You might have heard that investment banks and other big financial services companies simply won’t have time to read your cover letter. That might be true, but an experienced recruiter will be able to detect a bad covering letter at a glance. So for large companies, while it might not matter so much if you craft the perfect cover letter, a noticeably poor cover letter will certainly scupper your chances.
A cover letter for a banking, finance or accountancy firm is a professional document, which should, in essence, be a sales pitch to accompany your CV. It’s your chance to sell yourself as a strong candidate for the role. That means recruiters don’t want to hear your sob story; they are much more interested in: who you are, what you’ve done and whether or not you have the skills for the job. It’s as simple as that.
Keep it short…
Since most employers in the banking, finance and accountancy sector will (most likely) only glance at your cover letter, you need to keep it short. By short, we mean one side of A4 maximum and certainly no more than 500 words.
Most banking and finance companies are pretty strait-laced, so you’ll need to make sure your cover letter is written in a professional and formal manner. At the same time, try to stem the impulse to clog your cover letter with financial jargon and business speak, although you might want to consider using a few carefully chosen buzzwords.
Tailor it to the company…
An example of a bad cover letter is one where the applicant has made no attempt to tailor it to the company they are writing to. It’s the job application equivalent of saying to the employer you simply CBA. Believe us! Recruiters will be on the lookout for any formulaic applications where it’s obvious that the applicant has sent the same letter to multiple companies. More often than not, these letters will go straight in the bin.
So to fast-track your application to the “we’d be mad not to interview them” pile, you need to make sure you tailor your cover letter to each company and each job you apply for. Research the job to find out exactly what it will involve. Scour the company literature to suss out what makes them different from their competitors and to get a sense of their company culture.
Don’t write anything until you have properly read the job advert and researched the company. You should be able to identify the key things (keywords) the company is looking for and what they value in their employees.
How to structure your cover letter…
For the majority of banking and finance employers, communication skills will be in their shortlist of desired attributes. They’ll want someone who can communicate coherently and write in a logical fashion. Send them a rambling, unstructured covering letter and they might doubt your ability to communicate. So pay close attention to the structure of your cover letter. We’ve put together a suggestion for how you might want to structure your cover letter below:
Addressing your cover letter
As it is a formal letter, your address and the name and address of recipient should be at the top of the letter. If you are emailing the cover letter, put the cover letter in the body of the email and omit the addresses. You should also attempt to find out the name of the person who will be receiving the cover letter, so you can address it to them directly.
A cover letter is also an introductory letter. The first paragraph is an ideal place to tell the recruiter who you are and why you are writing. Mention the role you are applying to and how you heard about the job (particularly if you were referred by a mutual acquaintance). Give a unique reason why you would be great for the role.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to do a subtle bit of wooing in your cover letter, so here you might want to state why you want to work for the company in particular. Try to come up with a reason that sounds genuine and unique. A little bit of enthusiasm and interest in the role certainly wouldn’t go amiss either.
Employers don’t care that you can stack 20 cups in ten seconds or that you can mould your belly button fluff into a precise replica of the Olympic torch. Ultimately, they want to know that you have the skills to do the job. Consequently, in this paragraph, you might want to showcase the relevant skills you have for the job.
Isolate the key attributes they are looking for by scouring the job advert or reading up on company literature. Then show them that you have their desired attributes by drawing upon examples of previous work experience, your degree or any relevant extracurricular work.
The final (very brief) paragraph can be used to tie up loose ends or cover any practical issues such as availability for interview.
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.
Proofread your cover letter…
One sure-fire way of getting your cover letter unceremoniously dumped straight into the rubbish bin is to send in a letter riddled with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Double check, nay triple check your cover letter. Get your mum, friends, granny, dog to read over the letter, looking for any typos or schoolboy errors.
Pay attention to the formatting as well. Make sure it is clearly laid out and use a sensible font (if they’re likely to read it onscreen, use a font designed to be read on a screen, such as Verdana or Helvetica).
So there you have it: a basic guide to knocking the socks off banking, finance and accountancy employers with your well-crafted cover letters. There’s only one thing left for you to do now: crack on with them!
Skip the “Dear Sir or Madam” in your cover letter and zero in on exactly how you’re going to solve whatever problems the hiring company has.
Do hiring professionals even read cover letters for senior candidates anymore? Some say yes; some say no, they don’t bother unless the resume in question has grabbed their attention.
The simple answer is that you should assume your resume will merit a look at your cover letter ; always include one (either as a separate document or an e-mail that acts as one); and make it exceptional, so you stand out from the crowd. Ladders talked to hiring and career management professionals to find out exactly how a good cover letter is laid out and what it contains.
