If you’re looking to improve your investment banking cover letter, look no further…
Here are 10 ideas that will show you how to increase the number of bankers who actually read it without messing around with the traditional banking cover letter model too much.
If you’re looking for more in-depth advice on how to write a cover letter that bankers love check out this free course.
How to Write Your Investment Banking Cover Letter The Smart Way
1. Minimalism is your best friend. Long cover letters are enough to have bankers taking to tall buildings. Bankers are time poor, short on attention and not in the mood to hear how you graduated top of your class despite a roller skating accident in junior year. Short cover letters by contrast immediately command attention, because bankers can read them in seconds. If you want your investment banking cover letter read, make it readable…
2. Two paragraphs is all you get. Sounds crazy, right? But it’s true. What are we eliminating to make this magic feat happen? Not much actually. We’re just combining the “I’m applying” paragraph with the “Why that bank” paragraph. And making the second paragraph the “About you” paragraph. Some of you will be wondering where the “Thanks for considering” BS line is. It’s gone! A simple “Warm Regards” sign off with your name will do there.
3. Get the basics rights so bankers don’t scoff at your cover letter. That means your name and contact details top right. Then the date below that and to the left. Just under that put the head of recruiting’s name – and absent that just “[Bank Name] Recruiting”. Followed by basic bank details. Leave out actual address, number etc…they know their own details! Just below a simple greeting.
4. Open strongly with a killer first paragraph. You want to cover who you are, what you’re studying (inc school, year, and possibly major), any relevant experience (eg IB internship) and what you’re applying for specifically. Wrap up with a mention of a person you know from the bank and why they’ve convinced you this is the bank for you.
5. Continue on with speed into the second (and final!) paragraph. Mention education achievements and an interesting/related leadership position or EC at college (eg IB club leader). Follow up with your major work achievement/experience. Relate both achievements to how they’ve readied you and increased your passion for banking. This link is essential.
6. Make no mistakes. Bankers love mistakes on your investment banking cover letter, because it means they don’t need to bother scheduling you in for an interview…you’re out. Make sure you get your cover letter reviewed by an outsider to ensure this doesn’t happen to you, because a fresh set of eyes will always find new problems. You can get your friends to hunt out grammar/spelling/punctuation/nonsensical mistakes, but only an actual investment banker can guarantee you have a good investment banking cover letter. Consider getting your cover letter reviewed by an actual banker.
7. Avoid all the advice you’ve heard up until now. There shall be no quoting founders in your cover letter, no brown nosing to the point of causing bankers to projectile vomit, no assumptive lines like “I can start…”, no selfish “I want to do IB to learn…” shit, no aggressive “I’ll ring you on Thursday to discuss further” BS.
8. Don’t send the same investment banking cover letter to every bank. It’s hard to personalize a resume for each bank, but it is easy to do this for your cover letter. Obviously you’ll do this when you address the freaking thing – although you’d be surprised how many students forget that one! But personalization is most important when you talk about why them and who you know from them. And also, when you talk about why your experience makes you the perfect fit for their bank.
9. Don’t ever quarantine important info in your cover letter. That is, don’t ever put something in your cover letter and then leave it off your resume. Remember what we said about cover letters above – they often don’t get read. Imagine bankers missing out on the little factoid that you did a summer semester at LSE just because you thought they would do the right thing and read your cover letter!
10. Finally, approach your cover letter with a risk-averse mindset. Sure we said avoid the traditional four paragraph cover letter, but that’s about where the progressiveness stops. Keep your cover letter weird-free. Sure, tell a story, but do it quickly and without letting anything too personal slip out. If you take all 10 tips on board, you’ll have a good investment banking cover letter in no time.
(Photo by pacomexico)
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A long time ago I said that we would never post a cover letter template here:
“I was tempted to post a Word template, but I don’t want 5,000 daily visitors to copy it and to start using the same exact cover letter.”
But hey, we already have resume templates that everyone is using, so why not go a step further and give you a cover letter template as well?
Plus, “investment banking cover letter” is one of the top 10 search terms visitors use to find this site – so you must be looking for a template.
The Template & Tutorial
Let’s jump right in:
And here’s the video that explains everything:
(For more free training and financial modeling videos, subscribe to our YouTube channel.)
And if you’d rather read, here’s the text version:
Do Cover Letters Actually Matter?
At bulge bracket banks, people barely read cover letters.
Cover letters matter 10x less than resumes and 100x less than networking.
But there are a few special cases where they’re more important:
- Boutiques and Local Banks – Sometimes they actually read cover letters.
- Unusual Backgrounds – If you’re NOT in university or business school at the moment, you may need to explain yourself in more detail.
- Outside the US – In Europe, for example, some banks pay more attention to cover letters, online applications, and so on.
Similar to grades and test scores, a great cover letter won’t set you apart but a poor one will hurt you – so let’s find out how to avoid that.
Keep your cover letter compact and avoid 0.1″ margins and size 8 font.
With resumes you can get away with shrinking the font sizes and margins if you really need to fit in extra information, but this is questionable with cover letters.
Go for 0.75″ or 1″ margins and at least size 10 font.
With resumes there were a couple different templates depending on your level – but with cover letters that’s not necessary and you can use the same template no matter your background.
1 Page Only
Ok, maybe they do things differently in Australia (just like with resumes) but aside from that there is no reason to write a multi-page cover letter.
If you actually have enough experience to warrant multiple pages, do it on your resume instead and keep the cover letter brief.
