Creating a winning résumé

A résumé is a sales document which presents a factual account of your skills, knowledge and experience in the best possible light to help you win an interview

1. The importance of a résumé

A résumé is a factual presentation of your skills, knowledge, experience and proven abilities and an indication of your potential.  The résumé is important because it helps you to win an interview and will probably be used by the company to compare you against other applicants.

2. Personalise your résumé

  • Be direct: clearly state your results and achievements
  • Be relevant: your résumé is a sales document not an autobiography. Include evidence of the skills, achievements and experience that will interest the reader
  • Be concise: your résumé should be one page, two pages tops.  If your résumé is longer than that it means you don’t respect the reader
  • Use ‘action-outcome’ language: when you describe your key achievements use action verbs to describe what you did and strong adjectives to describe the outcomes. For example, “Prepared the investment model which was used by XYZ Bank to structure a US$2 billion real estate portfolio.”
  • Tell a compelling story: the experience and activities you highlight in your CV should help to tell your story about why you are are interested in and qualified for the role for which you are applying
  • Easy on the buzzwords: avoid unnecessary jargon and technical language. Your résumé should be easy to understand.

According to Mariam Naficy, qualities to emphasise in your consulting résumé include:

  • Evidence of intellectual curiosity e.g. research thesis
  • Analytical skills
  • Communication skills e.g. member of the university debating team
  • Business skills e.g. starting a small business
  • Enjoyment of travel (include this information under “Personal”)
  • Team work skills e.g. university group assignments, work experience
  • Language skills

3. Structure your résumé

Structuring your résumé is important.  There are a few tips to bear in mind:

  • Employ consistent formatting throughout so that the document is easy to scan through and understand
  • Make sure your key selling points are clearly conveyed
  • Place your name, address, phone number, and email address at the top of the résumé

It makes sense  to organise the information on your CV so that it portrays you in the best possible light. The firm you are applying to will be interested in the following information:

  1. Education
  2. Work Experience
  3. Extra-curricular Activities
  4. Skills
  5. Personal (optional)

3.1 Education

If you have limited work experience, place your education first. If you have won numerous honors and awards, you may want to create a separate “Honors” section rather than list all of your achievements under “Education”. If your grades are not good, there are at least four ways that you can paint yourself in a more positive light:

  1. Highlight your marks in a particular subject. E.g. GPA in economics of 4.0
  2. Highlight your marks for particular years E.g. WAM for final year of 82
  3. Highlight your marks in your major
  4. Highlight your work experience. If you have relevant and impressive work experience you should highlight this in your cover letter, and provide supporting details on your résumé

3.2 Experience

Include paid jobs as well as relevant business-related extra-curricular activities; other nonpaid activities can be included under “Activities”.

There are a few tips to bear in mind:

  • Arrange your experiences in a logical order (e.g. reverse chronological order)
  • Outline your achievements and responsibilities
  • Don’t include menial jobs, such as your stint flipping burgers at McDonald’s

3.3 Activities

Include nonpaid activities that you have undertaken outside the class-room. You may want to arrange this section in order of significance rather than reverse chronological order.

3.4 Skills

In my opinion this section is not crucial, but you should consider whether you have any special skills that would be relevant for the job e.g. computer skills, language skills.

3.5 Personal

This section is optional, and can be used to demonstrate your personality by including information which you couldn’t include anywhere else e.g. overseas travel, community service.

4. Sample and template

We invite you to download our Guidebook on “How to create a Winning Résumé” which includes FREE access to the current version of our sample and template résumés (to access the download, you will need to sign up for a member account).

Cover letters win interviews

1. The importance of a cover letter

A COVER letter is a short one page sales letter that accompanies your resume as part of your job application. The cover letter is important because it creates a first impression of you with your potential employer.

The main purpose of a cover letter is to obtain an interview, not to tell a lengthy story. A cover letter needs to capture the employer’s interest, indicate why you are writing, show how you will benefit the company, express interest in the position and, most importantly, convince the employer to give you an interview.

Writing a cover letter is like creating a work of art. While there are some general rules that you should follow, each cover letter you write should be distinctive.

2. Personalise your cover letter

One of the most important things about a cover letter is that it differentiates you from all the other applicants. To do this a cover letter should connect with the employer, and reflect your unique personality and the requirements of the job. Here are some points to bear in mind:

2.1 Address a specific person

You should not address your cover letter “to whom it may concern”, this is lazy. If you are unsure who to address your application to, call the company and ask. Make sure you get the person’s title and the correct spelling of their name.

2.2 Own your achievements

You should use the active voice, i.e. you should avoid expressions like “this experience gave me the opportunity to…” or, “these goals were met by me.” You don’t want to sound like everything happened to you or was done by someone else.

2.3 Tailor your story

Tailor your story to the job requirements. You should adapt your cover letter so that you mention the specific skills that the employer is interested in.

2.4 Establish rapport

You need to establish a connection between you and the employer. Mention a mutual contact you might have, explain why you like the company, its culture, or why you have a particular interest in some area of the company’s business.

