You might have heard that investment banks and other big financial services companies simply won’t have time to read your cover letter. That might be true, but an experienced recruiter will be able to detect a bad covering letter at a glance. So for large companies, while it might not matter so much if you craft the perfect cover letter, a noticeably poor cover letter will certainly scupper your chances.
A cover letter for a banking, finance or accountancy firm is a professional document, which should, in essence, be a sales pitch to accompany your CV. It’s your chance to sell yourself as a strong candidate for the role. That means recruiters don’t want to hear your sob story; they are much more interested in: who you are, what you’ve done and whether or not you have the skills for the job. It’s as simple as that.
Keep it short…
Since most employers in the banking, finance and accountancy sector will (most likely) only glance at your cover letter, you need to keep it short. By short, we mean one side of A4 maximum and certainly no more than 500 words.
Most banking and finance companies are pretty strait-laced, so you’ll need to make sure your cover letter is written in a professional and formal manner. At the same time, try to stem the impulse to clog your cover letter with financial jargon and business speak, although you might want to consider using a few carefully chosen buzzwords.
Tailor it to the company…
An example of a bad cover letter is one where the applicant has made no attempt to tailor it to the company they are writing to. It’s the job application equivalent of saying to the employer you simply CBA. Believe us! Recruiters will be on the lookout for any formulaic applications where it’s obvious that the applicant has sent the same letter to multiple companies. More often than not, these letters will go straight in the bin.
So to fast-track your application to the “we’d be mad not to interview them” pile, you need to make sure you tailor your cover letter to each company and each job you apply for. Research the job to find out exactly what it will involve. Scour the company literature to suss out what makes them different from their competitors and to get a sense of their company culture.
Don’t write anything until you have properly read the job advert and researched the company. You should be able to identify the key things (keywords) the company is looking for and what they value in their employees.
How to structure your cover letter…
For the majority of banking and finance employers, communication skills will be in their shortlist of desired attributes. They’ll want someone who can communicate coherently and write in a logical fashion. Send them a rambling, unstructured covering letter and they might doubt your ability to communicate. So pay close attention to the structure of your cover letter. We’ve put together a suggestion for how you might want to structure your cover letter below:
Addressing your cover letter
As it is a formal letter, your address and the name and address of recipient should be at the top of the letter. If you are emailing the cover letter, put the cover letter in the body of the email and omit the addresses. You should also attempt to find out the name of the person who will be receiving the cover letter, so you can address it to them directly.
A cover letter is also an introductory letter. The first paragraph is an ideal place to tell the recruiter who you are and why you are writing. Mention the role you are applying to and how you heard about the job (particularly if you were referred by a mutual acquaintance). Give a unique reason why you would be great for the role.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to do a subtle bit of wooing in your cover letter, so here you might want to state why you want to work for the company in particular. Try to come up with a reason that sounds genuine and unique. A little bit of enthusiasm and interest in the role certainly wouldn’t go amiss either.
Employers don’t care that you can stack 20 cups in ten seconds or that you can mould your belly button fluff into a precise replica of the Olympic torch. Ultimately, they want to know that you have the skills to do the job. Consequently, in this paragraph, you might want to showcase the relevant skills you have for the job.
Isolate the key attributes they are looking for by scouring the job advert or reading up on company literature. Then show them that you have their desired attributes by drawing upon examples of previous work experience, your degree or any relevant extracurricular work.
The final (very brief) paragraph can be used to tie up loose ends or cover any practical issues such as availability for interview.
You should end the letter “Yours sincerely” if it’s being sent to a named person; if you haven’t managed to find out a name then use: “Yours faithfully” followed by your name.
Proofread your cover letter…
One sure-fire way of getting your cover letter unceremoniously dumped straight into the rubbish bin is to send in a letter riddled with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Double check, nay triple check your cover letter. Get your mum, friends, granny, dog to read over the letter, looking for any typos or schoolboy errors.
