The key to effective investment banking cover-letters is story-telling. Most people write cover letters like resumes, with cold, hard facts, and that’s the problem.
Cover letters are much more effective if they contain stories capturing the burning spirits of candidates. This article will show you how to install such stories seamlessly into your investment banking cover letters, and land an interview yourself.
1. Why Write an Investment Banking Cover Letter?
1.1. What Are Investment Banking Cover Letters For?
A cover letter, a document accompanying your resume, shows how your skills and experience meet the job requirements. While a cover letter only gets a quick glance from investment banking recruiters, it is an opportunity to impress a potential employer.
A well-crafted cover letter for investment banking shows three very important facts:
- You understand what the bank is looking for
- You have the skills needed for the job
- You are articulate
1.2. Do investment bankers actually read cover letters?
Truth be told, investment bankers hardly ever read cover letters. The HR department hands off all resumes and cover letters to investment bankers to choose interviewees for the next round. Given their hectic workload, most bankers only spend 30 seconds on each application.
They typically look at the resume first to make sure you have the desired skills and experience before taking the time to read your cover letter.
Situations where a good investment banking cover letter is critical include:
- Boutiques and local banks – These banks are smaller and have a lower number of applications, so they are more likely to read cover letters than bulge bracket banks.
- Unusual backgrounds – You should use a cover letter to explain your situation if you’re a career changer, not having a finance background, or have gap time in your work experience.
- Outside the US – In Europe, for example, some banks pay more attention to cover letters and online applications.
- When applying directly to a bank without going through a recruiter.
- When you are a new graduate applying for an investment banking job.
Although a cover letter may matter less than a resume and networking, you still need to put some effort into it. A perfect cover letter (without a strong resume) may not get a candidate an interview, but a bad one will certainly knock you out of the process.
1.3. Cover Letter vs Resume – What’s The Difference?
Because so many candidates end up writing boring cover letters resembling “paragraph versions” of their resumes, it is important to differentiate the two.
There are four marked differences between a cover letter and a resume for investment banking:
Cover letters go deep,
resumes go wide
In cover letters, you should select one or a few most notable achievements, and describe them in detail to reflect your 3 defining aspects: values, competencies, motivations.
This stands in contrast with resumes, where you cram as many
relevant achievements as possible into the space of 1 or 2 A4 pages.
Cover letters are
“hard” bullet lists
The content format of cover letters is much less defined, leaving room for a lot of creativity, unlike resumes which are almost always bullet lists of cold, hard facts.
Your goal as the candidate is to fully utilize that loosely defined format and make your cover letter as attractive and memorable as possible.
A crucial role of the cover letter is to portray who you are as a person. Resumes don’t do that, they focus on your achievements.
Your personality does not only come directly through the contents, but also reflected in the style of the letter – so take time to make your cover letter more attractive, and you’ll make a better impression with the screener.
resumes do not
In cover letters, you have to answer the motivation questions (why investment banking, why this firm). In resumes, that aspect is barely mentioned.
The most credible answers to those questions connect the job with your future plans – as such, the cover letter is not confined to the past like resumes.
Cover letters touch
on future plans,
resume concerns mostly the past
2. What Do Investment Bankers Look For In A Cover Letter?
In an investment banking cover letter, you must display these three essential qualities and two motivations:
- Quantitative and analytical ability
- Result oriented mindset
- Leadership skill
- Why investment banking?
- Why this firm?
2.1. Quantitative and analytical ability
This is to assess applicants’ ability to process a large amount of data with a formulation of hypotheses and propose solutions. In addition to showing numbers in your resume, you need to illustrate your quantitative and analytical skills in your cover letter. Give specific detail about the difficulties and the learning points of your experience.
2.2. Result oriented mindset
While you already include specific achievement numbers in their resumes, investment bankers need more “evidence” of your strong motivation to achieve higher results. Do you perform better than requirements? Do you pay attention to details while involving multiple tasks or under time pressure? Do you always take an innovative approach to problems?
2.3. Leadership skill
Investment bankers work with multiple stakeholders such as colleagues, clients, leaders, and experts. Showing the ability to handle surrounding resources and trying hard to meet expectations are more important than simply mentioning words such as “lead” or “leadership” in the cover letter. Leadership also requires strong communication skills and ability to inspire others.
