Massive layoffs across the financial services sector left many industry professionals unexpectedly looking for finance work. If you’re searching for a finance job or want to be prepared just in case, you will need a dynamic cover letter to grab the hiring managers’ attention. Follow the advice of these career experts to make sure your letter measures up.
Quickly State Your Case
Judy Friedler, principal of CareerPro International and a specialist in career marketing for finance professionals, recommends leading with a summary of your experience and expertise. “The summary should encapsulate your core competencies and level of experience in the finance field,” she says. Friedler offers the following example: “I am a financial analyst with 12 years of experience and the proven ability to increase profits, minimize financial risk and strengthen market positions through the use of financial analytics.”
Avoid the standard opening of “I am responding to your ad,” says Don Goodman, president of Financial Resume Pros, a resume-writing firm serving finance professionals. “Capture their attention in the first sentence by indicating what you can do for them.” Goodman suggests incorporating a high-impact cover letter opener, such as: “Shortening the closing cycle, improving cash flow, reducing variances against budget and increasing customer satisfaction are what I do best.”
Follow with bulleted accomplishments that relate to the position you are applying for and illustrate your value. “Though it is hard to generalize, key areas of concern are relevant across the financial services arena, such as cost containment, product delivery and risk mitigation,” Friedler says.
Speak to the Employer’s Needs
Goodman suggests addressing the employer’s specific issues. “If you know the employer has just opened a new plant and needs a controller, then that is what you should focus on,” he says. Emphasize how your skills and experience would benefit the employer and what you would accomplish if you got the job.
Brian Carlson, CPA and partner at Bloomington, Minnesota-based Ambrion, a search firm specializing in accounting and finance professionals, advises job seekers to provide concrete, quantifiable examples of accomplishments. “For instance, instead of saying ‘I saved the company time and money by streamlining month-end close procedures,’ [a better example would be] ‘I cut the company month-end close from 10 days to six days, which freed up 160 hours in our department and saved $50,000 per month,’” he says.
Friedler says that by providing examples of your impact on prior organizations, potential employers will realize your value and will want to interview you.
Add Industry Keywords
When cover letters and resumes are entered into a database, a search filter often ranks applicants based on keyword density. “The more relevant keywords you have, the better,” Goodman says. “Of course, sentences should make sense and not be contrived just to increase the number of keywords in the documents.” Keywords are also important for human reviewers to see, because they show you are well-versed in industry terminology.
You can cull important keywords from job ads. Review job descriptions for your desired position, and look for skills, certifications, education and other commonly requested qualifications. For example, a tax accountant might incorporate keywords such as CPA, GAAP compliance and tax audits, whereas a financial analyst might incorporate business modeling, financial analysis and forecasting. “The keywords don’t need to be in list format like they would be on a resume, but rather incorporated in a description of your background or accomplishments,” Friedler says.
Avoid the Dreaded Trash Bin
Carlson, whose firm averages about 50 job requisitions daily, stresses the importance of proofreading. “Have someone review your cover letter, because spelling and grammar mistakes could get you thrown out of the process before the manager even reviews your resume,” he says.
Goodman agrees. “Misspellings and bad grammar are big faux pas,” he says. “Also, the letter must be professional -- don’t say anything negative about previous employers and avoid revealing personal information that’s irrelevant to the job.”
Brevity is also important -- the days of lengthy cover letters (even for finance executives) are long gone. “Keep it to one page -- any more than that will not be read anyway,” Carlson says.
Although cover letters are not always read and may take a backseat to the resume, they are read often enough that it’s wise to put some serious effort into them.
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