON’T list irrelevant positions in your cover letter. Nobody wants to read through your stream of consciousness. The recruiter does not want to hear how you got there and what detours you had to take. The bank only wants to know what you bring to the table

  • DO keep it short and focus on your highlights! Remember, the cover letter is just a necessary formality that you need to get done and not mess up. Pick the 2-3 highlights that best match the position you are trying to apply for. Link your past experiences to your current job tasks you are applying for. That’s good enough. No need to tell your life story

  • DO name-drop past experiences. You interned at a Big4 company? Drop that name. Everyone knows it. You interned at an M&A shop? Drop that name. Since you are only picking the highlights, you want them to shine as much as possible. Ideally, you have internships that link to finance and Investment Banking job tasks. That’s how you build your brand as being a “finance guy”

  • DO standardize your cover letters where you only need to update 2-4 sentences per application. You don’t need to start from scratch every time. However, you don’t want to send out a one-size-fits-all generic cover letter. Adjusting 2-4 sentences per cover letter is a good middle ground to be as efficient as possible while not being too generic. You need to cast your net as wide as possible because you are not in control of what comes back

Extra credit

  • DO have a person who works at the firm you can reference in your cover letter. Of course, ask for their permission first. If you have connections, use them to your advantage. If you don’t have any connections, it’s not worth networking for 3 months just to get rejected in a first-round interview. In that case, you are better churning out another 10x applications and cast your net wider. That’s the main reason why having a person to reference in your cover letter is more extra credit rather than a necessity. If your university has company events and networking events, DO go there and network. Keep in mind that you need to have a competitive profile before you start networking. Networking is just a form of soft sales. Networking alone will not get you the job unless your dad is friends with the Managing Director. Most people are hired because they have the credentials and the right background

Where does it leave us?


Yes, cover letters are annoying. Yes, recruiters will only glance over the cover letter for about 30 seconds if they even look at it at all. However, the cover letter is a necessary formality. It’s just about ticking the box because your competition will most likely submit a cover letter.

Keep in mind, a stellar cover letter will not set you apart. However, a poor one might get you sacked. You cannot win with a stellar cover letter; you can only not lose. The best strategy is to get it done, get it done right and move on.

Use a three-paragraph structure. The first is the introduction and how you learned about the company. The second describes what you bring to the table based on your experiences. Then, with the third, you close the cover letter with why you are a good fit for the company.

Make sure you don’t have any typos. Don’t write generic stuff like that you are “hardworking” or “dedicated”. SHOW that you are hardworking with your past experiences. DON’T just “tell” that you are hardworking. Everyone can say they are “hardworking”. Keep it short and simple. Don’t rattle off your entire CV; pick the 2-3 highlights. Standardize your cover letter to the point where you only need to adjust 2-4 sentences per application. This will allow you to draft cover letters more quickly. You can submit more applications and cast your net wider.

Once you have your cover letter and CV set, it’s time to start preparing for the actual Investment Banking interview. And please, prepare yourself properly and don’t make the most common interview mistakes.

Additional resources

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