Not all jobs need them, but for those that do, here are some guidelines from Morgan Stanley’s recruiters on how to write one.
Searching the internet for tips on how to write a cover letter will produce a litany of dos and don’ts: Flex your communication skills, but don’t go over three paragraphs; don’t recite a generic list of skills, but do speak to every requirement in the job description; be professional, but also be personal…the list goes on.
Truth be told, not all jobs need cover letters, but for the times when they’re required, it needn’t be so complicated to get them right. Our recruiters say that applicants can hit the mark as long as they follow a few basic rules, and refrain from quoting Shakespeare or likening their job search to Fantine’s demise in Les Miserable. (It happens).
They provide a missing link between the living-you and the formulaic resume or CV. Your cover letter conveys three important things:
- You understand what the firm is looking for.
- You’ve got the skills.
- You’re articulate.
Write it like a letter—include your address, Dear Sir/Madam (or better still, the name of the person, if you know who the interviewer is), and make sure to end it with a closing (“Yours faithfully,” etc).
- First Paragraph: An opening statement that sets out why you’re writing the letter. Begin by stating the position you’re applying for and if you became aware of it by going to a recruiting event.
- Middle Paragraphs: Two or three paragraphs to explain what attracted you to the type of work, why you’re interested in working for the company, and why you think you’d be a good fit.
- Last paragraph: Thank the employer and say you’re looking forward to receiving a response.
Cover letters can end up being deal-breakers if they have mistakes in them, and most mistakes are made when a generic letter is used for every application. You’d be surprised by how many times people forget to switch out the name of one firm for ours. Not only do we know you’re applying elsewhere, but it shows lack of attention to detail.
Another reason not to use a generic cover letter: It just doesn’t sound authentic. Writing it from scratch will create a warmer, more engaging tone—even if it’s just a few paragraphs.
Don’t use the cover letter to repeat skills that you’ve already outlined in the resume, which speak specifically to the requirements in the job description.
Do include experiences or skills that might not be specifically called for in the job description, but you believe will add to your appeal and help you excel in the role. Examples could be collaborative, leadership or problem-solving skills from extracurricular activities or previous jobs. Just ensure that they’re truly relevant and compelling, and not a stretch.
Whatever you end up putting in your cover letter, make sure to check for mistakes. Get someone to proofread your letter for typos, grammatical errors, the wrong firm name, and any Broadway Musical references that might have made their way in.
Good luck! And feel free to reach out to our campus recruiting team members if you have any questions.