What is a Consulting Cover Letter?
A consulting cover letter is a document that introduces yourself to a recruiter or resume reviewer. In addition to your resume, cover letters are another component of your application that consulting firms use to determine whether or not you should receive an interview.
Cover letters are a quick way to screen out weak candidates. A cover letter that is generic and filled with errors leaves a negative impression on readers. Poor cover letters signal a lack of interest in consulting, poor writing skills, and a lack of attention to detail.
However, cover letters are also an opportunity to distinguish yourself from other candidates. They can help get your foot into the door for a consulting job interview.
Through a cover letter, you can go beyond what is listed on your resume and provide further context and background on your work experiences. Additionally, you have the opportunity to tell readers who you are as a person, what your motivations are, and what makes you special.
Cover letters also give you an opportunity to explain potential red flags in your application or profile. Do you have a low GPA? Do you have a long gap in your work history? You can use part of your cover letter to address these concerns.
Overall, if your resume is on the borderline between receiving an interview and not receiving an interview, your cover letter will be the deciding factor. Candidates that don’t have the strongest resumes benefit the most from having outstanding cover letters.
While your resume is the most important component in getting consulting job interviews, your cover letter can still make a meaningful and significant difference.
What do Recruiters Look for in Consulting Cover Letters?
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of consulting recruiters. What would we want to see in a candidate’s cover letter?
Ideally, we would want to interview candidates that have the highest potential to become great consultants. In order to determine which candidates would make great future consultants, we need to look at their background and work experiences to determine if they have the right skills and qualities to succeed in consulting.
We would also want to interview candidates that are genuinely interested in a career in consulting. It is a huge waste of resources to interview candidates that applied last-minute because they are unsure of what kind of career they want to pursue.
Finally, we would only want to interview candidates that would likely accept a job offer if given one. Interviewing candidates that are applying to the firm as a backup choice is not ideal because it is a waste of resources since these candidates may not even accept the job offer if given one.
Therefore, recruiters look for three major things in consulting cover letters:
- Does the candidate have the skills, experiences, and background to become a great consultant?
- Does the candidate understand consulting and what they are getting into?
- Is the candidate genuinely interested in working for the firm?
To have an outstanding consulting cover letter, you will need to address all of these points and remove any doubt from the recruiter’s mind on whether you would be a great candidate to interview.
How to Write the Best Consulting Cover Letter
There are six components to a great consulting cover letter. We’ll go through each section and describe exactly how to best write each component.
- Opening paragraph
- Three body paragraphs
- Closing paragraph
This section of the cover letter is a formality. You’ll want to include the following information in the header section:
- Phone Number
- Date you are sending the letter
Although your resume will already have this information, you want your cover letter to also have your contact information to make it as easy as possible for recruiters to contact you.
Keep the header short to give yourself more room to write your cover letter.
You should tailor your salutation to the consulting firm that you are applying for. Do not start your cover letter with “To whom it may concern.” This salutation is not personalized and feels cold.
Instead, identify which recruiter is the primary point of contact for you and address the cover letter to that recruiter and their team. If you can’t identify the head recruiter, address the cover letter to members of the consulting firm’s recruiting team.
Here are a few examples of salutations you can use:
- Dear [Recruiter] and members of the McKinsey recruiting team,
- To [Recruiter] and the Bain recruiting team,
- Dear members of the BCG recruiting team,
The first sentence of your opening paragraph should be a powerful statement that summarizes your areas of expertise and the number of years of experience. If you had to summarize your entire background and work experience into one sentence, what would it sound like?
This powerful opening sentence is used to grab the reader’s attention and introduce yourself in an impressive way.
The second sentence should state what specific role you are applying for at the consulting firm. Do you research to ensure that you are using the correct job title since many consulting firms have different job titles for similar positions.
For example, McKinsey’s entry level role is called “Business Analyst,” BCG’s entry level role is called “Associate,” and Bain’s entry level role is called “Associate Consultant.”
McKinsey’s post-MBA role is called “Associate” while BCG and Bain’s post-MBA role is called “Consultant.”
The next sentence should describe why you are interested in the consulting firm. Do your research on the consulting firm so that you are giving specific, compelling reasons why you are interested. You need to convince readers that their firm is your top choice.
