How to Craft Your Investment Banking Cover Letter… and Why It Probably Won’t Help You But Can Definitely Hurt You

Hello Wolf Pack!

We just spent the last post walking you through how to write the perfect resume for investment banking. Anytime people ask about resumes, their next follow-up question is usually about the cover letter. So that’s what we’re going to cover in this post.

Before we start, it’s a good idea to download our cover letter template if you haven’t already. This way you can follow along as you read through the rest of this post. The template can be found inside our all-in-one recruiting toolkit, which you can get by clicking the image below.

But Does It Even Matter?

Now, let me set the right expectations before we dive in. While your resume is extremely important in determining whether you get that interview, the cover letter, on the other hand, most likely won’t do too much. Speaking from personal experience as a previous investment banker and private equity investor who has screened numerous candidates, we almost never read the cover letters. The truth is, we are super busy people, and we just don’t have time to read every single person’s cover letter.

So why even cover this? Well, many banks still require you to include a cover letter as part of your online application. As such, you still need to put something together just to check the box. While it most likely won’t be the reason you do get the interview, it certainly CAN be the reason that you DON’T. In other words, the cover letter is something where you just want to play it safe. Follow the proven formula, and don’t do anything that will cause you to get dinged. If you need an example of what not to do, just go read this Gawker article called The Awful Cover Letter All of Wall Street is Laughing About.

bad cover letter
Pretty much.

With that said, there are some exceptions to what I just said above where the cover letter may matter a bit more:

  1. You’re applying to a smaller firm that’s not getting as many applications, and where the “fit” of the candidate is a lot more important to the firm because there are fewer employees and every additional hire matters
  2. You’re cold calling/emailing during off-cycles and they’re not having to go through hundreds of resumes
  3. There’s some extenuating circumstances that you need to explain on your resume, such as poor grades, an employment gap, etc. But even then, you need to have a really good explanation and be a good writer in order for it to benefit you

If one of these situations above applies to you, you’ll want to spend a bit more time on your cover letter. So let’s talk about some tips.

How to Not Shoot Yourself in the Foot

Ever heard of Plaxico Burress? He’s the dude that caught the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left in Super Bowl XLII, helping the New York Giants not only beat the New England Patriots, but also prevented them from becoming the first team ever to go 19-0 in NFL history.  Well… one night in 2008 he accidentally shot himself in the leg at a nightclub in New York, and ended up going to jail for 20 months. That incident pretty much ended what should have been a promising career.

This is Plaxico. Plaxico shot himself in the leg. Don’t be like Plaxico.

You can laugh now, but making a silly mistake in your cover letter could do the same thing to your investment banking career before it even starts. Here are some of the mistakes you should avoid:

  1. Recycling the same cover letter for all the banks and forgetting to swap out the bank’s name. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen this. No kiddo, Morgan Stanley is not the same as JPMorgan… cmon dude
  2. Having typos or grammatical mistakes
  3. Trying too hard to kiss ass and making yourself sound inauthentic in the process (“I’m passionate about investment banking” or some variation of “your bank is the best bank”… right)
  4. Being too egotistical and full of yourself (again, see Gawker article above)

These common mistakes will quickly land your application in the rejection pile. JUST DON’T DO IT.

OK, So What Should I Do Then?

Here are some tips on what you SHOULD do in a cover letter.

  1. Keep it concise. Again, nobody wants to read a novel so keep it to one page. The actual body of your cover letter should only take up 1/2-2/3 of the page
  2. Show, don’t tell. Stop describing yourself as “hardworking”, “a self-starter”, or “a team player.” Instead, provide examples of something you’ve worked on that demonstrate those qualities naturally
  3. Use your authentic voice. How do you usually talk? Hopefully not by saying things like “I believe my insatiable drive, never-ending curiosity, and analytical abilities make me a great fit with your culture of excellence as the undisputed premier investment bank globally.” If you talk like that normally, you need to stop doing that immediately because you sound like a major TOOL. Write in your own voice so that the banker can picture you as a normal human being

OK I’m Ready… What Do I Write?

Here’s how you structure the cover letter:

  • Heading: include your name, address, phone number, and email, aligned to the right in the top right corner. Next, include the date, name and contact info of the person you’re writing, aligned to the left, but lower than your personal info
  • Opening Paragraph: introduce yourself, and try to grab their attention as much as possible with your credentials. What’s your name, what school do you go to, where do you currently work at, and how did you find out about their bank (use this opportunity to name drop if you’ve been networking like you should). Lastly, tell them what position you’re applying for
  • Professional Experience Paragraph: pick your most relevant work experience (or at most two), and talk about what you did and what you learned that made the experience relevant to banking. Again, keep it concise and don’t go overboard
  • Extracurricular Paragraph: highlight some of your soft skills that bankers look for, such as leadership or teamwork ability, by describing your involvement in some extracurricular activity that’s most likely already listed on your resume
  • Closing Paragraph: this is where you reiterate your interest. Tell them that based on the above, you believe you would be a great fit with their team, and thank them for their time. End it by saying you look forward to hearing from them

Now, what I just laid out above is the standard structure that most of you should be using. However, below is an alternate structure if you have extenuating circumstances that you need to explain:

  • Opening Paragraph: no change here from the above
  • Extenuating Circumstances Paragraph: explain whatever red flag you have on your resume (i.e. why you have a low GPA / employment gap / no relevant finance experience, etc.). Only do this if your explanation is truly compelling, and avoid being overly defensive. Instead, own up to it and focus on what you’ve learned and how you’ve improved over time
  • Professional Experience Paragraph: same as the above, but just move it down to the 3rd paragraph. I recommend reordering it this way because if there is a concern that you know you’re most likely going to get dinged for, you should address it head-on, in an honest manner, as soon as possible. The banker may not get past your second paragraph, so don’t leave it for later
  • Closing Paragraph: no change here from the above

Alright that’s it for now. Again, I’ve created a cover letter template for you already in our FREE all-in-one recruiting toolkit. It’s literally plug-and-play, so click below to grab it if you haven’t already.

If you’d like more hands-on and personalized help, you can check out our coaching program here. If you have comments or questions, please drop a line down below. Otherwise, remember:


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