The cover letter is a required component of any job application – but often the biggest headache for applicants. In this post, I discuss the top 10 tips for consulting cover letters (from content to structure to syntax) that will avoid embarrassing mistakes and strengthen your candidacy.
For the complete guide to consulting cover letters, click here!
1) Your opening paragraph should include:
- The position you’re applying for.
- Qualities that make you a good fit (e.g., leadership experience, analytical thinking skills).
- Optional: very brief highlights on work experience.
2) Your body paragraphs (no more than 2) should include:
- Work highlights if not in the opening paragraph.
- A section to describe one experience in detail (work, student group, etc). Focus on the impact you had and the skills you learned that would make you a good consultant. This should be your “star” experience and the one you want every reader to remember
- A section or paragraph on your interest in the job, your career goals, the research you’ve done to learn more about the firm.
3) The closing paragraph should be brief and restate why you’d make a good consultant. Include your contact information here as well:
Please do not hesitate to contact me with further questions. I can be reached at (123) 456-7890 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4) Avoid an elaborate discussion of your educational background. A sentence about your school and major should suffice. It’s OK to expand this section if you have a very high GPA, nationally-recognized scholarships, and fellowships, etc.
5) It’s OK to drop names of current firm employees – but integrate them well.
Here’s a poor example:
I had a conversation with Sarah Foster, a current case team leader at Bain, at the on-campus presentation. I learned a lot from her about consulting and gained a deeper appreciation for the company.
Why is this a poor example? It doesn’t make a point. The interaction was generic, and it feels like a setup to name-drop.
Here’s a good example:
Bain is not only a prestigious firm, but one that really invests in the development of its consultants. My conversations with Sarah Foster, a current case team leader, reinforced my belief that this separates Bain from the other firms, and is my central reason for applying.
Why is this a good example? The name-dropping occurs in the context of a broader point – that Bain focuses on the development of its people.
6) Use anecdotes in consulting cover letters. Instead of saying “my past experiences have allowed me to become a strong leader of teams,” say this:
My projects at Oracle – where I led groups of up to 5 analysts on implementation projects – have made me a strong team leader and partner for my colleagues.
7) Include current contact information at the top. Don’t assume it’s unnecessary because the information is on your resume.
8) Never use more than one page and use PDF format when possible. In the words of Consultant99 (a kind commenter):
Resumes and cover letters should be submitted in PDF whenever allowed. Every resume screen finds us holding a half-dozen resumes where the font isn’t found, the margins are messed-up, it’s set for A4 rather than 8.5 x 11, or any of a million other problems that wreak havoc on your careful formatting. Worst of all, “track changes” might be turned on! Putting it in PDF avoids all these problems.
9) If it doesn’t fit with size 12 font and 1″ margins, it’s too long. This is not an iron-clad rule but a guiding principle. Cover letters with size 10 font, 0.5″ margins, and minute paragraph spacing hurt the reader’s eyes and hurt your candidacy.
10) Make sure the consulting cover letter is addressed to the right firm and person. Back to my initial thought – the risk is greater of messing up than standing out, and this is mistake number one. Label and save each cover letter by a firm, and double-check to ensure the firm name, address, and position applied for (eg, Associate vs Senior Consultant) is correct.
The last thing you want to happen is for an Accenture recruiter or consultant open your cover letter and see that it’s addressed to Deloitte HR. At best, you’re incompetent. At worst, your application may not see the light of day.
In ourConsulting Resume and Cover Letter Bible we’ve got 12 cover letter templates you can use to create your own best-in-class cover letter.
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How To Get Into MIT’s
Sloan School of Management
The essentials of getting into MIT Sloan are to demonstrate a past full of leadership and entrepreneurial qualities while establishing a personal idea for the future. The MBA essays provide a great opportunity to showcase these areas and set yourself apart from other applicants.
If they’re like the navy, then MIT Sloan students are like pirates, with a can-do spirit that at times bends the rules.
