Hi there! If you're looking for a job as a business analyst, you'll know that the tough part is actually landing an interview. Gone are the days where employers would simply grant you interviews straightaway - most of them know go through several screening processes internally to sieve out the candidates to actually interview.
Indeed, here in Singapore, where I'm based, I see that in competitive industries like banking and management consulting, it can be tough landing interviews for business analysts. This is especially true in brand name banks like Deutsche Bank and UBS or consulting firms like McKinsey and Company.
It can be very tough to land a business analyst job interview in these companies. They have so many applications for positions and tend to be very selective.
Having said that, do not despair! Whether you're looking for a BA role in a bank, consulting firm or other industry, be aware that you can maximize your chances of getting an interview. Of course, there are many aspects to this - gaining the right experience, getting a referral from someone in the company, etc.
In this article, let's concentrate on one of the most important aspects of securing a BA job interview - the cover letter that you use.
That's right - the cover letter. I can promise you that even with a degree from an Ivy League university, if you have a poor cover letter, employers won't even look past the first page of your application. I know, because I've been on both sides of the fence - as a BA job applicant, and also a hiring manger in a bank and consulting firm.
Learn how to write a good business analyst cover letter
Definition: The cover letter is a short three quarter page memo or email summarizing your professional background, your objectives in taking up the job and how you can help the company you're joining.
Take note of the words "short three quarter page". I've seen many job applications write up only one paragraph in their letters. And others writing up to two pages!
Keep your cover letter brief but have enough content to allow the hiring manager to take a peek at who you are and why he or she should hire you.
Tip: A cover letter is important because it is an "executive summary" of your job application. It gives an employer a brief insight into why you're applying for the job and how you can contribute.
That's critically important! Hiring mangers these days are very busy - they have a job role to fill and have their day jobs to do. Do you think they have time to go wade through each and every page of your job application form? No way - they want information about you upfront and in brief.
A cover letter is also critical because it shows an employer how you write. When I look at the job applications of associates into my consulting firm, the FIRST thing I do is to review their writing. And the first place I see that writing is in their cover letter.
If there's bad grammar or spelling mistakes all over the place, it's not likely I'll be meeting that associate face-to-face.
This is important knowledge to job applicants - optimizing up your cover letter will give you an edge over other applicants who don't know better. Taking the time to write that letter well - double checking it for grammar and typos - reaps a lot of benefits.
Grammar and Spelling. This is one of THE most important aspects of a good business analyst cover letter. Please, please check your grammar and spelling. There's no excuse to get these wrong when you're applying for a job. If necessary, get someone to proof read it for you - but always get this point write.
Fit for Purpose. Yes, it's important to get your grammar and spelling correct, etc. but to truly stand out from the pile of resumes, you need to be what I call "fit for purpose".
Your cover letter should be customized to fit the job opening at hand. If you're applying for a role as an Investment Banking Business Analyst, then don't go on too much (if at all) about how you did that healthcare project early in your career, or how you were great as a developer in an investment bank.
You should highlight your specific experience which is relevant to the job as far as possible, and communicate that you can add vale because of that experience.
Structure. Remember how your high school teacher would remind you to structure your essays correctly?
Always have a beginning, middle and end.
The same holds true for cover letters As a start, make sure you introduce yourself and your professional profile - where you worked and what you did.
Next, in the middle, you'd elaborate on how you're skills and experience can help you contribute to the company.
Finally, you put down next steps for following up, e.g. ask for an interview, ask for a casual meet up or move on to the next step in your application.
Sticking to a proper structure helps make your cover letter flow well and easier to understand.
Brief. You should always make your cover letter brief and succinct. To me, there quarters of a page is the ideal length. Anything more and you risk boring your recruiter.
Tip: I know it's hard to restrict all of you professional profile, experiences and job aspirations into three quarters of a page. The trick is to highlight specific, relevant examples and summarize the rest. Take a look at an example I have here.
Professional. The next thing about a BA cover letter is that it should be professional. By professional, I mean that you shouldn't be highlighting things like personal hobbies or family related stuff.
Keep your experiences limited to what you did in a previous job. If you're just fresh out of school, then experiences gained from internships should be highlighted.
Another part of professionalism consists of basic courtesy and etiquette. I've seen some cover letters start off with "Hi" or "My Dear Friend". Others end off with "We'll speak again soon" or "I really hope you can grant me an interview soon". To me, you should never be too forward or make any assumptions in your cover letter.
The proper way to start a cover letter is usually with "Dear Sir / Madam" or something similar.
Doing something like a plain "Hi" or "My Dear Friend" is too informal. And saying "we'll speak again soon" is making an assumption that he or she will actually want to meet you. The employer is only reading your cover letter - you shouldn't assume he or she wants to meet with you. If they do, they'll let you know.
Similarly, writing "I really hope you can grant me an interview soon" is too forward for my liking. It almost sounds like you're too eager to take the job. In general, employers like to know you've considered the job carefully and don't like candidates who sound too eager to take on the job.
We were looking for an all rounder, who could withstand the toils of the consulting life. Someone who spoke, presented and wrote well, and had excellent academic results and experience to boot.