Example: I am a marketing professional with four years of experience working on digital marketing projects that have generated over $100M in revenue at Amazon and Walmart. I am excited to be applying for McKinsey’s Associate position. I am attracted to McKinsey because of the firm’s leadership in their Marketing & Sales practice, unparalleled investment in mentoring and professional development, and commitment to delivering outstanding results to clients.
Three body paragraphs
The next three body paragraphs should focus on why you would be a great fit for the consulting firm and what qualities you would bring to the firm. These body paragraphs should best highlight your qualities and experiences.
In order to tailor your cover letter to the specific consulting firm you are applying for, do research to identify what qualities each firm is looking for. Many firms explicitly state on their website the characteristics or things that they look for in candidates.
For example, McKinsey looks for leadership, entrepreneurial drive, personal impact, and problem solving. Bain looks for problem-solving skills, the ability to lead, results delivery, and passion.
Start this section of your consulting cover letter with a sentence that summarizes what three qualities you’ll be highlighting about yourself.
- I believe I would be a great fit for McKinsey because I have an entrepreneurial drive, adaptable leadership style, and an aspiration to make a meaningful impact on the world.
- If given the opportunity, I would bring to Bain my problem-solving skills, leadership, and passion.
In the following body paragraphs, go into more detail on each of these qualities or characteristics. The key is to show readers that you have these qualities, don’t just tell them.
Carefully pick what stories or experiences you want to share. Pick the stories and accomplishments that are the most impressive, impactful, and memorable.
Finally, keep your body paragraphs concise, which increases the likelihood that the reader will actually read through the full cover letter. You do not want to have three large, chunky paragraphs.
Below is an example of what a body paragraph could look like. You can start your body paragraph with the quality you are going to be talking about in bold to make it easier for readers to skim your cover letter.
Personal impact: While working at Amazon, I identified an opportunity to use customer data to determine if Amazon’s $50M investment in customer service initiatives generated positive returns on investment. I analyzed over 700K customer data points to create a model forecasting customer value. I collaborated with data science, customer experience, and finance teams to get their support and buy-in. In the end, I determined that Amazon’s investment had a negative 40% return on investment. I presented my findings to my thirty-person team and CFO and convinced them of my recommendation to stop the customer service initiatives. My work would save Amazon $50M per year moving forward.
The closing paragraph should be very short, typically just two sentences.
In the first sentence, you should reiterate that you would be a great fit for the consulting firm. In the second sentence, you want to thank the reader for their time and consideration.
Example: I believe that these qualities would make me a great fit for McKinsey. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Finish your cover letter with a professional closing phrase and your name. Appropriate closing phrases to use include:
- Best regards
- Thank you
Consulting Cover Letter Formatting
In addition to having great content in your consulting cover letter, you should also have great formatting. The goal in formatting your cover letter is to make it look professional and easy to read.
You want to make it as easy as possible for the reader to see that you are a great candidate to interview. Follow the formatting tips below:
- Keep your cover letter to one page: Your cover letter needs to be no more than one page. If your cover letter is longer, you will need to find ways to make it more concise. No one likes reading long cover letters, which is why almost all cover letters are kept to a single page.
- Use 1-inch margins: Margins less than 1-inch make the text in your cover letter look cramped and small, which is not aesthetically pleasing. Using 1-inch margins ensures that you give yourself enough room to write, but also keeps enough white space around your text that makes it easier to read.
- Use standard fonts: Use a font that readers are used to seeing that are easy to read. You cannot go wrong with using Times New Roman, Arial, Courier New, Calibri, or Verdana. These are standard, professional fonts that have been used for many years.
- Use 12-point font: You don’t want readers to be straining their eyes while reviewing your consulting cover letter. Tiny font sizes make your cover letter difficult to read. Therefore, use a minimum 12-point font size.
- Submit your cover letter in a PDF format: Submitting your cover letter in a PDF format ensures readers will be able to open your cover letter file and that there will be no formatting issues. People have different versions of different word processors, so submitting your cover letter as a word document may lead to incompatibility issues.
Consulting Cover Letter Tips
Below are eight of the best consulting cover letter tips to help give your cover letter an edge over other candidates.
Tip #1: Research the specific qualities that the consulting firm is looking for
In order to tailor your cover letter, research the specific qualities that the consulting firm is looking for. Many consulting firms explicitly state what qualities or characteristics they look for in candidates on their websites.
This not only demonstrates why you would be a great fit for the firm, but also demonstrates that you are highly interested in the firm because you took the time to research the qualities that they care most about.
