Cover Letter – How to Answer “Why This Firm”

I’m sitting at my desk trying to write a cover letter for an investment banking application about to open next week but (1) does this company even need a cover letter and (2) how do I make it specific to them?

The cover letter should be 400 words plus or minus 10% and should be composed of three main sections in between an intro and outro. The three main sections are: ‘why this firm’, ‘why this role’ and ‘why me’. The best approach for ‘why firm’ starts with speaking to someone from the firm and focusing on the unique strengths of the bank that appeal to you.

At the end of this post, I include example paragraphs for ‘why you’ for each of the following firms:

  • Torch Partners
  • JP Morgan
  • Citi
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Evercore
  • Barclays
  • Lazard

The best approach to writing a cover letter

For the internship and graduate programs, cover letters form an important addition to the CV and another filtering process for the recruiter. But how do you stand out?

Here are some key steps for writing a strong cover letter:

  • Follow a clear structure that covers why firm, why role and why you

  • Focus on points that are unique to you, that no one else can copy and paste into their own cover letter because they are based on your own experiences
    • One way to make the points unique to you is having a narrative flow within these paragraphs, which means having a storyline that explains certain decisions you made e.g. when explaining what led you to apply to investment banking.
    • Another point, especially useful for ‘why you’ is to include quantified metrics of success when illustrating certain strengths you have and linking these to specific points mentioned in the application description (which varies from firm to firm).

  • For the ‘why firm’ paragraph, you should not be able to copy and paste any elements into another firm’s cover letter and avoid the generic points or points that compare them to competitors (unless about a specific award)
    • One way of making this unique is by reaching out to people from that firm and arranging a 10 minute call, then you can share a unique point they give you about the culture, the way this firm is different, or at least (if they do not share such things), that you resonated with the person you spoke to and it reinforced [x] about the culture at the firm.
    • Another element of ensuring your cover letter is not generic for the firm in question, especially for larger banks that usually have certain resource groups and initiatives, is to dig deep into the website to find particular initiatives that resonate with you.

Avoid the following when writing your cover letter:

  • Mentioning key phrases that another applicant could have said in their own cover letter e.g. ‘I am a determined and hard-working individual, which makes me suitable for this role’, without linking it to a unique past experience that demonstrates your point.
  • Simply regurgitating figures from the front page of the company’s website. Simple regurgitation in this way would not pass the test of ‘another applicant should not be able to copy and paste one of your sentences into their cover letter’ and therefore does nothing to differentiate your application.
  • Contain grammatical or spelling errors – investment bankers are reprimanded for any mistakes they make in a slide deck or Excel, in fear that this could have gone to the client so they will spot such mistakes. You need to check twice and if possible, print out the cover letter to review on paper before submitting to eliminate such errors.

Which companies need a cover letter and common questions

  • Question) Which companies require cover letters?
    • Answer) Here is a list of companies which have required cover letters based on previous years
      • Citi
      • Deutsche Bank
      • Evercore
      • Goldman Sachs (300 words – see below)
      • Holihan Lokey
      • JP Morgan
      • Morgan Stanley
      • PJT Partners
      • Standard Chartered
      • Torch Partners

  • Question) Does JP Morgan require a cover letter? If not required, should I still write one?
    • Answer) In previous years they’ve placed this as optional, but you might as well write it since you’ll need answers for ‘why JP morgan’ ahead of the HireVue video interview.

  • Question) Does Barclays need a cover letter?
    • Answer) Based on previous years, no. But you are likely to face the question ‘Why Barclays’ at the end of the second job simulator interview, so be sure to prepare a response to this.

  • Question) Do I need a cover letter for UBS?
    • Answer) No, but they ask application-specific questions instead. In previous years, this question focused on ‘why you’ in the form of the following: “Please provide details relating to your hobbies, activities and interests. Also include any additional information you think is relevant to your application, including positions of responsibility, membership of any student or other organizations, travel experience or scholarships. * You may exclude any hobbies or activities that indirectly or directly disclose race, color, religion, gender, national origin or any other protected classification (1000 character limit).”

