In this article, we’ll show you how to write an investment banking cover letter. We’ll explain the importance of cover letters, give you an investment banking cover letter template, and walk you through writing your own version sentence-by-sentence. This is a hands-on exercise and you should write with us as you go. By the end of this article, you’ll have a professionally-written letter ready for applications!
How Important Are Investment Banking Cover Letters?
Let us begin by saying that for the vast majority of US investment banking jobs at the big banks, cover letters are not important.
Just in case you suspect we had a typo, let us reiterate. Cover letters are not important for US investment banking jobs.
Why do we say that? Because most bankers don’t read them. First, bankers often don’t even receive the cover letters. At some banks, HR compiles the applications and only sends the candidates’ resumes to the bankers. Second, even if bankers do receive the cover letters, most don’t want to read them.
Why don’t most bankers want to read candidates’ cover letters? Because they add no value and because they’re incredibly time consuming.
The cover letter just states what job you’re applying to and why you think you’re qualified. For the former, bankers already know what job you’re applying to. As for the latter, anyone can write that he/she is hardworking, is interested in finance, and has leadership skills. These sentences are almost meaningless.
Why is reading cover letters time consuming? Each letter takes a few minutes to read. Bankers have to evaluate hundreds of candidates. Putting two and two together, it’ll take bankers way too many hours to read these letters.
In fact, we contacted a few bankers who were members of recruiting teams and were responsible for screening candidates. None said they’ve ever read a single applicant’s cover letter…ever.
While investment banking cover letters aren’t important, they do matter in the recruiting process because banks ask for them. You may need to upload a cover letter to complete the application. Also, while bankers usually don’t read them, you should have a passable letter just in case someone reads it.
Investment Banking Cover Letter Strategy
So now we know that you need cover letters because applications ask for them, but bankers don’t usually read them. What should your strategy be?
The strategy to a successful cover letter is to treat the cover letter as a check-the-box type of item. As long as you have a passable letter, you’ve checked the box. If you don’t have a passable letter, you don’t check the box and that can potentially hurt you. Said differently, a great cover letter won’t help you while a horrendous cover letter can hurt you.
Cover letters don’t have a linear relationship where the better the cover letter, the better your candidacy. Instead of trying to write as great of a letter as possible, your focus should be to not mess up. Make sure you don’t have spelling / grammar mistakes, bank name mistakes, etc. This also means you should write a letter that follows industry convention. That’s it! That’s all you need for cover letter.
If you have extra time, invest it in familiarizing technical questions and in your resume, which actually gets looked at. Most bankers glance (not read) over resume to decide who to interview. Therefore, you should invest your time and energy to write a compelling resume.
Investment Banking Cover Letter Template
Here’s an investment banking cover letter template. Please download this example and you can edit this letter as you read through this article.
This template is applicable to all candidates: undergraduates, MBAs, other graduates, and current professionals. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a student or a working professional. The guiding concepts and letter structure are the same.
The items inside brackets [ ] are things you should replace with your own personal information. Once you input your own information, delete the brackets. At the end, you’ll have a professional investment banking cover letter that you can submit.
Cover Letter Format & Structure
Let’s establish three basic rules for the investment banking cover letter.
First, it should always be one page. Don’t go beyond one page.
Second, it should be concise. Don’t write a lengthy essay. We recommend keeping it under 300 words.
Third, it should contain the right bank name. This is a very common mistake. Don’t send a letter addressing Goldman Sachs to Evercore.
Fourth, font size should be at least 10. Anything less than 10 is too small for the eyes of people who stare at screens all day.
Avoiding the Common Mistake
The most common mistake candidates make in investment banking cover letters is mixing up bank names.
Logistically, when you apply for investment banking summer internships (or full-time roles), you’ll be submitting applications to many banks. Because there are so many, it’s very easy to forget to swap out one bank’s name with another. The key to avoid this mistake is to limit the number of times you reference the bank’s name.
When we went through recruiting, we used another finance website’s template, which referenced bank’s name 4 times in the letter. Compounding this is the fact that the four references were spread throughout the letter. We had to diligently go through the letter once for every bank to update the name reference. That was very time-consuming and prone to mistakes.
Our template only references the name of the bank twice: first in the greeting and second in the first paragraph. Equally important, we kept the two references in close proximity so you can easily alter the bank name. This is intentionally designed to help you reduce the risk of this mistake.
With that, please open the template (Word document from the link above) and let’s start writing.
Your Contact Information
The first step is to fill in the contact information in the upper right corner.
As with any formal letters, you should include your name and contact information at the top of the letter. Notably, we recommend you to explicitly state your university so it’s easily identifiable. Physical address is optional. Please take a minute and write in your contact information.
If you look at other cover letter templates, you’ll notice that other templates also have fields for banks’ physical address. We think that’s not only useless but also a source for confusion.
