Consulting Cover Letter - Advanced Tips

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?"

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