  • Question) Does Goldman Sachs require a cover letter? What should be included in a Goldman Sachs cover letter?
    • Answer) Goldman Sachs require a more condensed 300 word response in place of a cover letter, though still covering the three core elements of ‘why firm’, ‘why role’ and ‘why you’. They’re not looking for your address and other formalities like an introductory and closing line. It’s especially important for the Goldman Sachs cover letter to not fall into the trap of merely regurgitating headline figures from their website, or the fact they are the number 1 bank according to some survey. You need to focus on more authentic points that appeal to you, such as a colleague who gave an example of the collegiate way of working as part of the ‘why firm’ paragraph.

Example ‘why firm’ sections of cover letters

Why Torch Partners

Here is what I used when applying to Torch Partners for the ‘why firm’ part of the cover letter (which helped me later secure a summer internship at the firm before joining full-time as an analyst):

After learning that Torch Partners advised Just Eat from Series A funding to IPO and beyond, I am drawn to the focus the firm has on fostering long-term client relationships. Also, when speaking with [ ], I was interested in the unique value proposition offered to clients. I could appreciate how the firm differentiates its service to clients by delivering deeper insights e.g. through leveraging cohort analysis and more detailed, software-specific datasets. This combination of having a meaningful impact on a client’s growth story and undertaking deep analysis is what attracts me to Investment Banking, which I could more fully recognise following my spring week at [ ] when preparing for the final day presentation. Finally, having found out that there are over [ ] people at the firm, I am drawn to the responsibility given to juniors, where analysts are presented with a steep development curve early on.

Here are some more updated points that might help tailor the ‘why Torch’ part of the cover letter to you, as well as prepare for the interview:

  • Friendly culture. There tends to be more people who are friendly / helpful because Torch is still relatively small, and it wasn’t too long ago they were only 25 people (now over double that at roughly 50-60 people).
  • Exposure. You get direct exposure to MDs, VPs, Directors. Many interns sitting right next to seniors – people sit on the same floors / workspaces, so you get to absorb the information around you. Also, interns get to present a case study they make to MDs at the end of the internship.
  • Deeper analysis and long-term client relationships. Torch tends to go deeper on quantitative analysis e.g. undertaking extensive customer analysis (to derive retention metrics of B2B businesses like NRR, ARR etc.), cohort analysis (for software companies with a higher volume of customers) and more. There is also a big focus on developing trust with the founders and CEOs of companies to foster a long-term client relationship so that when they raise again or a PE house makes another investment (if advising on the buy side), they are likely to come back to Torch.
  • Interesting sectors. Recently expanded into ESG tech (just look at SustainCERT, Greenstone, Envizi, ERM and Green Mountain). Tech is an interesting and fast-evolving space.

Why JP Morgan

I was particularly drawn to J.P. Morgan after speaking with [ ], an Analyst in DCM, who discussed the Business Resource Groups at the firm. After further research, the NextGen Resource Group particularly stood out to me based on how it builds relationships across all business levels. I could appreciate the power of creating diverse networks in this way when co-ordinating a collaboration panel event between [ ] and [ ] societies at university. Secondly, I am attracted to the emphasis placed on mentoring at J.P. Morgan, both directly on the internship and through The Fellowship Initiative, where employees guide young people. Having served as [ ] ambassador to support incoming undergraduates, I have seen the impact mentorship can have. These initiatives highlight the value J.P. Morgan places on nurturing its talent, which convinces me this is the best place to begin my career in Investment Banking.

Why Citi

With this interest in Investment Banking, I took steps to confirm which bank would be right for me. After speaking with [ ], an Investment Banking Analyst, I was intrigued to hear about the diversity at the firm, where serving clients across 160+ countries has cultivated a global perspective and collaborative team spirit. As well as offering mobility opportunities, I have uncovered the power of such a global network through the [ ] Society where diverse perspectives have strengthened what is a multinational team. Secondly, volunteering programmes such as Pathways to Progress strongly resonate with me. Based on the fulfilment I have gained from mentoring incoming [ ] students as an ambassador for the university, the way this initiative connects 10,000 Citi volunteers to 500,000 young people aged 16-24 struggling with persistent unemployment, particularly appeals to me.

