This Post is part of the Australian Big 4 Bank Graduate Job Guide series.
Your entry point to the recruitment process. First impressions count, and about half of people who apply at this stage are culled. So it is important to get this right.
Cover Letter – Your cover letter is the thing that recruiters generally read first, so you want it to get the attention of the recruiter and draw attention to aspects of your application that you want the recruiter to focus on. Often people make the mistake of just summarising their resume in their cover letter, which in my experience is a bad move. Recruiters for Graduate Programs are in a position where they need to sift through thousands of different applications and make reasonably fast decisions about who to progress and who to cull, so if your cover letter doesn’t immediately resonate with the recruiter and you get put in a pile to review later, this could be the end of the road.
So how do you approach writing a cover letter?
A cover letter is meant to be a short document, and in my experience it is most effective when you try to make just 3 key points in your cover letter. This means you are conveying key strengths of your application and your letter won’t cause the recruiter to start snoozing half-way through.
In general, recruiters for the banking graduate programs are looking for people who are intelligent, have some experience in a working environment, have worked towards and achieved something, have leadership potential and who actually really want the job.
Intelligence is hopefully covered off by the fact that you are at university studying towards a degree, but if you have achieved something special intellectually, mention it in your cover letter, and don’t be afraid to talk yourself up!!! If your degree and ENTER score are all you have in this regard, I would generally recommend not mentioning it extensively in the cover letter unless you have done something special here (like topped your class in a subject or got a 99 ENTER) as every application the recruiters receive will be from someone doing a university degree who has an ENTER score to mention.
Work experience is very highly valued by recruiters for graduate positions. Great things to mention (if they are true…) in the cover letter can be any promotions you have received (and why you were promoted: hard work, organisation skills, star performer etc), any experience you have gained working in a team and any experience you gained in managing people. Additionally, if you have worked in Finance previously, this can be a great discussion point for how you know that you want to work in Finance and why you want to pursue this career path.
Big Achievements are great for your resume, and are often the things that will make your cover letter stand out from the pack. They can demonstrate an ability to work hard, discipline, passion and strength of character, which are all desirable.
Leadership potential is something often difficult to display but an absolute winner if you can. Managing teams at work, entrepreneurial activities, leadership positions in organisations or clubs, these are all great things to put in your cover letter. Graduate programs are meant to be a source of future leaders for these organisations, so sell yourself to them on this point strongly.
You may have noticed that there are 4 features to mention in 3 key points, so a final point on this is that you should try to mention activities that demonstrate more than one of these key points simultaneously.
Some final things to remember when composing your cover letter are:
Keep it short and sharp;
Don’t mention anything negative about your application in the cover letter. This document is meant to sell you to them so focus only on positive features of your application;
Try to actually use key words that are the features recruiters are looking for. Use the words Leadership, Experience, Potential, Achievement to hit home the message you are trying to deliver, which is that you are a candidate they want, with the features they are looking for;
Keep in mind the goal of the cover letter (in tandem with your resume), which is to get the recruiter to take an interest in your application and put you through to the next round.
Resume – Your resume is also a sales document. Similar rules apply to the resume as do the Cover letter, but now you have a bit more room to include additional details. Whereas the cover letter should be kept to within one page at a maximum, your resume can be between 2-4 pages and still be sharp and effective.
As with the cover letter, the aim of your resume should be to demonstrate key features that the recruiters are looking for. Your resume will have details of your work experience, academic and extra-curricular achievements, and potentially a section covering key personal interests. What some people miss at this stage is the opportunity to create strong links between these features of their resume and the key attributes that recruiters are looking for (Intelligence, Experience, Achievement, Leadership, Team work).
It is a good idea to make sure everything mentioned in your resume links to a key feature you are trying to demonstrate, and this can act as a great filter to cull any irrelevant material from your resume.
Use these key features (and any others the graduate program advertisements mention) as headings for sections of your resume, eg:
Leadership and Team Work Experience;
Be strategic with your resume. If you get through to the Face to Face Interview stage, your resume should function as a supporting document for your interview answers, and can even help you shape the interview by helping you to emphasise key points you want to get across.
Write your resume well ahead of the application deadline. Why? Because you may find that there are some gaps in your resume you want to fill. Do you currently have any leadership experience or team experience? If you are missing a key feature in your resume, the sooner you identify this the sooner you can take action to get that experience and add it to your resume. If applications are in March, write your resume now for next year, and identify what is missing, then go and find some experience to fill the gaps!
Grades – Generally the Big 4 Banks want about a credit average in order for people to be put through to the second round. This is roughly a 60-65 average. Fails on your academic transcript will not kill your chances as long as your averages are there, but dishonesty will. If you have some bad grades do not lie about your grades!!! Banking is a business that relies on a level of trust, honesty and reputation, and at the end of the recruitment process the Banks will all require you to provide them with an official copy of your academic transcript, so there is nothing to gain from lying.