At Sloan, it’s about the four-H’s: the Heart to strive, the Head to keep up, the Hands to get things done, and the Home to take risks in a supportive environment. The ideal candidate is looking for the big treasure chest – innovation-driven entrepreneurship, market disruption, and economic transformation. It’s a meritocracy, a place where you can be older, less traditional, and maybe just a little wild in your thinking but accomplished in your doing.
You either get it or you don’t. If you get it – it’s the only place for you: if you don’t, maybe somewhere else is a better match. Apparently, a lot of people think they get it; this past year, applications were up 35%. That means 6000 applicants for 350 slots in the MBA program. If you do the math – and they always do at MIT – this year’s acceptance rate is between 7% and 9%. Yikes!
In real terms, how does this manifest itself – and maybe more importantly for our purposes, how does all this affect your application? Well, it all starts with an application that feels somewhat different: simpler and harder simultaneously:
Please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions. (250 words or fewer)
What this really is asking about is what’ve you done, not what you dream about doing. Sloan’s thinking is if you’ve done it in the past, you can do it in the future. Therefore, the cover letter should focus on past achievements and how all the successes that have come before naturally lead to MIT. Of course, some mention should be made about where the candidate is going, but far more words should be used on the details of past experiences and how they reflect on the candidate’s overall capacity to be successful as a professional going forward.
It is important to note that these experiences and past successes should be highly focused on managerial skills, motivations, team work, leadership, grit, drive, and, of course, entrepreneurship rather than on simple tactical skills. The candidate should not bother laying out their quant skills or that they are really a math person, Sloan will figure this out by their GPA, GMAT score and recommendations. Interestingly, the GPA and GMAT scores at Sloan are lower than expected, likely due to Sloan accepting some older, non-traditional students, who have the pirate-spirit they are seeking.
What may be a quirk to MIT is that not only do they want MIT to be the candidate’s top choice for business school, in some sense they want it to be their only choice. This means the candidate must be very clear about why Sloan and why only Sloan. Sloan takes great pride in the connections it has to the rest of campus, and the broader entrepreneurial community in which it plays an out-sized part (much better than Silicon Valley they claim). A successful applicant stresses being part of the MIT universe and why it’s important to them.
Of course, the process doesn’t quite end there, because there’s the optional essay that’s sort of mandatory.
The Admissions Committee invites you to share additional information about yourself, in any format. If you choose a multimedia format, please host the information on a website and provide us with the URL.
Please keep all videos and media limited to 2:00 minutes total in length.
Please keep all written essays to 500 words or less.
Just another opportunity to “show not tell.” As noted with regard to the first essay/cover letter, there are essentially two levers to push on when applying to MIT. The first is that you have actually done stuff; the second is that MIT is your first and only choice.
Give it to them again: maybe something else entrepreneurial you’ve done, or very specific reasons about why MIT/Sloan/Kendall Square (Sloan’s home).
It is also a good place to explore the nuances that are required for achieving great results. For example, not just talking about the product you created but the internal dynamics of the company (from a team building perspective: What worked, What didn’t? What do you wish you knew when? When leading an organization, how did your own perspective change over time? What do you still need to learn as a manager? Etc.)
One slightly off-topic point but worth mentioning is that Sloan is highly focused on organizational behavior, and the best and most successful essays I have read focus on just this. Its faculty and alumni produce books like “The Fifth Discipline,” “Reengineering the Corporation,” and talk a lot about the “Learning Organization” and organizational theory. An applicant who brings this perspective into their essays will be well-served.
In other words, don’t forget to talk about the heart of the pirate and how esprit de corps matters, more so when you’re pulling together the classic Sloan team for the start-up competition: the 19-year old undergraduate engineer, the French lawyer, the 33-year old African teacher, the Olympic rower and the woman who started the mountaineering business. After all, this is the type of company that is going to change the world.
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Topics: MBA Admissions Insights, MBA Application Tips, School Specific Articles, Your Top Schools | Tags: MIT Sloan School of Management