Scroll to the end of this post if all you want are actual examples I submitted to firms: seeing other people’s examples was by far, the most useful resource that helped me improve my own cover letters and formed the basis of my approach.
Cover letters can be a lot of effort but be patient because  if you put the effort in for each ‘why firm’ paragraph, that will set you up for the interview and  the process will get faster the more effort you put in early on.
So how do you write a good cover letter?
Firstly, some rules of thumb:
- Keep it to 400 words (+/- 10%)
- Don’t go smaller than size 11 font
- Use an example to spark ideas and to double up as a template; scroll to end to see 3 examples of my own (Evercore, Credit Suisse and JP Morgan).
Whereas the key to speeding up CV writing is using a template, I found the key to writing a cover letter is using someone else’s as an example (which doubles up as a template).
Here is the structure I would use:
“I am entering my penultimate year studying X at the University of Y, where I expect to receive…”.
See examples below for a more detailed outline of my approach. This brief introduction can be incorporated into the first paragraph, but I would simply have it as a 2 line stand-alone section as you can see in the examples at the bottom of this post.
1. Why the Firm?
Move straight into your 2 or 3 reasons for why the firm.
I used to begin with why the division, but this technique of starting with the most tailored paragraph of why the firm prevents you from sounding generic from the get-go.
For example: “I am drawn to apply to X because of its unique combination of being a premier global advisory firm and having an entrepreneurial, open culture.”
Then support your point by mentioning people you’ve spoken to and past experiences that draw you to that culture.
The why firm part is where networking becomes critical and can make your life a lot easier. The reason I would suggest starting with why the firm is because it draws the recruiter in straight away and is the most case-specific, tailored part of your cover letter to that firm so convinces them you’ve done your research from the get-go.
Stay tuned for next week’s post which will extend the current mini-snippet on how to network effectively.
2. Why the Division?
I recommend linking why the division into why the firm to avoid making a paragraph seem generic, although that doesn’t stop you from dedicating 2 paragraphs to the overall section.
This is where it becomes more of an art than a science, even more so than before but I will try my best to make this an actionable, reproducible strategy.
Here are 2 approaches you could try for yourself and see what works best for you:
- [Approach 1 – two simple reasons] This approach is where I attempt to harness the Pyramid Principle through writing in a top-down fashion.
Financial Advisory appeals to me based on the analytical mindset required by analysts and the meaningful impact that M&A can have on an industry, which can lead to exciting work.
I gained an insight into the problem-solving mindset required by analysts during a spring week at Lazard, where I most enjoyed analysing five potential buyers concerning a mock company sale.
It was through a remote internship at Singleton Valuations that I could appreciate the impact of M&A when analysing a Canadian healthcare company that had grown by consolidating a fragmented market through a string of acquisitions.
- [Approach 2 – Narrative… ] Approach 2 is something that evolved as I reflected more deeply on my past and although I didn’t use it for any of my cover letters, it is something that worked much more effectively in interviews and therefore something I wish I had harnessed earlier on. When reading through this particular approach, I recommend thinking of something you were exposed to that could form the basis of your own narrative e.g. a small family shop, restaurant chain, start-up and so on.
Since this approach is more personal, it is probably most useful if I talk through it instead of giving my word-for-word response: The investment banking division appeals to me based on my interest in delivering to clients at critical stages of their growth story.
My curiosity in business structures, how they grow and overcome challenges stemmed from stories of my granddad’s steakhouse in Upton Park…then I would give a bit of context as to why this is where that interest stemmed from. Note how I name the place; being specific about such narratives more personal to you is critical when convincing the interviewer.
Next, I would continue this line of reasoning explaining my motivation: These stories planted a curiosity in me for acquiring business acumen. It is this curiosity that led to accounting insight weeks (where I was exposed to the Deals team at PwC), the Warwick Finance Societies, Lazard and finally Singleton Valuations that ultimately helped me confirm IB is where I want to begin my career.
