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.
Click here to buy it now and start landing consulting jobs!
How to Use Keywords in Your Cover Letters
When you are writing a cover letter to accompany your resume as part of a job application, it's important to make sure that every word counts. Your cover letter should enhance the employer's appreciation of your qualifications so you can move from applicant to interviewee.
Types of Keywords
Keywords are a vital element of a persuasive cover letter capable of portraying a candidate as a highly qualified applicant for the job.
These words fall into three general categories: skill words, results-oriented words, and words which show recognition for achievements.
Keywords work in a couple of different ways. First, the keywords you include in your resume and cover letter will be used to match your application with the skills required by the employer in the job advertisement. This matching process is often performed by automated applicant tracking systems (ATSs), programmed to identify specific keywords and to rank all resumes accordingly before they even reach the human eye of a hiring manager. If your cover letter and / or resume lack these keywords, they may be automatically cut from consideration at this stage of evaluation.
Secondly, keywords that are incorporated into a cover letter will show the hiring manager how and why you are highly qualified for the job, allowing them to rank you among your competition and, ideally, to offer one of their interview slots to you.
Job seekers should carefully analyze the skills required to excel in their target job and incorporate them into their cover letter. Those keywords should also be included in your resume. It will be more genuine if you paraphrase the skills mentioned in job ads as opposed to listing them verbatim.
Skill words are most effective when connected to a specific role or project where the skills were crucial to success.
For example, instead of saying "Quantitative stock analysis is an asset which I would bring to your firm," you could say, "I utilized quantitative stock valuation techniques to create a portfolio for high net worth clients which beat the market for three consecutive years."
The skills keywords included in your cover letters (and your resume) will help your application get selected by the software employers use to select candidates for further consideration. They will also show the hiring manager, at first glance, what skills you have that are related to the job he or she is hiring for.
Examples of skill keywords include “wrote,” “analyzed,” “quantified,” “planned,” “programmed,” “designed,” “created,” “built,” “taught,” and “trained.”
All employers are looking for employees who will add value and generate positive results for their organization. That's why it's critical to integrate results-oriented language into your cover letters. Think about the bottom line for each job on your resume and how you might have made things better in your role.
Your cover letter should showcase your accomplishments, not just your skills or personal qualities.
Providing these details will help to set your letter apart from those of other candidates who don’t highlight their professional achievements. Results-oriented words are most effective when coupled with some numbers which quantify your impact, as in "I reduced turnover amongst first-year hires by 20% by implementing a mentoring system." By using these types of keywords, you are clearing showing what you accomplished in your previous roles.
Examples of results-oriented keywords include: “increased,” “reduced,” “redesigned,” “upgraded,” “initiated,” “implemented,” “reformulated,” “generated,” and “produced.”
Hiring managers will be more likely to believe that you will be an outstanding performer if it is clear that previous employers have viewed you in this way. One way to do this is to incorporate language which demonstrates that employers have recognized your contributions.
Ideally, recognition phrases will include the type of individual who noted your achievement and the basis for your recognition. For example, one might say "I was designated as the team leader for the budget reduction task force by my Division Vice President based on my previous record of accruing cost savings." Recognition keywords attest to how you have excelled in your previous jobs and how you have accomplished more than was required.
Examples of recognition related keywords include “honored,” “awarded,” “promoted,” “selected,” “lauded for,” “received a bonus for,” “recognized,” “chosen,” and “credited.”
For more examples of keywords you should consider incorporating into your cover letter, please have a look at “List of Resume and Cover Letter Keywords” and “Keywords Lists for Resumes, Cover Letters, and Job Applications.”