2.4. Why investment banking?
There are many ways to show your interest in finance/investment banking such as participating in an investment club or having an internship in investment banking, wealth management and finance-related positions. However, a common mistake among applicants is mentioning what is already on their resume. A cover letter is a space for a story behind work experiences. Do you really understand the investment banking world, and how it fits with your long-term plans? Is there something unique in the investment banking track to explain your choice?
2.5. Why this firm?
Out of all the investment banking firms, why ours? There should be something uniquely attractive about this firm to you. A cover letter helps to show how you did NETWORK with bankers in the firm while a resume hardly supports this.
For example, you can reveal your interest in a bank by talking about how motivated you are to work in the Investment Banking Division at Goldman Sachs after having conversations with bankers at a Spring Insight program organized by the firm.
3. How To Write an Investment Banking Cover Letter?
The structure for an investment banking cover letter is fairly simple and straightforward. There are four main parts to a standard investment banking cover letter:
- Step 1: Write a compelling introduction
- Step 2: Show your experience to stand out
- Step 3: Explain how you fit in the role
- Step 4: Give a closing
Step 1: Write a compelling introduction
The introduction part should briefly show candidates’ basic information including name, educational background and company name (of your internship or working experience). Mention the role you are applying to and how you heard about the position (particularly if you were referred by a mutual acquaintance).
The best thing you can do is name drop people you have talked to. That way the application reviewer knows you have done your homework, and might ask the person you talked to about her impression on you. This way catches bankers’ attention when mentioning something relevant to them. Applicants can write about the participation in an event or a conversation with bankers that motivates them to apply for this position. Additionally, reaching people on LinkedIn to grasp the financial world is another way to show your interest.
“My name is Peter and I am currently a 3rd-year finance major at University of Southern California. I recently talked with Tom Linzmeier from the Leveraged Finance group at Deutsche Bank over the phone last week, and was very impressed after reading about your M&A deal with Vodafone Hutchison Australia, as well as the fantastic things I have heard about the company’s culture. I am interested in the investment banking summer analyst position at your firm, and have enclosed my resume below for consideration.”
Why this is a good example?
- Overshadow the non-target school name with a name drop of someone you spoke to
- Mention a recent deal the bank worked on to show you did your research
Step 2: Show your experience to stand out
This is the space for candidates to demonstrate their interest in finance through practical experience. An investment banking cover letter is not used to show off all the banking-relevant experiences but the most outstanding ones. The best way to pass the resume round is to utilize the name of bulge bracket banks, large PE firms or big-4 companies.
Here are some relevant experiences:
- Previous investment banking internship
- Previous analytical-based internship (Hedge Fund/Private Equity, research firm, anything where you are doing financial modeling, valuation and analyzing companies)
- Being part of a student run investment fund (managing your university’s endowment)
- Participating in major stock pitch competitions or case competition
When describing responsibilities at a firm, it is important to highlight the quantified achievement of that job, quantitative & analytical ability, and leadership skills.
After showing the most relevant experience, it’s time to reiterate the suitability of your profile to that position. Insights about the firm are utilized from networking that is hardly found on the internet. Our networking guide provides practical tips on how to talk with bankers in the most insightful way.
Already had an investment banking internship: “I have previously completed an internship in investment banking at Jefferies’ San Francisco office. My experience gave me exposure to multiple deals, building financial models as well as helping with pitch books, and allowed me to hone my knowledge of accounting, modeling and other technical skills. I was lucky enough to directly work on a M&A deal with a $2 billion tech company, providing some input on the model and working extensively on the final pitch book.”
Had experience similar to an internship: “I completed the Tuck Business Bridge Program at Dartmouth University. The program gave me exposure to the fundamentals of value investing, financial analysis, modeling & equity research, and allowed me to develop my technical skills. Working in teams on a final capstone project and presenting our findings to industry executives had the biggest impact, as we were forced to defend our position in a high-pressure situation. In my final project on Dunkin valuation, I built out the model, analyzed the financials, and concluded the equity was more than 40% undervalued.”
Why this is a good example?
- Mention relevant experience
- Highlight the technical skills
- Give a specific example of a deal/a company you worked on
Step 3: Explain how you fit the role
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.
Also, take the time in the third paragraph to explain why you want to work for the bank you are applying to. Be specific, so again, do some research. Make sure you don’t just reiterate what you see on their website. Find some unique reasons for choosing the particular bank to make your cover letter stand out. Show an understanding of the bank’s culture, the company’s future goals, and why it appeals to you.