2.5 Mirror their wording

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If the employer uses specific terms or industry specific language in the job advertisement, mirror this language in your cover letter.

2.6 Be positive

Sell your skills in a positive way. Never complain about past employers, or grumble about any past experiences.

3. Structure your cover letter

It is important that your cover letter follows the right structure. The body of your cover letter should be broken up into four paragraphs.

3.1 Paragraph 1 – Why are you writing?

In the first paragraph you should briefly explain why you are writing to the company in a way that engages the reader. Name the position you are applying for. If you heard about the position through a mutual contact, this is worth mentioning. You may also allude to your career goals in this first paragraph.

3.2 Paragraph 2 – Why are you interested in consulting, and the company?

Explain why you would like to work in consulting, and demonstrate that you would like to work for the company by showing that you have researched the position. Companies want to know that you’re interested in them and understand what they do. For example, you might want to explain specific reasons why the position fulfills your career aspirations and is consistent with your ambitions for the future. You may apply for hundreds of different jobs but you need to make each prospective employer think that their job is the one you want.

3.3 Paragraph 3 – What do you have to offer?

Explain why you are qualified for the position. Use your most important qualifications and skills to show that you have the experience and skill to perform the tasks and fulfil the responsibilities of the position. If you are responding to a job ad that lists selection criteria, you should say how your skills and experience meet each of the criteria they’re looking for. Make sure that it’s clear how your education and skills are transferable, and thus relevant, to the position that you are applying for.

3.4 Paragraph 4 – Suggest the next steps

Direct the employer to your enclosed resume. Provide your contact information (phone number and e-mail address) and welcome them to get in touch. Indicate your availability for an interview and, if you want to be assertive, state when you will contact the company to set up a meeting. If you are merely enquiring about possible job openings, indicate when you will phone to follow up on your enquiry (ten business days is a pretty good guide). It’s important to finish off by thanking the employer for their time and consideration.

3.5 Signing off

Conclude your cover letter with an appropriate sign-off like “Yours sincerely”, and leave four blank lines to allow space for you to sign your name. You should use blue ink instead of black ink to sign your name because black ink may look like a photocopy.

4. Polish your cover letter

In addition to personalising and structuring your cover letter, you also need to make sure that your cover letter is polished and professional. Here are some things to keep in mind:

4.1 Be concise

Keep the length of your cover letter to one page. Don’t use more words than you need to. Use short sentences and simple language. It might be a good idea to use bullet points to list your key skills.

4.2 Be informative

Don’t just summarise your resume. Consider the job description and highlight the skills and experiences from your resume that fit the employer’s requirements.

4.3 Keep it relevant

Keep your message relevant and to the point. The purpose of your cover letter is to highlight your resume and obtain an interview, not to tell them everything you’ve ever done.

4.4 Be professional

Don’t be too colloquial, for example, break down contractions like “I’ve” and “I’m” to “I have” and “I am”. Your cover letter should never be hand written. Also, make sure you include your contact details on the cover letter.

4.5 Proofreading is important

There are likely to be lots of mistakes in your cover letter after you have written the first draft. You should get friends and/or family members to proof read your cover letter. It is important to have at least one set of fresh eyes look at the document before you send it out.

4.6 Check your spelling and punctuation

Use spell check, it’s not that hard. Spelling mistakes make a bad first impression and are easily fixed by running a final spell check before sending the cover letter. Also, be careful when using words like “there/their/they’re”, “your/you’re”, “effect/affect”, “its/it’s”, etc.

4.7 Adapt your cover letter for online

If you are submitting your application by email, you should indicate the position you are applying for in the subject line of your email. Before emailing your application, send it to yourself first to make sure there are no formatting errors. You should attach your cover letter and resume as a single document; if you were sending an application by post you wouldn’t send your cover letter and resume in two separate envelopes.

5. Samples and Templates

We invite you to download our Guidebook on “How to create a Killer Cover Letter” which includes FREE access to the current version of our sample and template cover letters (to access the download, you will need to sign up for a member account).

Case Interview Guides & Books

THIS list of guides and books is a a work in progress. If you come across any other useful resources that I haven’t listed here, please let us know.

Online case interview guides

  1. Make Your Case: Master Consulting Interviews | WallStreetOasis.com
  2. ATKearney – interview casebook
  3. Deloitte – 2007 Boston College – Conducting Case Interviews
  4. Deloite – 2005 Michigan State University – Case Workshop
  5. University of Pennsylvania – interview guide
  6. Yale School of Management – sample interview questions

Books

  1. Case in Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation by Marc P. Cosentino
  2. Crack the Case: How to Conquer Your Case Interviews by David Ohrvall
  3. How to Get Into the Top Consulting Firms: A Surefire Case Interview Method by Tim Darling
  4. Management Consulting: A Complete Guide to the Industry by Sugata Biswas and Daryl Twitchell
  5. Mastering the Case Interview: The Complete Guide to Management, Marketing, and Strategic Consulting Case Interviews by Alexander Chernev
  6. The Fast Track: The Insider’s Guide to Winning Jobs in Management Consulting, Investment Banking, & Securities Trading by Mariam Naficy
  7. The Harvard Business School Guide to Careers in Management Consulting by Maggie Lu
  8. Vault Case Interview Practice Guide
  9. Vault Guide to the Case Interview
  10. Ace Your Case! Consulting Interviews (WetFeet Insider Guide)

Researching consulting firms: what do you need to ask?