Pay attention to the formatting as well. Make sure it is clearly laid out and use a sensible font (if they’re likely to read it onscreen, use a font designed to be read on a screen, such as Verdana or Helvetica).
So there you have it: a basic guide to knocking the socks off banking, finance and accountancy employers with your well-crafted cover letters. There’s only one thing left for you to do now: crack on with them!
Cover letter tips for finance professionals
If you’re looking for a job in finance, a dynamic cover letter will boost your candidacy.
If you’re searching for a finance job or want to be prepared just in case, you will need a dynamic cover letter to grab the hiring managers’ attention. Follow the advice of these career experts to make sure your letter measures up.
Quickly state your case
Judy Friedler, principal of CareerPro International and a specialist in career marketing for finance professionals, recommends leading with a summary of your experience and expertise. “The summary should encapsulate your core competencies and level of experience in the finance field,” she says.
Friedler offers the following example: “I am a financial analyst with 12 years of experience and the proven ability to increase profits, minimize financial risk and strengthen market positions through the use of financial analytics.”
Avoid the standard opening of “I am responding to your ad,” says Don Goodman, president of Financial Resume Pros, a resume-writing firm serving finance professionals. “Capture their attention in the first sentence by indicating what you can do for them.”
Goodman suggests incorporating a high-impact cover letter opener, such as: “Shortening the closing cycle, improving cash flow, reducing variances against budget and increasing customer satisfaction are what I do best.”
Follow with bulleted accomplishments that relate to the position you are applying for and illustrate your value. “Though it is hard to generalize, key areas of concern are relevant across the financial services arena, such as cost containment, product delivery and risk mitigation,” Friedler says.
Speak to the employer’s needs
Goodman suggests addressing the employer’s specific issues. “If you know the employer has just opened a new plant and needs a controller, then that is what you should focus on,” he says. Emphasize how your skills and experience would benefit the employer and what you would accomplish if you got the job.
Brian Carlson, CPA and partner at Bloomington, Minnesota-based Ambrion, a search firm specializing in accounting and finance professionals, advises job seekers to provide concrete, quantifiable examples of accomplishments. “For instance, instead of saying ‘I saved the company time and money by streamlining month-end close procedures,’ [a better example would be] ‘I cut the company month-end close from 10 days to six days, which freed up 160 hours in our department and saved $50,000 per month,’” he says.
Friedler says that by providing examples of your impact on prior organizations, potential employers will realize your value and will want to interview you.
Add industry keywords
When cover letters and resumes are entered into a database, a search filter often ranks applicants based on keyword density. “The more relevant keywords you have, the better,” Goodman says. “Of course, sentences should make sense and not be contrived just to increase the number of keywords in the documents.”
Keywords are also important for human reviewers to see, because they show you are well-versed in industry terminology.
You can cull important keywords from job ads. Review job descriptions for your desired position, and look for skills, certifications, education and other commonly requested qualifications.
For example, a tax accountant might incorporate keywords such as CPA, GAAP compliance and tax audits, whereas a financial analyst might incorporate business modeling, financial analysis and forecasting. “The keywords don’t need to be in list format like they would be on a resume, but rather incorporated in a description of your background or accomplishments,” Friedler says.
Avoid the dreaded trash bin
Carlson, whose firm averages about 50 job requisitions daily, stresses the importance of proofreading. “Have someone review your cover letter, because spelling and grammar mistakes could get you thrown out of the process before the manager even reviews your resume,” he says.
Goodman agrees. “Misspellings and bad grammar are big faux pas,” he says. “Also, the letter must be professional -- don’t say anything negative about previous employers and avoid revealing personal information that’s irrelevant to the job.”
Brevity is also important -- the days of lengthy cover letters (even for finance executives) are long gone. “Keep it to one page -- any more than that will not be read anyway,” Carlson says.
Although cover letters are not always read and may take a backseat to the resume, they are read often enough that it’s wise to put some serious effort into them.
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