Although too long for the cover letter, I would be ready to extend or adjust this line of reasoning e.g. when conversing during the interview to include: I believe I have gained enough exposure to have the confidence that I am suited to the role of an analyst. For example, I have found delving into company analysis intellectually stimulating like when analysing a Canadian healthcare company that was consolidating a market through a string of acquisitions. This particular analysis involved investigating and presenting their competitive advantage and the success behind their acquisition model.
3. Why You?
You’ve got to see the language they use – e.g. ‘strong interest in Investment Banking’, ‘innovative’, ‘creativity’, ‘analytical thinker’. Read the application form and save this application form as a pdf to refer to later on because the firm will probably remove this after a certain point in time.
Then use this application form to brainstorm keywords you could relate to your own set of experiences. I recommend using the [what you did + metric of success] & [how you did it] structure to prove you have the particular skill you’re showcasing.
As you can see, the why you section of the cover letter is very similar to the ABC method from the CV. However, remember that it is best to include things you haven’t yet included in your CV.
Optimising your Writing
Read the Pyramid Principle as I firmly believe it will transform the way you communicate, including your writing – this is a book I will be trying to read at least once a year to sharpen communication skills. See this post for a summary of key takeaways from the Pyramid Principle.
The following is a list of forbidden words I wish I had heard when I was writing my cover letters since they ensure you avoid unnecessary waffle – you’ll see how I still have a long way to go in applying these tips myself:
- Also (just say the next point)
- Not only but also (even worst than also since you’re wasting three more words)
- Always (I doubt you’ve been interested in finance since you were born)
- Had to (just say what you did)
- Fortunate enough (don’t make it sound like your family landed you the opportunity)
- Sparked, fuelled, ignited (avoid cliches like words related to fire)
I was initially hesitant about including the list above in fear of sounding hypocritical since you’ll see words like ‘also’ in my own cover letter examples and my posts can always be made more concise. However, I decided to add this section, in the light that these are further optimisations or improvements you can apply to your cover letter responses, and to not give a false impression that I am perfect. So I apologise for any hypocrisy from this section.
- Brainstorm the ‘why division, ‘why firm’ and ‘why you’ sections before writing.
- Build a ‘firm profile’ using the firm website and its annual report – find initiatives that take 10-clicks to uncover that no one else will specifically mention and that moreover resonate with you.
Before going into the examples, check your cover letter with extreme diligence. Check it once, check it twice, check it three times – if you’re not sick of checking it, you have not checked it enough. Checking can be a painstaking process, but it is paramount that you take this seriously. It took mistakes during my spring week applications to teach me this lesson, so it would be hypocritical for me to think that this paragraph of advice will be enough to get you into the habit of checking so meticulously, although if you have made it through this much of the article, I have a lot more faith in you than my past self!
Caveat: Despite these examples not being perfect, I think it is still worth sharing them as it was examples that catalysed my own progress in writing cover letters and application-specific responses.
Application-specific Question Examples
Application-specific Q1: In your own words, please describe the function of the division you have selected and why have you applied to [bank name]? (200 word limit).
The Investment Banking Division is made up of different industry coverage, region and product teams whose aim is to advise clients on the execution of a mandated or potential transaction. These transactions commonly include a merger or acquisition (M&A), leveraged buyout (LBO) or capital raising.
Having confirmed my interest in Investment Banking after being drawn to the work undertaken by analysts following a spring week at Lazard, I took steps to confirm which bank would be right for me. After speaking with [name], an Analyst in LevFin, I was drawn to the unique pooling system as part of the internship programme at [bank name]. I highly value the flexibility offered in this structure which allows interns to explore multiple areas in finding the team they most enjoy working with.
Secondly, I am drawn to the emphasis placed on ‘Acting Responsibly’ through giving back to communities. Having built a resource-sharing start-up aimed at supporting year 13 students to master STEM-based subjects and therefore pursue technology and entrepreneurial ambitions, the EMEA partnership with “Code First: Girls” particularly resonates with me. I am attracted to opportunities like these that allow employees to give back to the wider community at [bank name].
Application-specific Q2: As an intern, what would you like to achieve in your 10 weeks at [firm]?
[I have not named the firm that asked this question because this is more of a generic question that will hopefully help you form a response for whichever company asks something along these lines.]
