It’s 11:14–it’s dark outside, and my university work is somewhat done for the day. After a cup of tea, I’ve decided to start a cover letter for a prestigious firm in London.
The problem is, I’ve never written a cover letter before. Come to think of it, I’ve never even read one.
I’m left confused. I have my CV, and I have some gut feeling that applying for this sector is right for me. But how do I articulate this in a professional manner?
Many of us have found ourselves in this position. However, cover letters do not have to be difficult. In this article, I hope to dispel some of the uncertainties surrounding what makes a successful cover letter, as well as where to start.
Your cover letter has to convince your reader that you are interested in the field you are applying for, as well as the firm. But to start off, you need to structure your letter properly.
For consulting and investment banking, begin your letter with a simple introduction, including the role which you are applying for. Occasionally, you may choose to include your university degree, as well as which year you are in. For example:
“Hi, my name is Charli D’Amelio, and I am an incoming second year student at UCL studying a BA in Social Media Studies. I am applying for the Goldman Sachs 2021 Divisional Spring Internship.”
Following this, you’ll need to include three sections: why are you interested in this sector, why this firm, and why you. For most letters, consider keeping sections one and three the same. To save time, change the second section to suit the firm you are applying to. I’ll explain each section in more detail below.
Finally, close your letter by thanking the reader for their time, followed by signing off with your name.
Now, let’s explore each of the specific sections mentioned above.
Why This Sector?
Whether applying for consulting or investment banking, you’ll need to justify why you’re interested in the sector. You may have some reasons for this–the pay, the fast-paced lifestyle, your intrigue in complex business problems, etc. Whilst these are justified as starting points for your exploration in the field, they should not be the main reason for which you apply, as they are quite cliché. Watch YouTube videos, read blogs, and check out different LinkedIn pages. Try to make your reason for applying unique to you, either drawing on personal work experience or society roles from university. Make sure that there’s no overlap between later sections.
Why this firm?
For this section, do some heavy research. Look through the company website, attend events, listen to podcasts, and scour LinkedIn. Alternatively, type the firm’s name into Google and hit “news.” Often, solely reading the company website isn’t enough. Like section two, focus on one or two aspects of the firm (or projects they are involved in) you are particularly interested in and articulate them well. Your interest, passion, and commercial awareness is demonstrated by how you personalize this section–so find something which speaks to you.
Ways you can personalize this section include:
- Mentioning firm representatives you’ve talked to, and how those conversations led to your interest in the firm (don’t be afraid to name drop!),
- Indicating interest for specific projects the firm is engaged in,
- Learning about the firm’s culture, and highlighting how it appeals to you,
- Drawing parallels between your degree and a specific industry the firm specializes in, illustrating you would be passionate to work in that area,
- Among others!
For the “why you?” section, convince the reader that your skills suit the career which you are applying for. Having done a bit of exploration of the field, explain how your experience demonstrates your fit. For this, there are two key things to remember.
First: stay relevant. In this section, you first want to highlight which qualities make you suitable for the firm. Focus on one or two traits, and use the STAR technique to illustrate how you’ve portrayed them. Not sure which characteristics to choose? Consider referencing values directly from the firm’s website, making sure that they are relevant to the role.
Secondly, back up these traits with your most impressive experiences. It may be tempting to shove all of your high school achievements into one paragraph, but this is advised against. Discuss what you have worked with since coming to university–and describe the contributions you made to your team, rather than what the team accomplished as a whole. With this, make sure you quantify your efforts. A representative at a large firm may not immediately recognize the name of the society you work with, or understand the value of the work you do. Through quantifying your accomplishments you show the relevance of your work, which will only strengthen the firm’s impression of you.
Hopefully, you’ll now have a better idea on how to write a cover letter. But before I go, here are some helpful tips.
Normally, you’ll need to keep your letter below 500 words. Some firms may request a lower word count, so pay attention to requirements.
Additionally, ensure that your paragraphs run smoothly when writing. Just as you wrote your essays in secondary school, stick to a sandwich structure, which ensures clarity. Personally, I like to read through the first and last sentences of each paragraph. If these get your message across without the details in-between, you’re good to go.
For helpful resources, look here:
- Olamide Duyile Resource Bank (includes successful IB cover letters)
- Olamide Duyile YouTube Channel (for help on application timing and general advice) (old account with more videos can be found here)
- Victor Cheng Consulting Prep (includes section on how to write CVs and cover letters)
- Afzal Hussein, “How to Write a Cover Letter that Stands Out”, Youtube Video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nsbNEnMqGw&t=309s)
Got any more questions? Leave comments below!