What if you apply to multiple offices (i.e. New York, San Francisco, and Chicago) in a single application? Which address are you supposed to write? What if the HR sits in New York but the banker sits in Chicago? What if one banker of your school’s recruiting team sits in San Francisco while another sits in Chicago?
Adding to this confusion, some banks have multiple offices in a single city. How do you decide which one to use? It is a nightmare trying to figure out these things out.
Banks’ physical addresses add no value whatsoever to an already low-value document. It takes away value quite frankly – it consumes your time AND it creates a source of confusion. The 10X EBITDA cover letter template has no room for useless fields.
Date & Greeting
The second step is to write the date of the letter and the greeting.
Other finance websites’ templates address the greeting to a specific person (i.e. Mr. John Doe / Ms. Jane Doe). We don’t agree with that. Who are you supposed to address it to anyways? Sometimes schools will have specific HR contacts for each position positing. But just because that’s the HR contact doesn’t mean that person is the one who will read your cover letter.
This leads to key question. How are you supposed to know who’ll be reading your letter (if it is lucky enough to get read)?
Instead, we recommend addressing the greeting to the bank’s recruiting team. For example, you can write to the “Moelis Recruiting Team” or the “Centerview Recruiting Team”.
So please head over to the Word template and update the date, bank name in the greeting and bank name in the first paragraph.
First Paragraph: Self-Introduction
The third step is to complete our first paragraph of the letter – your self-introduction.
This paragraph should accomplish a few tasks. First, it should identify your background. Second, it should identify your class year. Third, it should identify the job you’re applying to. And fourth, it should explain why you’re interested in working at the firm.
Our template has already written that for you. All you have to do is swap out your university name, major, graduation year and the program you’re applying to.
Some templates we looked at include “name-drops”, where you’d specifically mention names of the banks’ employees you’ve spoken with. It goes like the following.
“I became very interested in working at your firm after speaking with Jane Doe and Jane Smith.”
You absolutely do not have to include names of bankers you met or communicated with. We’ve always felt that’s very forced and unnatural. It doesn’t help. That’s why our template does not have such a sentence.
Second Paragraph: Interest in Investment Banking
The fourth step is to explain your interest in investment banking.
We wrote a few sentences on why investment banking. There are no brackets here so you don’t technically have to replace anything. However, you’re certainly welcome to change the wording if you’d like to better explain why you’re pursuing investment banking.
Third Paragraph: Past Experiences
The fifth step is to write about your past experiences and what you learned from them.
This entire paragraph is in brackets because everyone has a unique background. You should follow this structure and write about your own past experiences. Five to six sentences here is sufficient.
There are two main things we want to point out here.
First, be selective about which experience you write about. Don’t write about every experience. Only write about the most important and relevant experiences.
Second, don’t brag. Stay humble. Some cover letters have sentences that make us cringe. These sentences usually brag about the candidates’ skills (i.e. “given by valuation skills”, “with my strong financial modeling background”), self-declare fit (i.e. “I’m a particularly great fit for this program), and/or contain lofty titles that come across as try-hard (i.e. “As the Managing Partner of our student investment club”). To be fair, some cover letter templates come with these sentences so candidates may think that’s the norm. Our advice is to stay humble and actively avoid appearing as boastful.
Fourth Paragraph: Resume, Thank You and Signature
Finally, our last step is to remind the audience you’re also including the resume and thank them.
Please remember to change your name at the bottom of the signature.
And that’s it! With that, you have a complete investment banking cover letter ready for submission.
Investment Banking Cover Letter with No Experience
How do you write an investment banking cover letter with no prior work experience? You’d use the exact same template above and follow the exact same steps! In the third paragraph, instead of talking about past work experiences, simply talk about your extracurricular activities. But the overall structure of the letter is exactly the same.
Cover Letter FAQ
If I write an amazing cover letter, does it improve my chances of getting an interview? In general, no. You can write the most beautifully composed sentences in your cover letter. If bankers don’t want to interview you based on your resume, the cover letter isn’t going to change their mind. Chances are they won’t even know how well written your cover letter is since they don’t even read it.
If bankers don’t read cover letters, why do applications even ask for them? Two reasons. First, there are many different people involved in the recruiting process. HR runs the applications and sets the required documents. From bankers’ perspective, just because HR asked you for cover letters doesn’t mean bankers have to read them. Second, just because the Investment Banking Division doesn’t value cover letters doesn’t mean other divisions don’t read cover letters. Someone else may value cover letters. From HR and IT’s perspective, it’s just a lot easier to get you to submit the letter and let each division decide for itself.
About 10X EBITDA
We are a small team composed of former investment banking professionals from Goldman Sachs and investment professionals from the world’s top private equity firms and hedge funds, such as KKR, TPG, Carlyle, Warburg, D.E. Shaw, Citadel, etc. Our mission is to cultivate the next generation of top talent for Wall Street and to help candidates bring their careers to new heights. We’re based in the United States, but we have expertise across Europe and Asia as well.