The three goals I would aim for if given the opportunity to intern at [firm] would include: mastering technical ability, honing interpersonal skills and building a strong network.
Firstly, within mastering technical ability, which is fundamental to the role of an analyst, I would aim on learning how to apply advanced modelling techniques and spreadsheet manipulation to carry out valuation analysis. Alongside quantitative analysis would be perfecting my ability to build concise and clear presentations for client meetings. Also, acquiring the mindset of an analyst through understanding the context of [firm]’s service more holistically would be a key component of technical mastery.
Secondly, enhancing my interpersonal skills through honing my ability to build rapport with senior professionals and clients would be a core goal I would aim for. As well as learning how to effectively communicate with seniors, I would seek to live up to the collaborative and entrepreneurial values of the firm, while embodying humility in trying to become an influencer that [senior person’s name] highlights as being paramount to the future leaders of [firm].
Finally, I would aim at building a strong network. Building relationships with people that are willing to offer mentorship has always been a priority for me, as I am keen on catalysing my development through harnessing wisdom from others. Alongside seeking mentorship, I would aim at building relationships with fellow interns to share knowledge and create synergies.
Application-specific Q3: What strategic alternatives might a company have if they choose to not engage with M&A?
Firstly, strategic alliances can offer firms a greater variety of solutions as an alternative to M&A. This alternative also offers the potential benefit of being less resource-intensive upfront while still providing access to complementary features of the partnering firm.
These alliances may take the form of joint ventures, where two companies join forces to create a separate entity such as the Hyundai-Aptiv Autonomous Driving Joint Venture called ‘Motional’. The Motional joint venture has allowed Hyundai and Aptiv (formerly Delphi) to join intellectual property and employee talent to speed up the development of self-driving cars while reducing the burden of such a long-term investment.
Within the strategic alliance umbrella, but less formal than joint ventures, are market collaborations which allow companies to market their brands and services together. Such collaborations may come in the form of R&D or marketing alliances.
Finally, a company may aim for organic growth rather than growing via acquisition if their aim is on achieving market share expansion, for instance into new geographies. Within the organic approach is an investment in internal development, which has the potential to address the motive behind acquiring intellectual property. Companies like Apple have shown the potential of accelerating innovation through investment in internal development which has built a strong moat around the company’s hardware, thereby opening doors to other, more lucrative offerings.
Application-specific Q4: What do you think has been the most strategically successful M&A deal you’ve seen in the last few years and why?
I believe the most strategically successful M&A deal has been T-Mobile US’s $23bn all-stock acquisition of Sprint which closed on April 1, 2020, after a 2-year long approval process that was initiated on April 29, 2018. The significance of the deal lies in the fact that it reflects a crucial step in helping T-Mobile build a world-class nationwide 5G network that has the potential to surpass Verizon and AT&T.
T-Mobile is a mobile communications subsidiary of German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom AG and Sprint was a telecommunications company providing wireless and wireline communication services and products to clients. T-Mobile and Sprint are the third and fourth-largest carriers in the US, respectively.
The first reflection of the deal’s success is in the expanded customer base it will allow the new entity to achieve. By exceeding 140 million mobile customers, this deal will enable T-Mobile to compete against AT&T and Verizon that have 141 and 150 million subscribers respectively.
Secondly, the strategic success is underpinned by the unrivalled 5G network the new entity will now be able to build. As a result of the merger, T-Mobile has pledged to invest $40bn into infrastructure that, by 2024, is forecasted to result in a 5G capacity 8 times greater and a network speed 15 times greater than if the companies were to have worked alone. These statistics are partly driven by run-rate cost synergies that are expected to amount to $6bn, arising from R&D and overhead cost savings.
Free Download Links for my Evercore, Torch Partners and Morgan Stanley cover letters:
As I said, looking at other people’s examples helped me most when improving my cover technique so hopefully these help you in the same way. You’ll notice the similarities between each of the cover letters and how after crafting your first one, you’ll be able to make them more quickly.
If you would like to access three example cover letters, then click this link.