Practical analysis for investment professionals
21 March 2017

Yes, You Need a Cover Letter: Here’s How to Make It Good

Are cover letters still necessary in a job search?

When you submit your resume to an organization and it is shared among the necessary people, some won’t bother to read your cover letter. Others will be more interested in your social profiles, especially LinkedIn and Facebook, than any cover letter.

Still, most career coaches and experts agree it’s best to play it safe and provide one. The potential consequences of not providing one when a recruiter or hiring manager expects it are much worse than submitting one and having it ignored.

A cover letter ensures that the people you want to see your resume receive it and explains why you are sending it. So make certain your letter clearly identifies the position you are seeking. If you are reaching out to a specific contact in order to build a relationship independent of a current open position, make sure you personalize the letter.

More importantly, a cover letter should put you, your resume, and your career in context so readers can see how well you will fit in with their organization and meet their needs. The cover letter is an opportunity to demonstrate your personality, your perspective on your achievements, and your goals for the future. It helps you build a narrative around the list of achievements your resume or CV describes.

If you don’t take the time to think strategically about your cover letter and make sure it is well written, you are missing an important opportunity.

So how do you write a cover letter that works?

Louise Fletcher, founder of Blue Sky Resumes, recommends using the “AIDA formula” to make the most of your communication:

  • Capture the reader’s Attention.
  • Deepen their Interest.
  • Create Desire.
  • Encourage Action.

When you have identified what makes you a good fit for the position and the unique value you would bring to the company, capture attention by asking a question crafted to get the reader to acknowledge that distinct value you bring. Deepen their interest by explaining how you are the solution they seek. Create desire by demonstrating the success you’ve had in your career as a result of your skills. Encourage action by stating clearly what you would like to happen: that they review your resume, call you, or schedule a meeting or interview.

The finance sector has fairly conservative expectations for resume, CV, and cover letter format. Victoria McLean, a former Goldman Sachs recruiter, current managing director of City CV, and participant in the recent #FinanceCVs Twitter Chat, recommends a four-paragraph template to use, which can work in combination with Fletcher’s AIDA strategy.

The first paragraph is an introduction that addresses the basic practical function of the cover letter. The second paragraph describes why you are a potential asset. The third paragraph explains why you are a good fit for the job or opportunity you’ve targeted. The fourth paragraph demonstrates that you know about the organization, respect it, and would be a successful addition to it. Conclude with a call to action, such as a request to contact you to schedule a meeting or an interview.

If you have hired your share of finance professionals and have thoughts on what else works well in cover letters, share your insights in the comments below.

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Image credit: ©Getty Images/peepo

About the Author(s)
Julia VanDeren

Julia VanDeren, manager, career services at CFA Institute, serves as the subject matter expert in career management skills, curating and developing career resources for members and program candidates. Previously, she served CFA Institute as career services representative, managing the CFA Institute JobLine (now Career Center) and Career Centre (now Career Tools) resources. VanDeren holds a BA from the University of Virginia and an MPA from Virginia Commonwealth University.

7 thoughts on “Yes, You Need a Cover Letter: Here’s How to Make It Good”

  1. I would add a cautionary note: Most over-educated people, which, I’d bet, includes every subscriber to Enterprising Investor, overwrite. We use too-long words in too-long sentences. In the mistaken belief that they add zip, we love adverbs. We should avoid them.

    For tortured souls like us, there is a wonderful tool: The Fog Index. It is an algorithm that purports to measure how much education a reader needs to have to get her/his head around a piece of writing. Some benchmarks: The Bible, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain are a 6. Reader’s Digest is an 8. The Wall Street Journal tries to get below 10, but seldom succeeds. I was once asked to comment on a paper co-authored by an academic pal. Its Fog Index was 34. Neither he nor his colleague had any idea what they were trying to say. A free copy-and-paste site that calculates a Fog Index is here: http://gunning-fog-index.com/.

    P.S. The Fog Index of the two paragraphs above is 9.1.

    1. I had never heard of the Gunning Fox Index, so thanks for sharing that tidbit.

  2. wafula Charles says:

    I have great interest in learning and having more copies of cover letter to improve on my writing skills
    Regards
    Charles

  3. Jeet says:

    Thanks for sharing the index, seems very interesting! I do have a bad habit of writing ‘fancy words’, need to control that.

  4. HoppityHop says:

    The importance of a cover letter depends on the country and culture you are referring to, and of course, in some countries, they are positively frowned upon as pretentious. A cover letter can equally damage the effect your CV can otherwise create…forget that, at your peril. If, after looking at your CV, an employer wants further information, they will contact you, and you will have a chance to mould the information you provide according to their questions. This is better, imo, than wasting their time reading your assumptions on what they want to know and what, thanks to the AIDA formula, they have already read 30 times that day.

    I dare not even think about what score that is on the index.

    1. I agree 100%. Before we started our consultancy almost 26 years ago, neither my bride nor I ever included a cover letter with our resumes. Cover letters invite the job-seeker to make unforced errors. If an employer requires a writing sample, it will ask for one.

      For most would-be employees, the cover letter is a loaded howitzer aimed straight at their job prospects. Unless a prospective employer requires a cover letter–and I’ve not seen one who does–a pithy, well-worded resume on a single page with judicious use of bolding and font sizes will open the employment door for a qualified job-seeker.

      For any such individual reading this, DON’T include your references with your resume. Instead, the last line on that single page should say (fully bolded, which the formatting here doesn’t allow me to do): REFERENCES Available upon request.

      Then, on a separate page with a REFERENCES heading, list three or four professional references in alphabetical order. Include job title, employer, city/state, and email address of each reference. Don’t include a phone number because a prospective employer might blind-side a reference with a phone call. Omitting the phone # mandates that they use the email address first. It also respects the right of each reference not to get clothes-lined with a phone call, which they weren’t expecting but which has a significant impact on your likelihood of getting that job. Reference whose work days have been disrupted might not provide as good a reference as they otherwise would.

  5. One other thing: “White space is your friend.” Use plenty of it on your resume. Don’t use too-small font pitches jammed onto a page with lines of verbiage strung from left-margin to right-margin. Using bullets also shows your ability to focus on what matters. Clear formatting that shows where you tenure with one employer ended and another began also helps whoever is reading your resume.

    And remember, it’s not against the law to have more than one version of your resume. Custom-tailoring a resume to fit a given job-title or -description is perfectly appropriate. But if you do that, keep a log of what version you sent to whom. The last thing you want to do is show up for an interview with copies of a resume that is different from the one you first sent.

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