Consulting Cover Letter Q&A: 5 Tips

This is the final post in our series of resume and cover letter Q&As. Our newsletter subscribers shared the one thing they wanted to know about consulting resumes and cover letters and what they thought the answer was.

Questions in our final post focus on 3 key how to’s for consulting cover letters. How to give your cover letter that special something, how to tailor your cover letter for different consulting firms, and how to talk about relevant consulting skills coming from non-consulting backgrounds.

If you already read the first and second posts on resumes and the third post on cover letters, you’re familiar with the key takeaways we leave you with at the end. This time we’re putting them up front for those of you who don’t want to read through your peers’ consulting cover letter Q&A!

5 Key Takeaways On Consulting Cover Letters

Here’s a quick summary of the 5 key takeaways on consulting cover letters from the cover letter Q&A:

  1. Make sure you’ve addressed your cover letter to the right firm and person. You’d be amazed at how often candidates mess this up! Label and save each cover letter by firm, and double check to ensure the firm name, address, and position applied for (e.g., Associate at BCG vs. Business Analyst at McKinsey) is correct before submitting.
  2. Your cover letter brings your personal voice to the recruiting process – tell a great story that showcases your personality and leaves the reader dying to meet you! Don’t give them a boring, generic form letter that sounds like every other average applicant.
  3. Make sure you’ve addressed your cover letter to the right firm and person. You’d be amazed at how often candidates mess this up! Label and save each cover letter by firm, and double
  4. Don’t spend hours and hours creating a unique letter for each firm. Write one letter that can be used for all the positions you’re applying for, with some minor changes in the header/addressee portion and 2-3 tailored sentences on “why this firm.”
  5. You can demonstrate fit even with a non-consulting background. Give examples that show your aptitude for business, your leadership qualities, and your passion for solving problems.
  6. Focus on your strengths and leave out your weaknesses. Over-emphasizing your weak areas implies lack of confidence. Besides, you’ll be asked to address them in the fit interview.

Cover Letter Q&A

Now to the cover letter Q&As…

Giving Your Consulting Cover Letter That Special Something

What you want to know:

“As far as I know, 3 things should be explained: why consulting, why this particular firm, and the most difficult question for me, why they should hire you? The vast majority of my ideas about this questions may be applied to anyone – so I would like to know how to make this part unique.”

Your answer:

“Mention something about your relevant experience or about some of your outstanding qualities.”

This is, for most of our clients, one of the hardest parts of writing the cover letter. So, why should they hire you? Why are you so great? What makes you different from the other Ivy League grads from your class?

Whatever your background, whatever your experience – you are unique and different from every other candidate. The magic comes in harnessing that into demonstrable qualities, experiences, and skills that shine through in a matter of a few paragraphs on your cover letter.

Our team is great at helping you do this. Sign up for a Power Half Hour to get started!

What you want to know:

“How to craft an excellent cover letter with regards to your strengths and weaknesses.”

Your answer:

“Be yourself, and demonstrate fit.”

We’re so glad we got this question from the cover letter Q&A, so we can help you avoid the same mistake! Who in their right mind would talk about weaknesses on their cover letter? ONLY talk about your strengths. Weaknesses are for the interview, and even then, only respond when asked about them.

What you want to know:

“How do you express your fit for the firm?”

Your answer:

“Do research on why you want to work for that specific firm and their achievements (social impact), etc.”

In your paragraph on why consulting/why this firm, it’s your goal to convince the recruiter that you know and understand the firm’s culture and how they do business. How can you accomplish this? Do some studying up – visit the firm’s website, read some of their case studies, talk to consultants at the firm, sign up for their Twitter and Facebook updates, etc. There are tons of ways to craft a story about your fit for the firm – and absolutely no excuses for not doing it well. Best case scenario? Make this personal based on your direct interactions with firm employees.

What you want to know:

“‘Stand out from the crowd’ and ‘differentiate yourself’ are key words we hear often. To what extent would you talk about differentiating factors about yourself?”

Your answer:

“Raise differentiating aspects about yourself and experiences, however always ensure you tie it back to the role applied for, to indicate relevance.”

We like this answer because it emphasizes something very important – whenever you’re talking about yourself, something you’ve accomplished, a skill you’ve employed – it carries no weight unless you tie it back to consulting, the firm, or the position. Everything you include on your resume and cover letter should be 100% relevant. Sorry, summer camps don’t cut it.

Using these cover letter Q&A’s to Tailor Your Cover Letter For Different Firms

What you want to know:

“How varied does each cover letter have to be when applying to different firms?”

Your answer:

“About a paragraph – usually at the end.”

Of course, your header, greeting, and introduction – which includes the position you’re applying for and the firm name/location – will all need to be changed for each firm you apply to. The letter should have a personal feel – as if you’re writing only to that firm. There’s nothing that will send your application more quickly to the bottom of the stack than a generic form letter.