We eventually shortlisted two potential candidates - HR submitted their cover letters and application forms to my team and me. Looking at their applications, both candidates were from the Singapore Management University.
They were top of their class (one studied economics and another studied accounting). They were also dynamic, young ladies - full of idealism and energy - having been very active in extracurricular activities in school. There were a great fit - but we could hire only one as a business analyst into out firm.
Guess what the "tie breaker" was? Yes - it was the cover letter.
The first candidate (let's call her Rachel) wrote something like:
I was browsing on the Company X website and came across the job opening "Business Analyst - Strategy"
I've three years' experience in the banking industry, having been a relationship manager in Bank ABC. I was a key player in Bank ABC's front-office business transformation initiative, where I led lead a revamp of RM sales metrics ...
... I believe my experience will help me contribute to Company X, particularly in the areas of strategic analysis and operating model design ... I look forward to meeting with you to discuss how I can add value to your company.
The second candidate (let's call her Amy) wrote something this:
I have four years' experience as a credit product manager in Bank XYZ. I am a dynamic team player, able to work with all levels of management to achieve business outcomes ...
... I am also well versed in the banking industry and understand banking products and services well ... I hope to meet up with you and discuss this job opportunity further.
Do you see the differences in the two cover letters? Guess who secured the interview?
Yes - it was Rachel and she eventually joined us as Senior Associate and has been promoted a number of times since. So it worked out well.
Now, what distinguished Rachel's and Amy's cover letters? Both were written using email (which is fine to me) - but notice how Rachel is much clearer about how she can add value.
I think Rachel was better in specifically two areas - how she highlighted specific examples of her relevant work experience, and how she can use that experience to add value to the company she's joining.
Rachel is more specific about what she did in Bank ABC, and how she helped revamp RM sales metrics. Amy, on the other hand, gives something generic, like "... dynamic team player, able to work with all levels of management to achieve business outcomes ...".
Which sounds better? Rachel, of course.
Remember my advice on what how goes into a good cover letter? Yes, that's right - "fit for purpose". Be specific about where you've worked and your relevant experience. And show how that experience helps you add value to the company.
And Rachel did that very well.
Initially, when I applied for these jobs, I wrote random cover letters and never took the time to craft my words carefully. As you'd expect, my "hit rate" of securing interviews was not very high at that time.
However, I eventually learnt how to properly craft cover letters when I left my first consulting firm to join a global bank.
Below are three examples of the BA cover letters I have in my repository. They aren't meant to be "perfect" cover letter templates, just samples to help you get started.
He is applying for a BA position in a global bank, which requires him to gather system requirements from users, so that a trading system can be implemented. The role also requires him to lead some testing streams to make sure bugs in the system are uncovered before go live.
If you look at John's cover letter, there are three things we observe.
Firstly, he plays up his knowledge of requirements gathering. In his work as a application programmer, he has participated in user requirement workshops, where the users of the application being developed provided input on what they expected the system to do. Being in these sessions helped John understand the system requirements gathering process and how workshops are facilitated. This is a core BA skill and should be played up in the cover letter.
The other aspect that John worked on was to business process modeling work - where he worked with some senior stakeholders to document process flows. Now, business process modeling is actually is a core BA skill and giving some specific examples of how he presented and drove IT solutions in his past work is something that can be mentioned in the cover letter.
John also highlights what he's doing for his current Company X. Although he's doing technical development, he's worked on a particular module of a core banking software package and has international experience across Europe and Asia. Employers like to see geographical exposure in terms of their candidates' experience - so it's good to highlight it here.
A final point to note. Try to be as business focused as possible in the cover letter. Notice some of the key words used in John's sample cover letter. It is imperative that the correct keywords be used in the letter. For example:
The above keywords are very business analyst focused and will ring loud and clear to a hiring manager who knows business analysis work. If, for example, instead of "object-oriented design and development", John wrote "C++. Java and Ruby-On-Rails" - I can promise you the hiring manager may end up tossing the application into the "rejected" bin.
Again, the key is to be as business focused as possible in the cover letter. Even if you've been in a deep IT role like programming, try to avoid the term "programming" (or worse, names of programming languages). Use something more business user friendly like "system requirements" or "object-oriented design and development"
Her target role requires her to gather system requirements from users for a loan origination system (which initiates and handles the loan process and operations in the bank for all customers). She is expected to transfer some of her deep credit product knowledge to the project as a subject matter expert too.
Again, looking at Sally's cover letter, there are three things we observe.
First up, Sally has deep expertise in credit operations and this is a perfect fit for the BA role she's applying for. So, in her letter, she is going on about details of the end-to-end lending process in the bank - from origination through to disbursement. That's perfect and how envisage a good cover letter should be written.
The second point is that Sally plays up her role in testing during UAT phases of credit system implementation projects. Testing is another key business analyst skill - many BAs start off as testers in system implementation projects. So it's good that Sally is highlighting this well within the first paragraph of her cover letter.
The third point is that Sally highlights that she "played a key role in documenting credit operation policies and procedures, as well as lending business processes for the bank". For folks in a "business-as-usual" in e.g. operations, familiarity with operational policies and procedures is a must.
