Consulting Cover Letter Victor Cheng Case

As a former consulting resume and cover letter reader for McKinsey, and someone who has reviewed thousands of applications, I have noticed an interesting trend.

Most cover letters stink, and many resumes emphasize the wrong things.

Between the two, the cover letter is more important for the simple reason that if your cover letter does not do a good job, your resume is either never looked at at all or is only glanced at, rather than read thoroughly.

The latter makes it extremely likely the resume reader will miss something you wanted him or her to read.

In terms of ratios, I see a significantly higher percentage of candidates with poor cover letters than poor resumes.

Most people obsess over resume format -- what font size, margins, etc... But generally got the right idea to put your biggest accomplishments on the resume.

If your cover letter is good, from the perspective of the person reading the letter, I want to interview you -- basically I am biased in your favor.

Then I read the resume for any unusually negative information that might cause me to cancel my decision to interview you.

If, on the other hand, your cover letter is lousy, as the reader, I have "decided" to reject you (or am certainly heavily biased that way), and only glance at the resume to make sure I didn't miss any "wow" factor on the resume that would cause me to change my mind.

In other words, your cover letter used properly can be the primary deciding factor on whether you get an interview. The resume gets a "veto" vote.

Most people are surprised by this.

Here's why it works.

The cover letter does three important things:

1) Highlights key accomplishments (your resume does this too)

2) Demonstrates your deep interest in the firm & role (your resume does not do this... Do not underestimate the importance of this)

3) Explains why you would be a good hire (a resume includes facts, but no explanation linking the facts and providing some context)

See the following email from a reader and my comments for more details.

 

*** Your Cover Letter Tips Got Me an LEK Offer ***

Email:

You might not remember me, but I must say I owe a big deal to you.

Close to a year ago, I was unsuccessful with my applications for internships with consulting firms, getting only one interview and failing that too. That was when I came across your site and sent you an email on how I should write my cover letter, which you kindly replied to as well.

As the full time recruitment season in Autumn 2010 approached, I returned to your site and subscribed to your mailing list too.

Your videos and posts on the case interview process gave me an excellent introduction to consulting interviews, and I could not have found a more comprehensive site detailing the work, life and opportunities of consulting.

After months of practice with friends and by myself (I am unfortunately not incredibly talented), and after many rounds with different firms and with varying degrees of success, I have been made an offer with L.E.K., which I have been very keen on working at.

I would like to thank you for all the success stories that you shared, the many advice that you have given, and your honest perspective on the good and bad of consulting work.

They have been very inspirational and were certainly an eye-opener. It was definitely great to hear the success stories of many like-minded individuals, the opportunities and exposure that you experience in your time at McKinsey and after, and also your wonderful answers to the many different questions posed by applicants from all over the world on all possible kinds of scenarios!

Little did I realise myself, but those emails from you contributed a great deal to my motivation to work harder to secure that job offer.

Once again, thank you so much for your help! I will be looking forward to your webinar and posts on how to succeed as a new consultant. Your materials are truly amazing. And it does feel great to graduate =)

 

My Comments:

I offered a private congratulations to the person who wrote in.

For you, I wanted to point out that a few days ago, I revised my online tutorials on how to write a consulting cover letter and a comparable guide on what employers look for in a consulting resume.

If you are in the "getting an interview" stage of your recruiting process, I suggest taking a look:

How to Write a Consulting Cover Letter:

https://www.caseinterview.com/consulting-cover-letter/

What to Emphasize in a Consulting Resume:

https://www.caseinterview.com/consulting-resume/

Additional Resources

If you found this post useful, I suggest becoming a registered member (it's free) to get access to the materials I used to pass 60 out of 61 case interviews, land 7 job offers, and end up working at McKinsey.

Members get access to 6 hours of video tutorials on case interviews, the actual frameworks I used to pass my interviews, and over 500 articles on case interviews.

To get access to these free resources, just fill out the form below:

Note: All registrations require you to confirm your email address.
Please type your email address carefully, entering your email also subscribes you to my Case Secrets Email Newsletter.

Feb 9, 2011

Tagged as:consulting cover letter, consulting offers, consulting resume

Question:

First of all, happy new year! I've been spending most of this winter break working on consulting applications, and your blog and website have been most helpful. I came by an entry you did on consulting cover letters which was enlightening, and I was wondering if you have an opinion on presenting an "angle" in your application to catch the recruiter's attention.

For example, if I have quite a bit of interest and experience in a certain field, like healthcare, should I try to play that up a lot in my cover letter?

I'm curious because undergrads come in as generalists, and I wasn't sure if emphasizing this industry interest would be "pigeon-holing" myself or make me come across as a narrow-minded applicant.

