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What Recruiters are Looking for in a Cover Letter


After hours spent on an application filling out personal details, arriving at the final section which then includes the space for an ‘optional’ cover letter is enough to sap the willpower of even the strongest candidate.

Cover letters are often overlooked because of the effort that goes into writing and tailoring them, resulting in the use of the same template for all, or convincing yourself that everything you would say in it is already in the application.

It is precisely this feeling then that gives you an opportunity to set yourself apart from other candidates and grab the recruiter’s attention – even though they might only dedicate a couple of minutes to scan through it.

A cover letter provides the missing link between the living-you and your CV.

The key to stand out is knowing what recruiters are looking for, which can be boiled down to the following five points.

1. You have a strong motivation for investment banking

First and foremost, showcase your interest in finance. What sparked this curiosity? Which past activities gave you an insight on the industry? If your major isn’t finance, how did you try and learn more about it? Talk about your motivation for applying – reasons that should go beyond financial remuneration and a vague indication of interest.

Be specific and talk at length about occasions during which you got a glimpse of the IB world.

2. You understand what the job is about

Show that you’ve done your research and that you know what you’re in for. You should understand the demands of the jobs (and thus the compromises you must make, notably about the working hours) and the skills required.

Recruiters are looking for someone to invest in, someone who is likely to accept a further offer from the firm after an internship and someone who will want to stay at the firm for an indefinite number of years.

You will be staring for hours at spreadsheets, let them know you’re up to it.

3. You have got the right skills

Following on from showing that you understand the job, recruiters not only want you to understand which skills are fundamental but want you to possess them.

Personalise the cover letter for each position by pulling out keywords from the job description that resonate with the employer.

Emphasise your suitability by highlighting how past experience and your personal attitude make you the best candidate out of a large selection pool.

4. You are articulate

Get the basics right first: make sure to review your cover letter (and get an external opinion) as typos can be an easy reason to filter down the list of candidates.

Use paragraphs and bold formatting properly, and make sure it’s easy to read, yet professional. Then go further: how you present yourself on paper is a significant indicator of how you will appear in person and how you will represent the firm at work.

They are looking for a fit with current employees, so make sure you talk the same language. Showcase your business writing skills alongside an attention to detail.

5. You know what makes the firm stand out

They know that you’re applying to every other firm as well, but highlight why you would like to join them specifically.

This is why it’s crucial to tailor each cover letter, rather than use a generic one for all banks. What makes them special? What are they proud of? This could be any recent project, or philanthropic activity. Research them extensively and connect with people already working there.

The HR department may be an entire team, but try and make it feel as personal as possible.

Cover letters are undeniably a struggle at times, but when it comes to applications in the banking world, putting in those extra few hours now is worth it.

Anyone can copy and paste the same generic sentences about work ethic, and banks will have seen it all before.

Keep in mind the tips above, and that showcasing a genuine enthusiasm backed up with examples is a good model for any industry.

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