“Given my background in [insert previous experience: investment banking, private equity, equity research,etc.] along with my leadership and analytical skills, I am a particularly good fit for the investment banking summer analyst position at your firm. I am impressed by your track record of clients and transactions at Goldman Sachs and the significant responsibilities given to analysts. I believe my skill set and experience will let me hit the ground running from Day 1 and look forward to joining and contributing to Goldman.”
Step 4: Give a closing
This closing part of a cover letter seems to be the least “nerve-wracking” part. Keep it simple and brief. Think about resume attachment and state your availability for the interview. Giving a sincere thank you for recruiters’ time and reiterating contact information.
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.
“A copy of my resume is enclosed for your reference. I would love to have an opportunity to discuss my experiences and qualifications with you and learn more about UBS at your earliest convenience. I can be reached at 333-333-3333 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.”
4. Visual Format of an Investment Banking Cover Letter
4.1. A basic and clear font for a cover letter
When it comes to fonts, keep it simple and professional. Choose a basic, clear font like Arial, Calibri, Verdana or something similar. Avoid using fancy or decorative fonts.
Many employers use applicant tracking systems—software that allows automated sorting of job applications based on specific keywords, skills, job titles or other fields. Complicated fonts can make it harder for the software to read your letter, which might prevent your application from moving forward.
Use 10- and 12-point sizes for easy reading. Anything smaller will leave the hiring manager squinting, and anything larger will make your letter look unprofessional. In general, you should use the same font and font size that you used in your resume.
4.2. Spacing within your cover letter
Good spacing is essential for your cover letter—whitespace in the right places will make it easier for the hiring manager to read quickly. Follow these guidelines:
- Make your cover letter single-spaced
- Add a space between each section: contact information, salutation, opening paragraph, middle paragraph, closing paragraph and complimentary closing. (There’s no need to indent any of your paragraphs.)
4.3. Margins and alignment
Align your text to the left and use standard 1-inch margins all the way around. If your letter is spilling off onto a second page, first reread it and see if there’s anything you can cut. If you can’t cut anything, you can consider shrinking the margins to ¾” or ½”, but avoid going smaller than that so your cover letter doesn’t look squished on the page.
4.4. One page only with around 200 to 300 words
A cover letter for investment banking should be kept within 1 page (around 200-300 words). Investment bankers have no time for multiple page cover letters.
4.5. Save a file as a PDF
Since an applicant tracking system may be parsing your cover letter, make sure you save your document in a compatible file format—either .doc or PDF. It’s also a good idea to rename your file to something specific, especially since hiring managers can see the file name of your online submission. Follow the format of First Name-Last Name-Cover-Letter (e.g. Jade-Young-cover-letter.doc) to make it more convenient for the person downloading it.
August 5th, 2020
Bank of America
123 West St, New York, NY 10282, United States
Dear Hiring Manager,
I am Peter Anderson, an MBA graduate at Chicago Booth School of Business. I’m writing in support of my application for the Investment Banking Associate position at Bank of America. I recently talked with Tom Linzmeier from the Healthcare group at your firm, and I was really impressed about your deal flow as well as the fantastic things I have heard about the company’s culture.
Over 1.5 years as an analyst in Miller Buckfire & Co., I have contributed meaningfully to 4 M&A deals totaling in excess of $2.3 billion, serving as the lead analyst in 2 of these deals. Apart from being integrally involved in valuation and financial modeling for these deals, I was also responsible for maintaining pitch books and ensuring that all stakeholders, both internal and external, had all the information they needed at the right time.
I’ve been praised by my seniors for the attention to detail and clarity in my reports, especially my executive summaries. One of the MDs termed my executive summary for a critical $680 million M&A deal the “most well-written report I’ve come across in years.” I understand how critical data and reports are in decision making, which is why I approach writing even the simplest of reports or updates with utmost diligence.
Given my experience in investment banking along with my analytical and teamwork skills, I am a particularly good fit for the Investment Banking Associate position at Bank of America. I believe my skill set and experience will let me hit the ground running from Day 1 and look forward to joining and contributing to the company.
I enclose my curriculum vitae and photographs as required, and I would be happy to provide you with further details should they be required. Thank you for your consideration.