If you’re using a cover letter you created for another firm, it’s way too easy to forget to change the header info if you save it for later, so make that the first thing you do. Use FIND-REPLACE if you need to.

Other than that, not much needs to change within the body of your letter except in cases where you’re applying to positions with different requirements.

However, the 2-3 sentences on why consulting and why this firm should be carefully tailored to the company you’re applying to. Any networking connections you have at the firm – recruiters you met at your campus career event, consultants you were introduced to at the evening social – should be skillfully mentioned as well.

What you want to know:

“How to customize cover letters to individual firms, when most of them do the same thing and when I have similar reasons for wanting to enter all of them.”

Your answer:

“Explore firm websites and do informational interviews to determine small differences between culture/process/etc. and emphasize them.”

While your “why consulting” sentence may be consistent throughout all of your cover letters, there may be some differences in your answer to “why this firm.” That’s a great place to show off your particular knowledge or interest in the firm and make yourself memorable.

Highlighting Transferable Skills In Your Cover Letter

What you want to know:

“The best possible method to describe your interest and passion for consulting in a cover letter particularly when you are coming with industry experience and no idea of case structure or frameworks; how best to convince the recruiter that I have what it takes.”

Your answer:

“From what I gather and from what I have heard, having worked in a project management setting or in process re-engineering/efficiency and optimization exercises and having participated in case competitions are some of the few ways that could send positive signals to recruiters.
Additionally, positions of leadership, both professional and academic and the ability to demonstrate drive/initiative could really further one’s cause.”

We agree, as long as we’re talking about consulting firms that focus on process management! If you’re applying to a pure strategy house, stick to a focus on the key business results; the how is less important than how much of an impact you had.

What you want to know:

“As a biomedical advanced degree candidate, how do I effectively show and highlight on my resume and cover letter accomplishments in academia or other extracurricular activities because I have little business experience?”

Your answer:

“Use the “STAR” approach: Situation, Task, Action, Results. However the tricky part is conveying the importance of a task that may be a significant achievement BUT field specific.”

STAR is an excellent approach!

Additionally, there’s nothing wrong with a field-specific achievement – as long as it’s an achievement and you can clearly state how you were an integral part in it, you’re on the right track. This is where metrics come in – saying your paper was the only one published out of 200 that were submitted shows distinction, although it’s not perhaps as business relevant as other key accomplishments.

What you want to know:

“How do I show that my experience which is not in consulting and also not in business is relevant and that consulting is right for me even though I studied social sciences and philosophy?”

Your answer:

“By referring to measurable results that you accomplished and demonstrating your leadership and your analytical ability in each of your experiences.”

We’ve worked with clients from all sorts of backgrounds – history, English, banking, medicine, law, sales, etc. They all have something in common – they love to solve problems, and they can demonstrate ways they’ve done that in their previous experiences.

Don’t be dismayed by an unconventional area of study. As long as you can show that you have a strong aptitude for business and a history of leadership – whether through extracurricular activities, self-study, or other interests – you’ve got a chance. If you don’t have that yet, set your sights immediately on getting at least an unpaid internship with an organization that will teach you what you want to know and give you some street credibility.

What you want to know:

“What parts of my sales management background are best to highlight in the cover letter? Or should the letter focus strictly on overall skills and not specific items?”

Your answer:

“I haven’t worked on a resume in about 12 years other than an application for an MBA program I’m currently attending, so I’m assuming many things have changed since my last attempt.”

You’re an excellent candidate for our Consulting Resume and Cover Letter Bible – it’ll take you through the A to Z of both documents.

Also, read our posts on the complete guide to management consulting cover letters and 10 tips for management consulting cover letters.

What you want to know:

“When you have some experience in consulting and are trying to move to a different firm, how do you reconcile selling your previous experience in the CV with explaining why you want to move on the cover letter/interview? What is the acceptable way of saying you are not learning/have limited opportunities in your current job while still sounding like you’ve done some amazing projects?”

Your answer:

“I heard that you need to balance the two but I somehow feel it sounds disingenuous when you say how much you’ve accomplished and learned in your previous consulting job while you’re trying to find a different position. If I had as many great opportunities in my current job as my CV indicates I wouldn’t be looking for a different job.”

It’s absolutely fine and natural to want to progress in your career, and no top firm will fault you for wanting to trade up. Consultants like to be challenged, and when they’re not getting that, they’ll look for new opportunities. Focus on the transferable skills in your current job, the results you achieved, and the reason the new firm should want you. Save the details for the interview.

Resume & Cover Letter Bible

We hope you enjoyed the cover letter Q&A. If you need more information and tips on what it takes to have a cover letter and resume that stands out from the crowd? Check out our Resume & Cover Letter Bible packed with tips and templates to create your personalized resume and cover letter – to nab you that magical offer with the firm of your choice.

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