As being generic is hurtful to your chances of proceeding further you can easily ensure that you make it unique to the company to 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.”
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 screener's time than everyone else, which in itself can result in a rejection. Consultants are concise and you should be able to keep your cover letter to one page.
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.
When researching consulting applications there is often reference made to networking. For graduates, this falls into two categories, events and personalities. 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 hosting 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 names.
Personal networking is meeting current employees of the firm through your own efforts. These 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 alumnus 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 with 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 a 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.
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 into 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 judgment 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.