The Cover Letter
With the majority of large consultancy organisations, the likely lads PwC, Deloitte, KPMG etc. you will not have the opportunity or be asked to submit a dazzling cover letter, as they standardise the process as much as possible so that you will instead find yourself wracking your brains over word-count restricted competency questions. You may one day find a post or even a page on Consultinggrad dedicated to dealing with this, however, in the meantime, take a look at the competencies information and guidance from the menu on the right to get a grip.
Instead, the cover letter is prevalent throughout the top tier of consulting firms (the strategy houses: Bain, Booz, OC&C, Mckinsey etc.) and ‘smaller’ companies, (still no less credible) the likes of PA Consulting, Qedis etc.
So this is your opportunity to set yourself apart and really shine. Now is the time to be clever and sell yourself with a fluid, well-structured and incisive article about what you can and could potentially do for this company that you so very much want to work for. Sell the dream! (Maybe that’s a bit too dramatic…)
How to write a cover letter; The Basics
1. Format and Presentation
- Do not go beyond 1 side of A4 and attempt to only cover half the blank space with text, breaking up your prose by using…
- 3-4 paragraphs (too many more and it appears bitty and jerky whilst visually unappealing, too few and your letter looks rigid and tests the reader’s commitment and concentration)
- Size 12 font for Times New Roman or Size 10 for Ariel works nicely. Don’t be too extravagant or experimental here; remember, it’s the content that’s the clincher
- Use bold and italics sparingly if at all but don’t immediately discount these tools entirely as they can usefully draw special attention to sentences and phrases you definitely don’t want the reader to miss
- No need for complete addresses when heading the letter up, but you could include your name, contact number or short form of address in the top right, pop the date below that and have the name and title of the addressee aligned left. I tend not to include my details on the top right as I sign off with them, but it’s a matter of preference
2. Structure and Content
- 1st Paragraph: Position you’re applying for; what makes you suitable; why you’re applying and what interests you in the company
- 2nd Paragraph(s): Highlighted experience that demonstrates your suitability for the job and promotes you as a strong candidate. This is also an opportunity to discuss your cultural compatibility and what really appeals to you about the firm
- 3rd Paragraph: Conclude, bringing together all you’ve discussed into a neat sound-bite reinforcing why you’re amazing and why they need to get you in for an interview.
3. Tone and Etiquette
- Address to a person no ‘Dear Sir/ Madam’ stuff. Phone up and find out who you should address the letter to if it’s not clear and get the spelling right! If it’s a lady, try and clarify if it’s Miss or Mrs or just leave out the title
- Keep it professional; avoid abbreviations and apostrophised words like I’m, don’t, didn’t – always extrapolate to I am, did not etc.
- Avoid flamboyant adjectives though certain emphatic words and adverbs can be used to great effect in adding character eg. incredible, tremendous, exceptional etc. Rather than terrific, fantastic, wonderful, etc. The former words have a harder more professional quality versus the softer, colloquial commonality of the latter
- Try to keep your sentences clean and clear so they’re easily understood (no big words for the sake of big words as there are no prizes for confusing the reader)
The cover letter de-constructed; Let’s drill down
1. The opening Paragraph
Conservatively, many suggest producing a first paragraph of maybe 2-3 sentences outlining the position you’re applying for, why you’re applying/ what makes you suitable and why you’re interested in the company. However, you can communicate the first point at least with a clear insert thus:
Dear Mr. Telly Savalas,
Re: Application for Associate Graduate Position aligned to Process Transformation
Surely you don’t need to bother with the tautological ‘I’m writing to express my interest…’ or I am writing in application for..’ stock phrases. The fact that you’re applying isn’t significant enough to warrant repetition. Save repeating yourself for something that really matters.
So this now begs the question, how the devil do I open my letter?! Simple, consider why you’re sitting in front of your computer typing a cover letter in the first place. You want a job at this consultancy. But why do you want a job at this consultancy. Because you like the sound of the work, because you want the big bucks, because you want to be successful and have a great job with prestige and pride etc. BUT, how did you know all of this? Let me see if I can reason some possibilities:
ii) Attended a careers fair/ company presentation at Uni
iii) Work experience
iv) Came across/ worked with consultants while working in another field
v) Have family and friends in the profession (speaking professionally these are contacts in the industry you’ve had exposure too)
Have I missed out any other channels? Maybe….
Therefore, you’re sitting here reading about how to write a cover letter while sitting in front of your computer trying to write a cover letter in application for a job at XYZ Consultancy, HAVING DONE SOMETHING. This is your intro.
Some suggestions, by no means the best prose in the world, but hopefully a useful starting point:
i) Having completed extensive research into management consulting and the services and culture of XYZ Consulting, I recognise that I have the necessary skills around problem-solving, teamwork and building strong relationships to excel within the organisation.
ii) Having attended the XYZ presentation at ABC University I was extremely impressed by the services and achievements of XYZ Consulting whilst quietly inspired by the caliber of the individuals I had the opportunity to meet and speak with.
iii) Having gained invaluable experience during my internship with EFG Consultancy, which has led to profound professional growth across many of the key competencies you look for, I not only realised my aptitude for consulting but also recognized XYZ Consulting as an exceptional organisation where I could potentially best commit my skills and build a career within the industry.
Instead of ‘having’ done something, perhaps experiment with different constructions eg. In the time I have worked as… ; Whilst at University… ; During my degree in…. etc.
Align your skills/ experience with the company’s core competencies and your personality/ character with the company’s culture and credibility in the market.
2. The main Body
Now, this portion of the letter is really about substantiating your claims made in the opening. So ideally, you want to describe an experience, either a job or a project that really conveys those all important competencies. Maybe you have two examples that cover off the main skills, so talk about both of them if need be. However, I would hesitate to include any more than two examples as this risks diluting the substance of your cover letter which should be a concentrated punch in the face, not a floppy finger slap.
2.5. The main sub-Body
This is really the body but often requires its own paragraph and can actually come before the main body as it requires no more than 1-2 sentences to illustrate your commercial awareness and enthusiasm toward the consultancy, comprising any number of the following: the market; industry trends; appealing company culture, achievements and especially relevant services.
Quick tip: try to support an interest in a company’s services by providing a quick ‘ie.’ Eg.:
The prospect of working with companies to align technology to their business needs, as in XYZ’s IT Strategy project with Lloyds TSB, is extremely appealing to me.
Quick tip 2: You can even drop names to substantiate your impressions of an attractive company culture if you’ve managed to speak to someone from the business at an event, a fair or on the phone if you’ve used the advice and tips outlined in How to Make Graduate Applications 36% More Effective.
3. The Close
Keep it brief. Sign off positively re-affirming your key skills and capability while showing your passion and enthusiasm for potentially working for the company. Thank the reader and look forward to meeting them.
The test of a good cover letter will then be the feeling you get when reading it over – immense pride and an inspired take-on-the-world confidence.
Ok so it still seems a bit tricky. Therefore why not see how it all comes together and check out some Sample Cover Letters.