Your cover letter is a crucial element in every application, as it is the first thing the recruiter will read. You need to engage the reader immediately otherwise your application is likely to be disregarded – the company are likely to be receiving a high number of applications and they won’t want to waste time on sub-standard entries. Use this as an opportunity to align yourself with the company’s values, strengths and culture, and highlight your knowledge and strongest skills for the position.

Company research

Research each organisation you apply to thoroughly. Having a comprehensive understanding of your chosen company will let the recruiters know that you are sincerely interested in an opportunity with their organisation.

Smaller businesses’ websites may not host as much information as a larger company’s, but you can still use them as a starting point – read the ‘About Us’ and company news sections, company specialisms etc. Also, if there is recruitment information, read this area carefully to see if the company has any preferences on how they receive applications and what opportunities might currently be available.

Next, scope out your desired employer’s social media: LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook and find out if they have been mentioned in any current news stories or industry magazines. A quick search on social media platforms and Google will often generate some relevant information which could strengthen your cover letter.

Research the skills employers want

The career sectors on Inside Careers as well as the Essential Finance & Consultancy Skills article are a good place to start your research into what internships and work experience roles in each sector require from applicants. This knowledge is essential to highlight in your covering letter as you will need to demonstrate that you are qualified for the role.

Apply your research

Once you have gathered a good amount of research about the firm and job requirements, you’ll be able to include these appropriate details in your cover letter. This will demonstrate to the recruiter that you have taken the time to carry out careful research and are seriously interested in joining the company.

Structuring your cover letter

Endeavour to find out the name of the person to address your application to – an application addressed to Sir/Madam or otherwise is not likely to generate much interest. Find out if the company has a HR manager, a head of recruitment or if it will be the manager of the department that will receive your application. If this information is not available in the job description or on the company’s website you may need to call and enquire. Be prepared to coherently and concisely portray the purpose of your enquiry in this case.

Take your time

Once you’ve finished your cover letter, try to leave it overnight or for a few hours at least before reading over it with fresh eyes. You need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does it communicate what you need to say clearly and concisely? Are there sections that are hard to follow? If so, try to simplify your language, use shorter sentences or remove that section completely.
  • Do you sound confident? Enthusiastic about the company? Inspired about the role?
  • If you were to substitute the company’s name with a competitor organisation, would it read the same? If so, you need to put more effort into detailing why you want this role at this company.

Once you are personally happy with your cover letter, ask a careers adviser or, if possible, someone working in the sector you are applying for, to read it and give you any necessary feedback.

Following up

Get in touch again about a week after your submission to confirm that they have received your application and find out if they have had time to consider it. Begin the call by introducing yourself and letting the receptionist know the reason for your call, and then ask to speak to the person you addressed the letter to. Keep in mind that finance and consultancy professionals are often extremely busy, so don’t be discouraged if your enquiry cannot be immediately addressed.

Speculative cover letters

Your cover letter is particularly important in a speculative application. Remember, they are not expecting to hear from you so you will need to make sure your application is worth reading.

There are many smaller organisations that do not widely advertise opportunities for interns, as they only take on small numbers of people for each recruitment cycle, and may offer specialist or niche services. However, this does not mean that these companies do not have opportunities for you, they just require a different approach to access these valuable and diverse roles.

A speculative application differs from applying for an advertised opportunity as you are enquiring about possible job opportunities in your chosen sector. You can send your cover letter and CV by post or email as there will not be specific application requirements in this instance and an online application form will not be an option.

Speculative applications are particularly useful for actuarial, financial planning and insurance loss adjusting roles as there are numerous companies in the UK that offer these services but do not recruit staff through a typical scheme.

It is mainly larger employers that run annual recruitment drives for internships and work experience opportunities. As these roles are usually quite well advertised by the bigger companies, they are often inundated with applications – Mercer had 65 graduate vacancies in 2014 to which 3,500 people applied!

Smaller to mid-tier companies, particularly those offering specialist services, do not recruit on this scale and tend to receive less interest from job hunters as they require a little more effort to seek out – these are the kind of companies you will want to target with a speculative application.

How to find the right company

There are many companies in the UK that recruit into financial or consultancy roles and areas of their business on a small scale, meaning there are plenty of places to speculatively apply to, it’s just a matter of finding where’s right for you! Some professional bodies such as the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) and the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) (via their website) allow users to search lists of their member companies – databases such as these are a good place to start.

You can also search Inside Careers’ extensive employer directory.

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