Cover Letters Part 1
This resource was written by Allen Brizee.
Last edited by Allen Brizee on July 31, 2009 .
This resources explains what your cover letter should look like and what your cover letter should accomplish.
What should my cover letter look like?
Your cover letter should be one page and single-spaced. Your letter should have 1-inch margins all the way around the page. Your cover letter text font should match your résumé’s text font. Lastly, your letter should also follow a business letter format. You have three options:
Block format – the text of the entire letter is left justified (against the left margin)
Click here to see an example of block format on the Purdue OWL.
Modified block – the body text of the letter is left justified, but the date and closing are tabbed to the center point
Click here to see an example of modified block format on the Purdue OWL.
Semi-Block – the body text of the letter is left justified except for the first sentence of the paragraphs. The date and closing are tabbed to the center point
Click here to see an example of semi-block format on the Purdue OWL.
The example cover letters available with this resource show all of these formats. Regardless of which format you choose, your cover letter should follow some general content guidelines.
What should my cover letter accomplish?
Your cover letter should
- Show the employer you have tailored the letter to the company and to the job you want
- Explain your experiences in a clear, story-like format that works with the information in your résumé
- Explain in detail your experiences/skills that relate to the job you want
- Explain in detail how your experiences/skills will help you help the employer and fulfill the job requirements
- Provide an example of your communication skills.
Click here to download the PDF file containing sample résumés and employment letters.
I’ve been offering a resume editing service since site launch. In this time, I’ve had the fortune to work with hundreds of clients.
Below is a list of the Top 11 consulting resume mistakes I’ve noticed in my clients. Some are corollaries of my Top 10 resume tips, but the majority are unique.
1. Inadequate spacing throughout the resume
You don’t want someone to say your resume is “too texty.” Readers will pay less attention – not good when you’re one of 200 in their review stack.
One effective remedy is effective line spacing. Shrink and expand lines as needed (by manipulating font size).
Some areas where spacing is critical:
- Between the category title (eg, “Work experience”) and the first experience (eg, “Citibank internship”)
- Between each experience within the category
- At the end of an experience and the beginning of a new category (this space should be larger than the first two)
- At the margins – as I’ve said before, nothing less than 0.5″ (vertical and horizontal)
Ignore it and your resume will be an eye-sore.
2. Lack of numbers
Numbers are the most eye-catching parts of your resume – SAT, GPA, quantitative impact at work and in extracurriculars.
Numbers help you do the following:
- Highlight resume “takeaways” – and trust me, you need at least 2-3 of these to get an interview
- Prevent your resume from suffering the “too texty” syndrome
- Help your resume become more results-oriented
Digital numbers are the right way to go. Instead of “five”, 5. Instead of “two hundred”, 200.
3. Lack of a personal interests and hobbies section
Self-explanatory – one line, make it specific, don’t put more than 3-5 interests.
4. Insignificant awards/scholarships/fellowships
Point 4 and Point 5 below fall into the umbrella of “too much content in the education section.”
Unless it’s a nationally recognized award/scholarship/fellowship, refrain from including it. If you do include, explain how selective it is. No one cares about the Sarah Day Jones Community Service Award that you received sophomore year. Unless there were 5,000 applicants and only one recipient.
5. Coursework lists
It’s great that you took “Systems Management.” Only:
- No one knows what you learned
- No one cares what you learned
- No one will see how that applies to consulting
It’s OK to list challenging courses taken on your resume for consulting interviews (e.g., Advanced Econometrics 101, Differential Equations 202). But do so only if:
- It’s clear what the course covers
- What the course covers is very challenging/technical/quantitative
- You don’t list more than 3-5 courses
Some of you include diverse course descriptions to showcase academic breadth. It’s not something I recommend, but it’s not a clear faux pas.
6. Describing what you did, not what you accomplished
I’ll repeat this over and over and over and over. Keep process explanations at a minimum.
Sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes it’s helpful. But the balance for each work or extracurricular “clunk” should be at least 50% results.
To be clear, results can also mean innovative/challenging methods utilized. A process description would be:
Used Excel to collect data from 100 websites.
An innovative methods description would be:
Wrote VBasic macros in Excel to autocollect data from 100 financial websites.
7. Useless computer skills
Windows, Microsoft Office, Adobe, Mac OS, and a million other software programs and operating systems are not skills. Repeat, not skills.
The only time you should include a line on computer skills is:
- You knew multiple programming languages
- You knew graphics/design/technical software that less than 5% of the general population knows how to use well
8. Sentences and paragraphs
Never use sentences or paragraphs. This is a direct symptom of the “too texty” syndrome. Write in short, grammatically-correct fragments.
Rare is the description that requires a full sentence. Non-existent is the description that requires a full paragraph.
9. Using “Justify” alignment
Left alignment for content always. “Justify” alignment leads to irregular spacing, uncomfortable reading, and annoyed resume reviewers.
10. Using 2 words when 1 will do
Another symptom of the “too texty” syndrome.
“Planned and coordinated” a conference? “Led and managed” a team? “Completed and processed” 5,000 documents?
Bonus. Incorrect usage of tense
If you’re describing a past work experience, you “created” models and “wrote business plans.” You aren’t still “managing 5 employees” from that software firm you left 2 years ago.
Same rule applies for your extracurricular activities and educational background.
Want more dos and don’ts to help you avoid mistakes on your consulting resume? Check out our Consulting Resume and Cover Letter Bible – 98 power-packed pages including 24 templates to get you that interview slot with your target firm.
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