I guess the bigger question is: How can I highlight a specific quality that would make me stand out from the crowd without over-committing to it so that it seems like that is all I care about?

I really appreciate your help and advice!

My Reply:

If your angle is sincere, I think it would be worth mentioning it in the context of a longer term career plan. So something like, "I have a long term interest in working in health care.

"You see, my family has been in the health care field for three generations and actually run one of the major hospitals in my city. My father will likely be retiring in ten years, and I will likely be in line to be CEO.

I think working at XYZ Consulting Firm would be very much aligned with my short and long term career goals. I know XYZ Firm does a fair amount of health care work, and while that would certainly be very relevant to me, I am much more interested in getting a broad cross-industry, cross-functional set of skills... a future CEO toolkit, so to speak, and I am confident that I would get that at XYZ Firm.

"I was particularly intrigued by the work you did at the Cleveland Clinic, which was written up in the November 3rd issue of Fortune magazine. I found it fascinating that you took the double blind study approach for medical protocols and applied it to patient satisfaction and loyalty. It never occurred to me to do that, even though I'm quite familiar with the approach in the clinical setting. Very fascinating!

This initial interest in XYZ Firm was further cemented given the comments John Doe, a current consultant in the ABC office of XYZ Firm, who happens to be an M.D. and a family friend, mentioned to me over lunch the other day about how the broader business world differs so much from the practice of Medicine.

There are so many facets of business that medical doctors and clinicians tend to not think about, and it's precisely that missing "gap" that I feel compelled to develop in my own skills in order to take over the family business in the medium term."

Okay, so I totally just made all of this up.

Now there are few points I want to make.

Notice how there is a story I've crafted here (and of course only craft a story that is true) and if I've done a reasonable job of telling it, the story has a ring of authenticity, sincerity,  thoughtfulness, and thoroughness to it.  This is what you are striving for.

Let me elaborate.

1) The story hopefully rings authentic because there are so many pieces to it -- mention of personal background, family background, your long terms goals, your current shortcomings, you current goals, etc.. and all the pieces to the story fit together in a consistent and coherent way.

2) The story hopefully seems sincere because it is so specific -- mentioning specific people, what they said, etc.

3) It's thoughtful in the sense that the candidate in this example has really thought through why they want this job and this firm... and even this particular office in this firm... and how doing so fits into their overall career plans.

Compare this to a cover letter that says, "I want career that will be challenging and help me learn new things." That is an overly general statement in that it lacks the impact of the example above (even though the story version really says the exact same thing... the key in a good cover letter story is not the message, it is the details in the message).

4) Also in the story above, I mentioned specific people I've spoken to, articles I've read, conversations I've had, lunch meetings I've had, etc... and basically shows you did your homework.

If you did do your homework, mention the details to get credit for having done your homework.

So is an "angle" worth having in a cover letter? Absolutely -- provided it is true and sincere.

By the way, what you'd want to include after the story above is segue into why you'd be really good at consulting. Explain what you've done and how it applies to the skills they look for, etc.  Assume they never read your consulting resume. You need to make your entire case in your cover letter for consulting jobs.

Also, since I write my emails very quickly often at the end of my day (which is prone to both typos and careless math errors which I admittedly do not double check), the potential areas of improvement to the sample story above are:

1) It might be a little too long... focus on being more concise.

2) It's a little too me, me, me centric... so notice how a lot of sentences start with the word "I".  This is okay, provided you end the sentence paragraph with "and that's why you will find me to be a useful first year associate"... so link back your personal story to why it's a benefit to them.

So if I were to play up the future health care CEO angle, I would say, "Compared to other undergrads who have a reputation for perhaps being unfocused in their lives/careers, I know exactly what I want to do with my career. I've known for ten years.

"And I know XYZ Firm helps CEOs troubleshoot high level issues -- the same issues I know I will be facing eventually... so I have a personal vested interest in helping XYZ clients analyze these issues, because someday I'm going to be in that person's shoes!"

So that's an example of linking the personal story to answering the question, "and why does what you just said make you a better consultant for XYZ firm?"

Additional Resources

If you found this post useful, I suggest becoming a registered member (it's free) to get access to the materials I used to pass 60 out of 61 case interviews, land 7 job offers, and end up working at McKinsey.

Members get access to 6 hours of video tutorials on case interviews, the actual frameworks I used to pass my interviews, and over 500 articles on case interviews.

To get access to these free resources, just fill out the form below:

Note: All registrations require you to confirm your email address.
Please type your email address carefully, entering your email also subscribes you to my Case Secrets Email Newsletter.

Jan 28, 2011

Tagged as:consulting case interview, cover letter consulting, cover letter for consulting, mckinsey cover letter, mckinsey cv

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