Consulting Cover letter - Full Guide & Free Template
What is a cover letter?
Why is a cover letter important?
5 tips for consulting cover letters
Thousands of graduates apply for consulting jobs every year and 99% of consulting firms require a cover letter with each application. That’s a lot of cover letters. Amongst the pile of applications any mediocre cover letters will likely result in the entire application being dismissed. With thousands of applications to consider, screeners will use any mistakes or flaws to justify the rejection of a candidate. Getting your cover letter and resume right is possibly the most important part of the application process.
As your cover letter sits alongside your CV it cannot simply repeat the same information and it cannot be a generic cover letter that you have used for other applications. Each cover letter takes time to write and needs to be unique, concise and attention grabbing. Without sufficient care and diligence, it is unlikely you will make it to the next stage of the interview process.
What is a cover letter?
The cover letter introduces your application as a whole and should not be confused with a personal statement/summary on a CV. Your cover letter compliments your CV but does not repeat it by briefly highlighting your relevant skills and experience as well as communicating your desire to pursue a career in consulting. It should also explain why you want to join the consulting firm you are applying for, it could be the work they do, the reputation they have or the approach they take.
Cover letters are traditionally a letter, and therefore follow a letter format. It should contain both your address and the firms office address. It should be short and not delve into too much detail but leave the reader wanting to learn more by continuing to read your application.
Why is a cover letter important?
Top firms will receive thousands of candidates and they simply cannot all be put forward for interview. Interviewing candidates is an expensive process for the firm and therefore reducing the candidate pool to roughly a tenth of the size is paramount. The cover letter is in fact a quicker way to qualify candidates than a CV/resume, this is because it is quicker to make a judgement on three critical factors; potential, understanding and desire.
Without the potential to develop into a top consultant it is not worth the hiring company investing time and money into training you. Potential can be shown through skills and experiences with a particular focus on the balance of IQ and EQ. Are you a natural problem solver with an analytical skillset that is also able to build relationships with clients? Most people can show evidence of all of these things but not all of them do.
Applications that do not clearly understand what consulting is and the work it involves will be quickly rejected. Candidates that have applied to consulting without this understanding may find it neither rewarding or interesting; firms want to hire graduates that will repay the investment they make in them, not graduates that are likely to be difficult in the workplace and ultimately leave after a short period of time. Bad hires are expensive.
Desire is where the letter needs to be the most unique, of course employers are aware that you will apply to more than one firm but what is it about this firm in particular that you like. It could be their focus on delivering results for their clients, or perhaps the chance to work with incredibly smart people, or a particular project they did that caught your eye. Everyone likes to feel special and hiring companies are no different.
5 tips for consulting cover letters
In order to make sure you hit all of the criteria required to keep the reviewer interested in your application we have put together five tips that will cover all bases:
Feedback & proofread
1) Make it unique
As being generic is hurtful to your chances of proceeding further you can easily ensure that you make it unique to the company which you are applying by visiting their company website and visiting the ‘About us’ or ‘Company values’ page. If you can state what it is specifically about that company that you like then you will tick the unique box. An example using this approach for Oliver Wyman, is shown below:
We value exceptional people - people with intelligence, energy, passion, emotional sensitivity, and a commitment to excellence. We refuse to compromise by hiring those who do not meet our high standards. We believe that if we have common aspirations, a non-hierarchical environment based on respect, and no artificial barriers to advancement, then exceptional people will realize their potential.
Cover letter line:
“The focus on exceptional people and a non-hierarchical environment at Oliver Wyman resonates with me greatly as I enjoy working alongside and learning from talented people.”
2) One page
Given how important it is to write a stand out cover letter, it would be easy to spill over onto a second page to tell the screener how much you want it and why you are the perfect candidate. Please don’t. At the top of this page we mentioned that your application will sit alongside thousands of other applicants and that pile will be reviewed by 5-10 current employees. That means that each screener has the laborious task of reading hundreds of cover letters in one sitting.
Having a cover letter that is more than one page means you are asking for more of the screeners time than everyone else, that in itself can result in a rejection. Consultants are concise and you should be able to keep your cover letter to one page.
3) Be bold
As the person reading your cover letter will be doing it quickly, being bold is a way to grab their attention. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us but the reader doesn’t know you and the context of your achievements so you need to convey your brilliance with punchy statements. If you finished top of your class then state that, if you contributed to a record month during some prior work experience then don’t downplay your involvement.
Being bold shouldn’t be confused with lying. Yes you want to grab their attention but if it later transpires that you had no involvement whatsoever with that record month or other achievements then your dishonesty will ruin all of your hard work.
4) Name drop
When researching consulting applications there is often reference made to networking. For graduates this falls in to two categories, events and personal. The aim of networking is to meet people currently working at the company you are looking to apply to. This allows you to find out what it is really like to work there, gain an understanding of the type of work they do and ask any questions you would like to know the answer to.