Why Deutsche Bank

I am attracted by Deutsche Bank’s global network and the diverse thinking it fosters. Also, from having served as peer mentor leader while [ ] and having been mentored as part of the [ ] Society, I resonate with the way the Reverse Mentoring programme reinforces an inclusive environment. Being additionally attracted to the entrepreneurial thinking that is embraced at the firm, as emphasised by Chief Transformation Officer Fabrizio Campelli, I am writing to apply to the [ Year ] Summer Internship Programme in IB Corporate Finance.

Why Evercore

I am drawn to apply to Evercore because of its unique combination of being a premier global advisory firm and having an entrepreneurial, open culture. The strong growth trajectory of the firm, as evidenced by a compounded revenue growth rate that has exceeded 20% over the last decade, attracts me to apply as it ensures analysts are given a high level of responsibility early on. Secondly, I could appreciate the emphasis on mentorship and developing talent from within the firm after speaking with [ ], a Vice President at Evercore’s New York office. Mentorship is something I highly value based on how it accelerated my own development curve as part of [ ] society, after seeking mentors that helped me harness a rapid feedback loop and compete in tournaments sooner. The importance I place on such feedback loops links to Evercore’s comprehensive evaluation process for employees, which I believe forms a critical part of the development process.

Why Barclays

Why would you like to work for Barclays? Although Barclays does not require a cover letter, this is an important answer to prepare ahead of their second online, immersive assessment.

Here is what I prepared when applying, after speaking to a couple of people from the bank.

People take the time to mentor you from analysts to MDs and take a vested interest in your career. E.g. [person I spoke to] went to NY office before her summer internship and someone from Barclays reached out to organise a tour visit, even though she was joining the London office.

Exciting prospects of growth: [another person I spoke to] from LevFin gave me an insight into the exciting proposition at Barclays, which offers an accelerated career development, especially in lean teams like LevFin. I learned how the firm differentiated itself as a European heavyweight provider of universal banking services as clients look to diversify service providers and decrease exposure to the US credit cycle while other European banks have focused on a narrower product set.

Why Lazard

While Lazard don’t usually require a formal cover letter, they do often ask cover-letter-like questions for when submitting your application, so having ‘why Lazard’ prepared before the interview is critical for maximising your chances of success.

Here are some points that I prepared during the year I did a spring week with them:

  • After speaking with [person 1] who did a summer internship at Lazard in the real estate team and who has secured a place as an Analyst in the coming year, I could gain a glimpse into the firm’s culture and type of people working there. She explained that the smaller-sized teams creates a close-knit network and collegiate environment.

  • The flat structure, even for [person 1] who was doing an internship at Lazard, meant that she was being given work directly from Managing Directors of the firm. I believe this type of structure results in valuable exposure and a faster development curve, especially for what is such a large London office that serves clients at the heart of the UK economy.
    • One associate explained to me that the most challenging and rewarding part of the job is that if you do well, you are encouraged to operate above your role. If doing well as an analyst, you will be asked to step up to do tasks that an associate would do.

  • Also attracted by the fact that she could go to people who recently rolled off the internship or analyst program and could therefore provide the support they knew she would need most.

  • Another point is Lazard’s focus on long-term client relationships. Deals are not done with short-sightedness and Lazard’s business model of solely offering advisory services eliminates any conflict of interest in terms of only pursuing transactions that benefit the client long-term.
    • When hearing the presentation on Merlin Entertainment during the spring week, I could appreciate the deep level of trust fostered in client relationships, which means the client naturally turns to Lazard whenever they need to undertake a transaction-related service e.g. a divestiture, spin-off or acquisition.

  • I am drawn to the global network Lazard has with deep local roots, which is highlighted by the fact that it is operating in 43 cities across 27 different countries, not to mention serving clients in more than 70 countries. The combination of global breadth and depth that brings resilience regardless of market cycles is something which excites me, especially because of the prospects of cross-border advisory services and collaboration.

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