List your own information – name, address, phone number, and email address – right-aligned up at the top.
Then, below that you list the date and the name and contact information for the person you’re writing to, left-aligned on the page.
If you don’t have this information you can just list the company name and address and use a “Dear Sir or Madam” greeting.
That’s not ideal – especially if you’re applying to smaller firms where cover letters actually get read – but it’s all you can do if you can’t find a person’s name.
If you’re sending the cover letter via email as the body of the email, you can omit all this information and just include the greeting at the top.
Paragraph 1: Introduction
This is where you explain who you are, where you’re currently working or studying, and how you found the bank that you’re applying to.
Name-drop as much as possible:
- Impressive-sounding university or business school? Mention it. Even if it’s not well-known, you still need to mention it here.
- Your company name, especially if it’s recognizable, and the group you’re working in, especially if it’s something relevant to finance like business development.
- How you found them – specific peoples’ names, specific presentations or information sessions where you met them, and so on.
- The position you’re applying for (Analyst? Associate?) – especially for smaller places that are not well-organized.
This first paragraph is all about grabbing their attention.
Example 1st Paragraph:
“My name is John Smith and I am currently a 3rd year economics major at UCLA. I recently met Fred Jackson from the M&A group at Goldman Stanley during a presentation at our school last week, and was impressed with what I learned of your culture and recent deal flow. I am interested in pursuing an investment banking summer analyst position at your firm, and have enclosed my resume and background information below.”
Paragraph 2: Your Background
You go through your most relevant experience and how the skills you gained will make you a good banker right here.
Do not list all 12 internships or all 5 full-time jobs you’ve had – focus on the most relevant 1-2, once again name-dropping where appropriate (bulge bracket banks / large PE firms / Fortune 500 companies).
Highlight the usual skills that bankers want to see – teamwork, leadership, analytical ability, financial modeling and so on.
If you worked on a high-impact project / deal / client, you can point that out and list the results as well.
This may be your longest paragraph, but you still don’t want to write War and Peace – keep it to 3-4 sentences.
Example 2nd Paragraph:
“I have previously completed internships in accounting at PricewaterhouseCoopers and in wealth management at UBS. Through this experience working directly with clients, analyzing financial statements, and making investment recommendations, I have developed leadership and analytical skills and honed my knowledge of accounting and finance. I also had the opportunity to work with a $20M net-worth client at UBS and completely revamped his portfolio, resulting in a 20% return last year.”
Paragraph 3: Why You’re a Good Fit
Now you turn around and link your experience and skills to the position more directly and explain that leadership + quantitative skills + accounting/finance knowledge = success.
There is not much to this part – just copy the template and fill in the blanks.
Example 3rd Paragraph:
“Given my background in accounting and wealth management and 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 Stanley and the significant responsibilities given to analysts, and I look forward to joining and contributing to your firm.”
Paragraph 4: Conclusion
This part’s even easier: remind them that your resume is enclosed (or attached if sent via email), thank them for their time, and give your contact information once again so they don’t have to scroll to the top to get it.
Example 4th Paragraph:
“A copy of my resume is enclosed for your reference. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss my qualifications with you and learn more about Goldman Stanley at your earliest convenience. I can be reached at 310-555-1234 or via email at email@example.com. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.”
These examples cover how to apply to a bank if you’re in university, business school, or you’ve been working for several years.
If you have a more unusual background (e.g. you went to med school, graduated, started your residency, but then decided you wanted to be an investment banker), then you might need to add a few sentences to paragraph #2 or #3 explaining yourself.
Resist the urge to write your life story because no one will read it – interviews are a much better venue to prove how committed you are.
Email vs. Attachments
If you’re emailing your cover letter and resume, do you create a separate cover letter attachment?
Or do you make the body of your email the cover letter?
I think it’s redundant to create a separate cover letter and attach it, so don’t bother unless they ask specifically for a separate cover letter.
If you’re making the body of your email the cover letter, make it even shorter (4-5 sentences total) and cut out the address bits at the top.
Optional Cover Letters?
If you’re applying online and it says “Optional Cover Letter” should you still upload one?
You might as well because it takes 2 minutes once you have a good template – it’s not the end of the world if you don’t include one, but you never know what everyone else is doing and it’s not terribly time-consuming.
Cover Letter Mistakes
Remember the role of cover letters: great ones don’t help much, but poor ones get you dinged.
The biggest mistakes with cover letters:
- Making outrageous claims (“I’m a math genius!”) or trying to be “creative” with colors, pictures, fonts, and so on.
- Going on for too long – 10 paragraphs or multiple pages.
- Listing irrelevant information like your favorite ice cream, your favorite quotes from Wall Street or Boiler Room, and so on.
If you think this sounds ridiculous, remember the golden rule: do not overestimate the competition.
For every person reading this site, there are dozens more asking, “What it’s like to be an investment banker?” at information sessions.
Sometimes you hear stories of people who write “impassioned” cover letters, win the attention of a boutique, and get in like that…
…And I’m sure that happens, but you do not want to do that at large banks.
If you do, your cover letter will be forwarded to the entire world and your “career” will be destroyed in 5 minutes.
As with resumes, there are hardly any good examples of investment banking cover letters online.
Most of the templates are horribly formatted and are more appropriate for equities in Dallas than real investment banking.
Here’s a slightly different but also good templates you could use:
More questions? Ask away.
Still Need More Help?
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About the Author
Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.