Finance is a highly competitive field, so chances are that analyst job hunters will be swimming in an application pool of seriously high-caliber candidates. So how do you position yourself for the best chance of landing that interview? It all begins with the cover letter. No résumé is complete without one, and a good cover letter (in any industry) can mean the difference between getting the job and remaining in the unemployment line.
Today, companies receive an average of 250 applications for each job posted, of which five job-seekers will be called for an interview, and only one may receive a job offer. That's some serious competition. (Coveted finance roles face even stiffer odds.) Add to that the tidbit that recruiters typically spend less than 30 seconds skimming a candidate’s correspondence – a microscopic window of opportunity through which to make an impact. So it needs to be used wisely.
Potential employers want to know you’re truly interested to work for them, so generic letters and “cookie cutter” templates are a sure way to land your application in the nearest trash can. To secure a job in finance, serious candidates need a dynamic cover letter (see The Complete Guide to Job Searching: Cover Letters) to grab the hiring manager’s attention. What you reveal here (or fail to) can make or break your first impression. In fact, if a letter doesn’t hit enough employer “sweet spots,” your potential boss might never get to the next page.
So what makes a powerful cover letter that sets you apart from the finance pack?
1. Do Your Homework
Identify which specific individual the application is addressed to. Generic greetings such as “To Whom It May Concern” and “Dear Hiring Manager” will get you off to a less than impressive start (see 7 Cover Letter Blunders). Not only does including a point of contact add a personal touch, it shows you cared enough to find out which person is hiring. All it generally takes is a quick phone call or email, so there’s no excuse not to try to get a real name. Another caution: Never send out the same letter to apply for multiple positions within the same company, as this will only reveal a distinct lack of genuine interest in any of the positions.
2. Customize the Content
Personalizing extends to the entire content of the cover letter. Tailor your letter to the needs of the employer, referring specifically to how you fit the criteria listed in the job advertisement. Why will the firm be better off by having you on board? Mention specific skills and illuminate your achievements in the context of the role for which you’re applying. Focus on those skills, accomplishments and job experiences that relate to demands of the position.
The financial analyst job generally involves gathering data, tracking news, doing financial modeling and learning in depth about specific businesses or industries. Your skill with spreadsheets will likely be relevant, as will your knowledge of macro and microeconomics and relevant software. Without violating employer confidentiality, provide as much detail as you can about your relevant accomplishments in previous jobs or internships.
3. Watch Your Language
Use keywords and industry-relevant terminology in order to satisfy database filters with keyword density, and to demonstrate to human reviewers that you’re well-versed in the necessary lingo. Don't forget to check your grammar. Finance might be a numbers-driven industry, but that doesn’t excuse spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. Such typos make you look lazy and careless – the last impression you want to make if managing figures is the name of the game. It’s always harder to spot your own mistakes, so consider getting a friend with good proofreading skills to review your application letter.
Letters should take a formal, business-like tone. Terms like “good communicator,” “hard-working,” “perfectionist,” “loyal” and “team-player” are cover letter favorites from way back. They’re also job-hunting clichés. Don’t include attributes simply because you think they should be there. A more compelling way to attest to your character is to include a testimonial from a third party. For instance, an excerpt from a performance review or LinkedIn endorsement will look more authentic and believable.
4. Shape Your Case
A cover letter is intended to complement the résumé that follows, not repeat its content. Build your case for yourself in three to four paragraphs and never let the letter run more than one page.
- Lead with a defining, high-impact statement that captures your core competencies and depth of experience in financial analysis. Follow up with specific examples.
- While you don’t have to be a graphic designer – looking too designed is also a turn-off – don't bury your best points in boring square blocks of text. For instance, rather than explaining your accomplishments, list them as concise bullet points, or interpret an achievement in some relevant visual representation, such as a graph.
- End with a summary statement of why you and your skills are a strong match for the requirements of the job description and your hope that you can move swiftly to the next steps of the hiring process. As discussed above, be sure to use the right keywords in case your letter is scanned by computer before any human ever gets to read it.
See how the bullet points helped this section? That's what you're after.
If you're not sure how to format a business letter, there are numerous templates available online to help you with spacing and punctuation. Use them for reference, but write a letter that's specific to the company and the opportunity.
5. Follow Up
There’s no point sending an application into the HR abyss and simply wishing that someone will respond. If you really want that job, go after it. Follow up directly with the hiring manager or designated contact to demonstrate you mean business. Unless an employer has specified otherwise, check in with the original recipient via a phone call or email within five to 10 days of applying to express your continued interest in the job. It may just put you at an advantage.
The Bottom Line
Making a great first impression begins with a well-crafted cover letter that grabs the recruiter's attention. Think of it as a personal marketing tool that showcases your best, most (job-relevant) assets. Do your homework on the company, customize content, triple check for typos, think visually, avoid clichés – and always follow up.
A polished cover letter – and résumé to match – will set you apart from the competition and help get your foot in the interview door.