Length – Ideally one page, but never more than two.
Contact details – Put your name in a bigger font at the top (in the page header) to help it stand out and your contact details underneath in a smaller font.
E-mail address – Don’t try to be clever with your e-mail address. Boywonder2011@hotmail.com will make a bad impression.
Education – Make sure this section is on the first page, and put your educational qualifications in reverse chronological order, i.e., most recent first.
Dates – Don’t put the dates on the left. The reader’s eye will fall on the left-hand side first when skimreading; instead, put the qualification or job title (i.e., what you’ve actually done/achieved) on the left, the college where you studied and then the date, so BA Business & Law, Imperial College London, Sep ’08 – Jun ’11.
Achievements – The idea is to describe what you achieved and accomplished and not to just list your duties for every job that you performed. This can include what you achieved for your employer by way of business results, as well as for yourself in terms of skills and development.
Hobbies / Extracurricular activities – Keep them relevant, i.e., loaded with employability skills such as leadership, teamwork and initiative. If you’ve climbed Mount Everest, this shows planning, grit and stamina. If you’ve set up an investment club in college, this demonstrates an early interest in finance.
No shortcuts – We often come across applications with answers that have been cut and pasted, and candidates sometimes even forget to change the name of the bank they have applied to, which doesn’t reflect well, says Natalia Garland, head of global graduate marketing and infrastructure at BNP Paribas.
Use of space – Fill it. Try to use up the word count allowed for each answer. Answers that are too short can make it look like you haven’t really taken great care or time over the application. But of course, it also depends on what you put in the space. Be sensible, advises Linda Jackson, managing director of consultants Fairplace. Do not devote more space to your victory on the playing field than to your summer working for a big bank, because it will send the wrong message about your priorities.
Questions to expect – There will probably be a question on your motivation(s) for breaking into the industry and for applying to a particular division or bank, along with questions on your industry knowledge. Then there are the inescapable competency questions, for which you should use the S.T.A.R. formula to frame your answers.
Their purpose – People underestimate the importance of a cover letter, says Sarah Harper, head of recruiting, EMEA and India at Goldman Sachs. It is a useful mechanism to show your enthusiasm for the firm and the particular job you are applying for. It can really make a difference.
Top and tail – Cover letters are still rather formal affairs, so never address it to the person’s first name. If you know the surname of the person you are writing to, write Dear Mr./Ms. X; then sign off with Yours sincerely. If you don’t know the surname of the person you are writing to, find out what it is. Do not just write Dear Sir/Madam and sign off Respectfully Yours or Sincerely.
Tailoring – This means making sure you get the name of the person and company you’re writing to, address, job role and reference spot on, for a start. Then pull something from the job ad or job spec to show you know what they’re looking for, and tell them how you match it.
A word of thanks – Don’t forget to thank them at the end for considering your application.
Not forgetting e-mail
E-mail etiquette – It’s best to treat this as an online cover letter, so keep it formal and no SMS speak.