You only get one chance to make a first impression and when you're applying for an internship or a job that one chance is your cover letter. Typically, the first screening of an applicant doesn't take more than 45 seconds. That said it's really important your cover letter is focused and structured, that way a recruiter immediately gets a positive impression and quickly finds the required information. Consider your cover letter as "the motivator" that will entice the people to read your resume. Recruiters are looking for glimpses into your personality; they are trying to ascertain what makes you you, so anything interesting or unusual will help you stand out from the crowd.
In their article, 'Consulting Cover Letters: The Complete Guide', Management Consulted suggest that the best cover letters have the following things in common:
- Demonstrate fit with the intended position. While you should highlight the accomplishment(s) and skill(s) that you’re most proud of, it’s even more important to connect that back to why you want to be a consultant and how it’s the right fit. Including a sentence or two that truly demonstrates your understanding of the firm’s unique culture and history are major pluses!
- A personal tone. The goal here is to get recruiters to relate to you while being impressed with your accomplishments. Don’t use too many formal words. Write as you would talk, but without “uhs” and “ums”
- Short. Brevity always wins. Recruiters and consultants spend usually less than a minute per resume, and around the same per cover letter. They may spend more time in additional review cycles, but the first pass will be quick. The less extraneous words on the page, the more time they’ll spend reading about your key experiences and accomplishments.
- Create curiosity. After reading, they should want to learn more about you. They should be so impressed with how you built a middle school in Sri Lanka that they want to interview you and learn more. They should be so wow-ed by how you single-handedly saved a major M&A deal from disaster that they want to hear the story in person.
You want to show that you have good written communications skills, attention to detail when it come to grammar, spelling and format and the ability to express your points in an organized, complete, but concise manner.
Don't have your cover letter go over a single page. It doesn't matter where you've gone and what you've done, pick your words wisely and there should be no reason why you'd need more than a page.
Don't use 'creative' formatting or a small font size to squeeze your letter onto a single page. Recruiters will be put off by the small print or little to no margins.
Don't just rewrite your resume, there's a reason they ask for both. Use this as an opportunity to prove that your previous skills and experiences make you the perfect candidate for the job.
Do use the grammar that your many years of education have instilled in you. That means no triple exclamation marks, no contractions and no colloquialisms.
Do read, read and re-read your cover letter. If you're attaching your cover letter to an email or uploading it, open the attachment (before you press send) and read it one last time. A stray typo could mean the difference between an invitation to meet with HR or total tumble weed (i.e. complete radio silence).
Do sound enthusiastic. Recruiters sift through hundreds and thousands of these things, and can pick up on subtle cues. They will immediately pick up on the fact you're not that interested in the firm and are just looking for a job, any job.