Cover Letter: A comprehensive guide

The aim of the cover letter is to convey information about your personality and your way of approaching problems. While the résumé is a fact-based review of your professional life, a cover letter should somehow introduce you as a person. It is therefore important to use a different tone and focus on areas of your résumé that you have not developed in depth. Don't underestimate the importance of a well-written cover letter, it is fundamental component of your application!

The approach to writing your cover letter is similar to that used for the résumé: you will have to analyse your background to:

  • Reinforce skills that are not adequately explained on your résumé.
  • Explain how the skills you acquired in your past experiences relate to the job you are applying for (especially if you are changing sector).
  • Show how the culture of the company matches your own personal attitude.

Your cover letter will be reviewed by a junior consultant who will be probably busy on other projects as well so you will need to make it as easy to evaluate as possible. Follow our 5 top tips for the perfect consulting cover letter.

4 tips for a great consulting cover letter

  1. Have a plan

    Do not jump straight into writing mode. Read our article first, then collect all the necessary information. Following our guidelines, write a first draft; review it a few times until you are satisfied. You will then have to get some feedback from career professionals, peers or preferably a consultant. You can also consider our cover letter review services. Incorporate the feedback in your cover letter and keep on iterating until the result is satisfactory. Take your time, start writing early and don't forget to proofread it and check that all information is accurate before sending it off.

  2. Make it company specific

    You should send a different cover letter to each company. However, you will only need to change one paragraph where you should ideally write about a consultant from that firm you met at a networking event or otherwise. If you haven't you could mention a firm's project that you found particularly interesting.

    Writing a cover letter

  3. Standard format

    Be creative with content but not with format, which should be standard to help recruiters evaluate your cover letter. One page, standard font, introduction, 4 sections and conclusion. That's it!

  4. Highlight your achievements

    Make sure to highlight your best achievements, you should really impress your recruiter. McKinsey has several olympic gold medalist so you are up against some tough competition.

Structure

Your cover letter should have a standard structure and include an opening, a closing and four paragraphs. This section elaborates on each of these and provides examples to help you craft an outstanding cover letter.

Opening the letter

Start with the name of the recruiting manager (e.g. "Dear Mrs Wu") or, if not available, with "Dear Sir or Madam".

Body

First paragraph: The company

1. Go over who you are and the job you are applying for.

  • I am a graduate of ABC University and I am writing to apply for the Business Development Manager role at XYZ Company.

  • As a first year student at ABC University, I would like to be considered for your Summer Associate internship program.

  • I am a second year student at ABC University interested in pursuing a career in your Marketing Department.

2. Illustrate your research on the company, including presentations and networking events you attended.

  • I attended X’s reception on Date at X’s offices and I was really impressed by its emphasis on impact creation and personal development. I was particularly excited by the exposure to senior management analysts that associates were able to get from day one and by the impressive amounts of cross-industry expertise they were able to accumulate in less than 2 years.

  • In my research on ABC I have been impressed by its capability to constantly rethink itself, without however compromising its excellent reputation. More specifically, ABC,creating a strategy that no other company in the sector has been able to replicate, has leveraged its brand to generate new streams of revenue from existing customers.

  • The lunch seminar of the new ABC XYZ program at School ABC last January sparked my interest in attaining a position with your organization. After conversing with current employees, including John Smith and Louise Brown, I am convinced that Company ABC provides the best platform for an enriching career.

3. Introduce the second paragraph - a synthesis of who you are and why you are going to be a good fit for the company.

  • I am a highly curious and passionate individual and I am convinced that working in the Operational practice would allow me to combine those traits with the analytical and problem-solving skills I developed in my academic experience.

  • Throughout my Marketing studies I have been always excited to understand what drives people’s buying decisions. I am confident that this passion, combined with my experience in the luxury industry, would make me a good fit for the ABC position at XYZ.

  • Furthermore, the analytical skills I acquired during my studies, matched with my genuine interest for company XYZ, make me excited to hopefully be able to contribute effectively to the group.

Second paragraph: Your skills

1. A summary of the key skills you want to focus on.

  • During my studies I honed my analytical, communication and persuasion skills in my internship at company XYZ.

  • Whilst maintaining a top performance at University, I was elected as student representative for two consecutive years. The experience not only taught me how to manage multiple activities whilst maintaining optimal results throughout, but also enabled me to hone my motivation and persuasion skills.

  • During four years’ work in the retail industry, I focused on the optimization of the procurement department. That experience gave me the opportunity to interact with senior management from key suppliers from 4 continents and gain a global understanding of marketing best practices.

Writing skill summary

2. Provide examples of your skills.

  • As an Intern, I learnt how to leverage incredible amounts of data, using them to develop clear recommendations that were relevant for top management. For example, I was often entrusted with the preparation of final project reports for clients, delivering key results in a persuasive manner in order to receive the buy-in from C-level executives. I usually started by figuring out what my end product should have looked like, understanding what aspects were most relevant and critical. Then, I launched my quantitative and qualitative analyses and used them to create my presentation giving relevant, clear and practical recommendations.

  • As a student representative I introduced “Students’ Week” - a time when classes were suspended and students organised conferences and workshops. I faced two main challenges in this project: creating a committed team and getting the teachers’ support. First, I invited all students to have a stake in shaping the event, creating teams in charge of all aspects of the organization and entrusting responsibilities to leaders. This experience taught me how to motivate people, leveraging on the impact they can have and the rewards for their results. The teams were able to invite an outstanding line-up of speakers, which enabled us to gain the approval of the teachers, as we presented the event as a chance to promote the school on the media. Understanding the perspectives of multiple stakeholders and identifying what they really cared about enabled me to transform an ambitious plan into reality.

Third paragraph: Your passion and conclusion

Describe what excites you about the job.

  • I am convinced that this job matches my inclinations and, at the same time, offers me many chances to learn from new and diverse challenges – thus providing a constant stimulus to think in an analytical and practical way.

  • My main motivation for applying to this job is the wide variety of opportunities and challenges that would make me passionate about it.

  • Working for you would match what I desire the most from a job: the opportunity to think outside the box, to identify opportunities and create real impact, always working in a supportive team environment.

Fourth paragraph: Conclusion

  • I hope that you find my background and experience a good fit for your company, and I would like to reiterate my interest in discussing this opportunity and my qualifications with you further. Thank you for your time and consideration.

  • I very much look forward to the opportunity to speak with you in person about my interest in this position. Should you have any questions regarding my background or interest in XYZ, please feel free to contact me at your convenience. Thank you for your time and consideration.

  • I would appreciate your consideration for an interview with your firm. Should you require any additional information, feel free to contact me on +39 333 556 7788. Thank you for your time and I look forward to speaking with you.

Closing the letter

If you start with a name (e.g. "Dear Mr Brown") you should end with "Yours sincerely". If you start with "Dear Sir or Madam" you should end with "Yours faithfully".

Checklist

Your cover letter:

  • Does not simply restate your CV.
  • Reinforces skills that are not adequately explained on your CV.
  • Explains how your skill set relates to the job you are applying for.
  • Does not exceed one page.
  • Makes the person who reads it feel special: it is addressed to them personally.
  • It is tailored to the company’s values and culture.

Also:

  • The skills are backed up by relevant examples.
  • The skills you mention are relevant to the company.
  • There are no spelling mistakes (double check names of the company, position, HR manager).
The former Graduate Recruitment Manager at City law firm Mayer Brown found that 20% of applicants got the firm’s name wrong.

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