In this weekly series, our friends at MBA Career Coaches will be dispensing invaluable advice to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews.
A couple of months ago, we tried to dissuade you from starting a cover letter with the incredibly banal “My name is Bob and I am applying for the position of…” in a post quite logically entitled, “My Name Is…” But, instead of just focusing on the minimalistic “what not to do,” let’s focus on the maximalistic “what to do”!
Even the cover letters for great applicants are often discarded unless something captures the hiring manager’s attention immediately. So, your job is to… quickly capture the reader’s attention! Before you start writing a cover letter, ask yourself a simple question: what is most compelling about me as an applicant? If you can’t answer that question, then maybe you should not be applying for the job! If you can answer that question, you should think carefully about how you can relate your own compelling experience to your target field—for example, investment banking.
Do you have direct and relevant experience in investment banking? Great! Start with that: “After completing a two-year analyst program at Morgan Stanley, I am returning to the field post-MBA…” No direct banking experience? Then think about the traits they look for: attributes such as drive, stamina, analytical skills, and attention to detail.
In your cover letter, then, share your experiences that relate to those attributes and explain them in a way that will make sense to someone in banking. Here are a few examples:
- Drive: “At University ABC, we didn’t even have a finance club—so I started one.”
- Stamina: “After having 2,000 doors slammed in my face one summer as I sold knives door-to-door, I learned one thing—I am indefatigable.”
- Analytical skills and attention to detail: “As a research associate for an economics professor, I was tasked with running complex models with a non-existent margin of error.”
Now, you may be saying, “But I was not a research associate, a door-to-door salesperson, or a student at a college that did not have a finance club.” That’s ok. Your job is to find the ways in which you have demonstrated these broad traits and highlight your best experiences in the context of the job for which you are applying. So, showcase your best right off the bat to increase your odds of capturing the hiring manager’s attention and ensuring that he/she reads on.