The salutation is your first chance to make contact with a hiring professional, but it’s one spot where laziness often wins out over due diligence. We’re talking about the “Dear Sir or Madam” approach. What this generic salutation says isn’t positive: Namely, that the author couldn’t be bothered to find out the hiring manager’s name.
Abby Kohut, president and staffing consultant at Staffing Symphony, suggests job seekers can easily locate the right person online: “To find the name of the hiring manager, try searching on Google or LinkedIn,” she said. “Even a good guess scores you points because it indicates that you tried harder than everyone else.”
Why do you want to work here?
Kohut recommends that job applicants make sure to mention the name of the company in the letter, followed by an explanation of why they’re interested in working there. “Make sure that you really mean what you say,” she said. “Recruiters have a way of sensing when you are being less than truthful. Our goal is to hire people who sincerely want to work at our company — it’s the job of your cover letter to convince us.”
Bombastic claims are just as bad as insincerity. Brooke Allen, a hiring manager at Maple Securities, said he hates it when job seekers claim in their cover letters that they’re his “best candidate.” “How can they know without evaluating all my candidates?” he asked.
You also need to make a sales pitch as to why the employer should want to work with you, Kohut said.
“Your letter should explain what you can do for your ‛customer,’ not what you are selling,” she said. “The key is to give the reader a small glimpse into your background, which encourages them to want to learn more by reading your resume.”
Length and format
Job coach and author Susan Kennedy, of Career Treking, provided this outline for a good, succinct cover letter:
Introduce yourself and state why you’re writing; you are enthusiastically presenting yourself for a job, and your background makes you the best candidate. List a referral source if possible.
List your value to the company. Describe how you will contribute to the company from Day One. This should be based on research of the company and job. Share knowledge of the company’s goals, accomplishments and opportunities.
Call to action. Ask for the interview and state when (exactly) you will follow up.
If you are responding a job posting, Kennedy recommends a column approach. Below is a sample of how that might look, with bulleted lists of requirements and descriptions of how your background matches them:
Job Requirements: 1-2 years of general accounting experience.
Your experience: Tracked expenses and all financial reporting for a government subcommittee.
Job Requirements: Attention to detail.
Your experience: Edited manuscripts to ensure American English vs. British English.
Kennedy notes that cover letters “can also be used to bridge your background and the job.” She offered up an excerpt from the cover letter of a client with a degree in political science who wants to get a job in the video-gaming business:
“As you can see, my resume is attached. But what you won’t see on my resume is my passion for video gaming: it is how I see the world. My analytical skills and attention to detail will enable me to help solve the caller’s problems and ensure a high-quality product.”
Perfect spelling and grammar are mandatory
A cover letter is “a writing-skills evaluation in disguise,” Kohut said. “When recruiters are faced with large stacks of resumes for new positions, you’ll never make the first cut if they notice even one spelling or grammar mistake on your resume or cover letter.” Make sure that even an e-mail is scrupulously proofread.
Tactics hiring professionals love
Sometimes a gesture can impress a hiring professional. Kohut was once beguiled by a candidate who read her LinkedIn profile and saw that she had won a ping-pong tournament. “He sent me a ping-pong paddle in the mail and wrote a cover letter with ping pong-themed language in it,” she said, including sentences like these:
- “I’d like to get in the game.”
- “I bring energy, intelligence and motivation to the table.”
- “I now feel compelled to drive home positive business results.”
For Allen, the most effective cover letters are those that do one of the following two things in one sentence or two: They make a compelling statement that begs a response, or they ask a question that must be answered.
A good approach is to ask for clarification of a point that makes it clear they have done their homework, as in: ‘Your ad said X while your Web site said Y … Could you help me understand Z?’ ” he said. “I believe the goal of the job seeker is to start a conversation rather than just throw a resume into a pile.”
Tactics that hiring professionals hate
Allen said that cover letters or cover e-mails should not only be “well written with proper spelling, grammar, punctuation and capitalization,” but they should also leave out abbreviations or emoticons.
Phrases like “i dunno,” lolh,” “i dnt cf,” “!!!,” “dgms,” “WTF” and using all capital letters have no place in professional correspondence, he said.
“I am not against people who are into texting, if they use it when they text,” he said. “But I like the full expressiveness of our language and the keyboard.”
Abbreviations are also inappropriate. They’re not expressive, Allen said, and using them risks confusing your reader, who might not know what their spelled-out versions are.