Tip #2: Avoid simply repeating things on your resume
Many candidates make the mistake of simply repeating achievements and accomplishments from their resume on their cover letter. This is a wasted opportunity because recruiters and resume reviewers will be looking at your resume anyways.
Providing redundant information in your cover letter does not help strengthen your application.
The cover letter provides an opportunity to go beyond what is listed on your resume. You should take advantage of this by telling readers who you are as a person, what your motivations are, and what makes you special.
You can include points from your resume, but make sure you provide further context on your achievements and accomplishments so that readers can learn something new about you.
Tip #3: Don’t use generic cover letter templates
As a recruiter, there is nothing worse than reading a generic cover letter. Recruiters read thousands of cover letters each year. They know when a cover letter is written using a generic template without much thought.
Do not fall into the trap of using a generic cover letter template and then inserting the name of the consulting firm that you are applying for.
If you really want your cover letter to stand out, you’ll need to invest the time to write a cover letter specific to each consulting firm that you are applying for.
To test if your cover letter is generic, swap the name of the consulting firm for another consulting firm. If the cover letter still works and makes sense, your cover letter is likely too generic.
Tip #4: Pick your best stories and accomplishments
Cover letters are meant to be short and sweet. You won’t have enough space to write about all of your accomplishments and experiences.
Therefore, you should carefully pick what you share in your cover letter. Pick the stories and accomplishments that are the most impressive, impactful, and memorable.
Tip #5: Quantify your results and impact
Just as you would do in your resume, quantify your results and impact that you share in your cover letter. Consultants think in terms of numbers, so the more you can quantify your achievements, the more impressive and credible they will be.
If you improved something at work, how much did you improve it by? If you helped increase sales, how much did revenues increase? If a project you worked on performed well, how much better did it perform compared to benchmarks?
Tip #6: Keep your cover letter concise and punchy
Recruiters sometimes read hundreds of cover letters over just a couple of days. Reading cover letters is highly repetitive and recruiters have short attention spans.
Therefore, keep your cover letter concise and punchy to increase the likelihood that the reader will get through the entire cover letter.
How do you make your cover letter punchy?
First, try to reduce the number of words needed to tell a story or explain an accomplishment. Second, focus on sharing only the most impressive and unique stories and accomplishments. This will make your cover letter more interesting to read.
Tip #7: Mention current or former employees you have talked to
If you’ve spoken with employees of the consulting firm that you are applying to, mention this in your cover letter. It is a simple, but effective way to demonstrate that you are interested in the firm.
However, don’t just mention names for the sake of name dropping. Go deeper and explain what you talked with these employees about and what you learned about the firm from these conversations.
Doing this signals to recruiters that you are genuinely interested in the firm because you took the time to learn about what it is like to work at the firm and what makes the firm great.
Tip #8: Double check that you are addressing the right firm or person
Finally, double check or triple check that you are addressing the cover letter to the right consulting firm or person.
If you were a recruiter for McKinsey, how would you feel if a candidate submitted a cover letter that is addressed to BCG or Bain?
There are many stories of candidates with strong resumes and backgrounds getting their applications rejected because they accidentally forgot to change the consulting firm’s name on their cover letters. Don’t let this happen to you.
Ideally, you will be writing customized cover letters that are tailored to each firm, so you will not need to be replacing a consulting firm’s name for another firm’s name for your cover letters.
What to do when Consulting Cover Letters are Optional?
Some consulting firms, such as McKinsey, make their cover letter optional to make it easier for candidates to apply. If a cover letter is optional, what should you do?
If you have a strong resume, you likely won’t need to submit a cover letter in order to get an interview.
If you were previously rejected from the consulting firm, it may be beneficial to submit a cover letter in order to explain how you have improved and grown since your last application. You will need to convince recruiters why you are a great candidate to interview this time around.
Finally, if you have any red flags on your resume, such as a low GPA or a long gap in work history, it will be beneficial to submit a cover letter to explain these circumstances. You will need to remove any doubt from recruiters’ minds that these red flags do not reflect your quality as a candidate.
If you don’t fall into any of these categories, you should submit a cover letter if it adds incremental value to your application beyond what is listed on your resume. If you are just going to be submitting a generic cover letter, it may not help your application much.
However, if you are willing to take the time to research the consulting firm and write a customized cover letter, you should definitely do so. Outstanding cover letters can only help your overall application.
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