They must know what steps to take if a customer has collateral that drops below a certain value due to movement in market prices, for example. Or know what credit limit levels are allowed for different customer segments. This domain knowledge, to me, is a tremendously important in a BA role and should be highlighted in the cover letter.
A point about domain knowledge, which I've discussed before here. While it is important that a BA has subject matter expertise and domain knowledge, don't discount the "methodology" side of things, e.g. use case methodology, strategic analysis or requirements gathering techniques.
My experience is that folks from a technical background are stronger in methodology, but weaker in business domain knowledge. Folks from, say operations, tend to be strong in business domain knowledge but are weak in methodology and project governance / structures.
To be a good BA, you need to have a fine balance of both skill sets - technical and business.
His target BA role is with a global insurance company, which needs a Senior Business Analyst. The roles and responsibilities are to lead several business work streams (New Business, Policy Servicing, Claims and Finance) in a regional insurance system transformation project.
Looking at Tyler's cover letter, we observe three key things:
Firstly, Tyler obviously has very relevant experience and that has to be highlighted upfront in the cover letter. Indeed, this is the same type of verbiage I use in my own cover letter when I apply for jobs. Notice how Tyler has got to make sure the methodology aspect i.e. system implementation, process re-engineering and operating model design) and business domain aspect (e.g. insurance policy servicing, claims and reinsurance processes) of a BA come through within the first paragraph.
Secondly, Tyler does a good job of describing his familiarity of Core Insurance Software Package ABC, his involvement in gap analysis and functional specification workshops, as well as change management and competency build-up. The truth is, if the target BA role is to support a system implementation of e.g. Insurance Software ABC, then obviously any prior knowledge of that software is going to be a huge advantage in your application for the BA role.
And even if your knowledge is in another software package, e.g. Insurance Software XYZ, you should still highlight it. One insurance software may not be all that different from the next - despite what the vendors may tell you. So if I have knowledge of one software product, it's likely my knowledge will be applicable to another software product too - especially from a business point-of-view.
Thirdly, because the role applied for is a Senior Business Analyst, there has to be demonstration of management and leadership potential in the cover letter. Tyler does this by highlighting that he has overseen "test execution by a team of more than 30 testers" and also led "engagement teams of ten to fifteen Associates to implement insurance projects ...".
If I were Tyler, I'd be prepared to talk about these "engagements" in more detail during the actual interview. Basically, the more senior the position applied for, the more likely management and leadership requirements come into play.
Whew, that's quite a bit about BA cover letters we just went through! But I'm not done yet ... I'd like to highlight some other related tips when you're applying for a BA position - just to make things complete here.
Types of BA. If you're applying for a BA role, I think it's important to distinguish between the types available. Is it a "Consultant BA", "End-User BA" or "Software Vendor BA" role? I've discussed these BA roles over here. Be clear which type of BA position you want and customize your cover letter appropriately to maximize your chances of snagging that interview.
Customize your cover letter. It's really important to customize your cover letter. If your cover letter is too generic, it will be obvious to the potential employer that you're just firing mass applications out to any Tom, Dick or Harry out there in your job search.
One good trick is to say something like "I came across your job opening for "Senior Business Analyst" while browsing through the Global Insurance Company ABC website. I read with interest the work that Department XXX does and believe that with my background and experience, I will be able to contribute to the success of your company."
That sentence "I read with interest the work that Department XXX does ..." serves to show the employer that you did do some reading on their website and this is not just a "generic" cover letter. However, use this strategy with care too ... make sure that Department XXX in the above example is indeed relevant to the position you're applying for!
In other words, really do take an interest in the company you're applying for and customize your letter accordingly. In any case, if you're serious about the application, you WILL customize your cover letter appropriately anyway.
Do not include your photos in the cover letter. Cover letters are not supposed to contain photos. That belongs in a CV. I've seen many applicant include a photo on their cover letter and it is just plain wrong. Know the job application etiquette and conform to it.
BA salary. I've spoken about BA salaries over here. Now, salaries are a sensitive topic, especially if they are discussed too soon - it may throw off the potential employer since you might appear sort of "mercenary".
In my cover letter samples, I've chosen to specify what are the current and expected salaries. You may choose not to reveal this information in your cover letter.
Some companies in fact ask that you specify current and expected salaries upfront - in such cases you can do so safely. But for companies where you're not sure, it's best to check around or even leave it out first.
Salaries are usually discussed at the end of an interview process, possibly in the final interview, or in a phone call to you after the final interview. So do bear that in mind.
Alrighty then! That's all I have on the business analyst cover letter. Granted, when applying for a BA role in a company, there are many aspects to think about - the cover letter, the application form, your CV, certificates, etc.
However, I feel the cover letter is usually the first document an employer sees and will form an immediate impression of you.
If you get the cover letter right - concise, highlighting your relevant experience and how you will add value to the company - your chances of securing an interview are very much boosted.
If you get that cover letter wrong, chances are the employer may dump your application even before they read the full details of your application form or CV.
So do take the time to study the sample cover letters and tips I've provided above - and make your next cover letter a superb one! Until next time, good luck in your BA job search!
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