Consulting Cover Letter Length
The cover letter is a required component of any job application – but often the biggest headache for applicants. In this post, I discuss the top 10 tips for consulting cover letters (from content to structure to syntax) that will avoid embarrassing mistakes and strengthen your candidacy.
For the complete guide to consulting cover letters, click here!
1) Your opening paragraph should include:
- The position you’re applying for.
- Qualities that make you a good fit (e.g., leadership experience, analytical thinking skills).
- Optional: very brief highlights on work experience.
2) Your body paragraphs (no more than 2) should include:
- Work highlights if not in the opening paragraph.
- A section to describe one experience in detail (work, student group, etc). Focus on the impact you had and the skills you learned that would make you a good consultant. This should be your “star” experience and the one you want every reader to remember
- A section or paragraph on your interest in the job, your career goals, the research you’ve done to learn more about the firm.
3) The closing paragraph should be brief and restate why you’d make a good consultant. Include your contact information here as well:
Please do not hesitate to contact me with further questions. I can be reached at (123) 456-7890 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4) Avoid an elaborate discussion of your educational background. A sentence about your school and major should suffice. It’s OK to expand this section if you have a very high GPA, nationally-recognized scholarships, and fellowships, etc.
5) It’s OK to drop names of current firm employees – but integrate them well.
Here’s a poor example:
I had a conversation with Sarah Foster, a current case team leader at Bain, at the on-campus presentation. I learned a lot from her about consulting and gained a deeper appreciation for the company.
Why is this a poor example? It doesn’t make a point. The interaction was generic, and it feels like a setup to name-drop.
Here’s a good example:
Bain is not only a prestigious firm, but one that really invests in the development of its consultants. My conversations with Sarah Foster, a current case team leader, reinforced my belief that this separates Bain from the other firms, and is my central reason for applying.
Why is this a good example? The name-dropping occurs in the context of a broader point – that Bain focuses on the development of its people.
6) Use anecdotes in consulting cover letters. Instead of saying “my past experiences have allowed me to become a strong leader of teams,” say this:
My projects at Oracle – where I led groups of up to 5 analysts on implementation projects – have made me a strong team leader and partner for my colleagues.
7) Include current contact information at the top. Don’t assume it’s unnecessary because the information is on your resume.
8) Never use more than one page and use PDF format when possible. In the words of Consultant99 (a kind commenter):
Resumes and cover letters should be submitted in PDF whenever allowed. Every resume screen finds us holding a half-dozen resumes where the font isn’t found, the margins are messed-up, it’s set for A4 rather than 8.5 x 11, or any of a million other problems that wreak havoc on your careful formatting. Worst of all, “track changes” might be turned on! Putting it in PDF avoids all these problems.
9) If it doesn’t fit with size 12 font and 1″ margins, it’s too long. This is not an iron-clad rule but a guiding principle. Cover letters with size 10 font, 0.5″ margins, and minute paragraph spacing hurt the reader’s eyes and hurt your candidacy.
10) Make sure the consulting cover letter is addressed to the right firm and person. Back to my initial thought – the risk is greater of messing up than standing out, and this is mistake number one. Label and save each cover letter by a firm, and double-check to ensure the firm name, address, and position applied for (eg, Associate vs Senior Consultant) is correct.
The last thing you want to happen is for an Accenture recruiter or consultant open your cover letter and see that it’s addressed to Deloitte HR. At best, you’re incompetent. At worst, your application may not see the light of day.
In ourConsulting Resume and Cover Letter Bible we’ve got 12 cover letter templates you can use to create your own best-in-class cover letter.
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5 Tips for McKinsey Resume (CV) Screens and Cover Letters
If you're not in business school but are applying to a job that requires an interview with and resume screen by a former McKinsey consultant, these tips should still be helpful.
WHY I WON'T JUST GIVE YOU THE ANSWERSIn my years at McKinsey, I reviewed and scored thousands of resumes - hundreds of resumes from multiple schools, two times per year. I know enough about the resume screening process and criteria to help anyone rewrite their resume to pass the resume screen, but I won't do that for two reasons - (a) quality - I want the Firm to interview the best possible candidates and (b) fairness - I don't want someone to get a resume just because they read a blog post.
However, in this post I will share some resume tips that are either generally accepted knowledge, common sense, or freely shared by consultants with potential applicants. You might also find this related post (on how the McKinsey resume screening process works) to be helpful
CAVEAT - YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE GOODSIt's important to note that these tips are intended to help candidates who are qualified to pass the resume screen. My underlying assumption will be that you are good enough to get an interview, do well, and get a job offer, but that you might need some guidance to make sure that your resume sufficiently conveys your potential. Please do not use these tips to manufacture content just to get past the resume screen - you'll eventually falter during the interview process and you'll be taking a valuable interview spot of someone who is actually qualified.
1. DON'T GIVE US A REASON TO DING YOUMcKinsey consultants are incredibly busy and never have enough time. Those who participate in recruiting do so on top of their usual 60+ hour work weeks and business travel so they are trying to get through your resume as quickly as possible. It takes time to review hundreds of resumes per school - if you give a resume reviewer a reason to ding you, they'll gladly take it and move on to the next resume. Misspellings, typos, poor grammar, and other errors reflect poorly on you and the fact that they made it to the resume screen will call your attention to detail and judgment into question. Use spell check, proofread, and have others review your resume for you.
A note on cover lettersLet's go ahead and get this out of the way - they will not make or break you at McKinsey. I'm not even sure if McKinsey even asks for cover letters. I've gone through dozens of business school resume books and thousands of resumes, but I've never seen a candidate's cover letter during the resume screen process.
If you're asked for one, follow tip #1 and focus your efforts on your resume, case prep, and doing well on the personal experience interviews.
2. UNDERSTAND THE FOUR TRAITS WE'RE LOOKING FORMcKinsey makes it very clear what they're looking for:
- Ppersonal impact
If your interviewer is looking for these traits, it's a good bet that your resume reviewer is, too. Read your resume again and ask yourself if your resume reflects these traits. Better yet, ask a friend to read it with those four traits in mind.
3. GIVE US EVIDENCE THAT YOU'RE DISTINCTIVEAny management consulting firm is going to be recruiting for the best of the best. So it's not just enough to show on your resume that you have these four traits - you have to come across as being distinctive in them. This is not the time to be humble!
Your fellow applicants are all accomplished, impressive professionals. Make sure your resume communicates why you stand out from the others and support with evidence. For example, don't just tell us that you're a distinctive problem-solver - highlight examples from your career that show us that you are. Don't just tell us what a great leader you are - list some examples of your distinctive leadership.
4. ADDRESS POTENTIAL RED FLAGSIf you think there are aspects of your resume that will raise concerns and give us a reason to ding you, make sure you highlight evidence to the contrary. For example, if you have no relevant work experience, include the consulting case competition you just won or your leadership position in the consulting club to reflect your commitment to your career change. If your background is lacking in quantitative experience, you can include your exceptional GMAT scores.
5. LEVERAGE YOUR RESOURCESOne reason I'm comfortable sharing resume screen advice is because McKinsey is already doing it. Their Careers page has a section specifically for "Improving your resume" - read it and update your resume accordingly. McKinsey will also make consultants available to you via forums like coffee chats and on-campus "office hours". Your b-school's career office, consulting club, and former consultant classmates are also likely to have advice and resources that you will find helpful.