Events based networking is when the firm you wish to apply for is at a university careers fair or is host a recruitment event themselves and there are current employees in attendance. They are there to talk to potential applicants and answer the questions they have about the company but the most important thing you need to do is remember their name.
Personal networking is meeting current employees of the firm through your own efforts. This could be cold messages to employees on LinkedIn but you will be surprised at how many people you can reach via your own friends. If you can find a current employee that is an alumni of your university and a mutual friend that you share, then be confident in asking that mutual friend for an introduction. The employee will be much more receptive to any introductions this way and usually will be happy to give up 15 minutes on the phone. Even many partners are happy to chat to potential applicants that they have been introduced to.
If you have managed to talk to any current employees then be sure to name drop them in your cover letter, something like:
“A recent conversation with current consultant, [name], confirmed my desire to pursue a career at [firm name]. I was thoroughly impressed by the emphasis you place on collaboration as well as the training opportunities you afford junior consultants.”
Doing this immediately shows that you understand the work involved and have a particular desire to work at that firm - two of the three requirements ticked off in one sentence.
It is not always possible to talk with a current employee, if this is the case then reference the author of a publication and state what you found interesting about it. These can be found on all firm websites.
5) Feedback and proofread
Submitting a cover letter with grammatical mistakes or formatting errors is looked upon very negatively. Sending your cover letter to multiple people will help ensure that no mistakes have crept in to your cover letter and it meets the high standards that consultants expect.
As you are trying to condense your highlights into a couple of paragraphs it can be hard to convey the message you want. Collating feedback from as many people as possible will allow you to elevate your cover letter further, if the reviewers know you personally and/or professionally they will be able to cast a judgement on how effective it is at conveying you, your achievements and your motivations. Don’t feel like you need to implement every single piece of feedback but select the recurring ones and any that you feel will have a positive impact.
When you have gathered all of the elements required you need to ensure a clear structure to demonstrate the three key factors; potential, understanding and desire. Whilst the order is not of great importance this example is comprised of 6 components:
When applying to different consultancies the section that changes most is the firm highlights section as this needs to be unique to each company.
The cover letter should follow a traditional letter format with your name, address, email and phone number featuring at the top right hand side of the page and the company’s address below and aligned to the left hand side under the date of writing.
You should address the reader in a gender neutral way. This can be done by using the opening “Dear Sir or Madam”.
The first line is a statement of what the letter is regarding (application), what role it is for, who it is with and at what company.
This is where you can include the name of a current employee you’ve spoken to or the reference to the companies mission or values that caught your attention on their website. Everything that is included in this section shows your desire to work at the firm and even better if you can elaborate further and explain why that fits with your motivations and career ambitions.
This is the section where you can be bold and state your achievements without providing much detail. As consultants like to be concise, we recommend including 2-3 highlights in bullet point format. This makes them stand out and ensures that they will be read no matter how fast the reviewer is scanning the page.
Personal highlights can be anything from academic grades to scholarships awarded to musical awards but it can improve the flow of the letter if these achievements can be later related to consulting. With limited space, using one section to support the next is a useful way of communicating as much value as possible.
Consultants do not expect you to claim you want to be at the firm for the next 30 years, they are often open about their open door policy. They cannot promote all of their staff due to the pyramid structure and those that leave for other careers are viewed as potential clients in the future. Despite this you should state why you feel consulting is a good next step for you in your career; what you have learnt during your studies, what interests you, what experiences you’ve had, how have they led you to consider a career in consulting?
We think its most appropriate to sign off your cover letter with ‘Yours faithfully’ as even if you have spoken to the person you are sending it to before, they may not be the only one to read it.
It is now very easy to add an electronic print of your signature alongside a print of your name so we highly recommend that you do this. In almost all pdf viewers there is an option to add a signature to the page.
Applying from abroad
If you are applying for an office in a location that you do not live and did not study then it is important to address this in your cover letter. You will need to demonstrate your right to work in that country or state any help you would need in obtaining the relevant visa, it is in both yours and the companies interest to clarify this at the very start of the process. There is no point wasting either parties time unnecessarily. You will also need to be clear as to what the equivalent of your academic grades are in the country. Whilst they may accept grades from other countries, again it is important to clarify this at the start.
Applying as a PhD graduate
It can be easy to assume that you have no relevant experience as a PhD student but that is not true. Instead of focusing on work experience, focus on the components of your PhD such as data collection, problems overcome and collaboration with other researchers.
As data and especially big data is becoming an increasingly popular request from consulting clients, PhD graduates are usually at an advantage here. State the data collection, cleaning and analysis you conducted in your personal highlights section. This is an easy way to show you have the potential to be a fantastic consultant.
Please feel free to download our cover letter template but keep in mind that this template has been downloaded by others, so we recommend making adaptations in order to make your cover letter unique. The template includes our recommended bullet point format for personal highlights.