THIS article looks at some of the questions that you should consider asking in your consulting case interview. After reading this article and one of my previous articles on researching for your consulting case interview, make sure to access the practice case interview questions.

Questions, everyone’s asking them

Preparing a resume, and building a personal story, is one of the first and most important steps in applying for a job. This kind of preparation helps you answer your interviewers questions, “Who are you? And, why should we hire you?”

The reason your interviewer will ask so many questions is because they are trying to get to know you, and to decide whether they want to hire you. Consulting firms invest a lot of time and money in their employees. So, hiring the wrong person is a costly mistake.

Consulting firms will ask a lot of questions, and so should you. You can only begin your career once, so you want to start out on the right foot. Some of the reasons why you need to research your potential future employer are outlined in the article “Researching consulting firms: what do you need to know?”.

Whatever you are looking for in a consulting job, asking questions is the best way to go about finding the firm that is right for you. For example, asking questions will help you find the firm that:

  • interests you,
  • inspires you,
  • suits your lifestyle and family needs,
  • will help you achieve your current goals, or
  • will give you the skills and experience you need to move on to the next big thing.

Some questions to ask

Here is a list of 7 questions that you might want to ask. You could ask these questions in your interview, or try to answer them for yourself by doing some pre-interview research:

  1. What kind of consulting projects does the firm normally work on? For example, does the firm deal with high level strategy? Does the firm work primarily with particular industries?
  2. Do associates work on more than one project at the same time? The answer to this question will help you understand whether the firm will give you depth or breadth of experience. For example, McKinsey and Booz Allen Hamilton normally assign their associates to a single project at a time, providing associates with depth of experience.
  3. Do project teams include both consultants and full-time client members? Try to get an idea of how much client contact you can expect to have.
  4. What is the size of a typical project team? Some consulting firms use a lowly leveraged structure. That is, one partner will work on a project team with one or two other consultants. This kind of firm will give you more exposure to clients and more interaction with the partner.
  5. What is the travel model? Think about how much travel you want to do. Booz Allen Hamilton, and McKinsey typically keep their consultants on client site four days a week.
  6. Does the consulting firm have offices worldwide? If so, there may be opportunities to work overseas.
  7. At what level do consultants begin to specialize by industry, function, or geographic expertise? That is, for how long will you be able to remain a generalist before specialising in a particular practice area or industry group.

Researching consulting firms: what do you need to know?

THIS article looks at why, how and what to research for your consulting case interview. To get started with your interview preparations, take a look at my list of consulting case interview practice questions.

Preparing for an interview with a consulting firm can be a difficult task. Having obtained an interview, you will need to do some thorough research of the firm. But why, I hear you ask, do I need to spend so much time researching when I have been successful in gaining an interview? And, where should I start? These are very valid questions and hopefully this article will help get you thinking the right way about researching consulting firms.

This article is broken up into four sections:

  1. Why should you research?
  2. How should you research?
  3. What should you research?
  4. Making the most of your research

1. Why should you research?

The objective is to get a job offer. This point sounds obvious, and it is, however it can be easy to take your eyes off the prize. After having spent days preparing resumes and cover letters for your multiple consulting firm applications, getting invited for an interview can feel like a success. Being invited for an interview is only the first step in the recruitment process. You need to do your homework if you want to increase your chances of being successful in the interview process. Neglecting to do your research can be the difference between a job offer and a rejection letter.

It is important to show a genuine interest. Being knowledgeable about the consulting industry and the firm for which you are applying shows that you have a genuine interest in working in this field. It is important to remember that, regardless of your university grades, the firm will need to train you from the ground up once you start. A consulting firm does not want to spend tens of thousands of dollars on training a young graduate who isn’t keen to be there.

Take control of your professional career. Researching a consulting firm doesn’t just help you do well in the consulting interviews; it also helps you decide whether the firm you are applying for is where you want to be. In more general terms, your research will also help you decide whether you are really interested in pursuing a career as a consultant.

Keep the stress levels down. Being well informed can help to lower your stress levels and present at the interview in a more relaxed and confident manner. For example, if you have done your homework before hand, questions like “Why do you want to work here?” and “What is it about our firm that interests you?” should not faze you in the slightest.

2. How should you research?

Read the firm website. The amount of information that firms provide on their websites will no doubt vary but, at the very least, this is a good starting point for your research. All big consulting firms will have a website. Making yourself familiar with the firm website should provide you with all of the basic information that you are looking for. The website will often provide you with information on the firm’s history, the firm’s vision and values, firm culture, clients, areas of expertise, office locations, recent news, and the names of important employees.

Talk to people. The best source of information about a consulting firm is from people who have had direct contact with the firm in some way. Talking with current and former employees, friends who have gone through the interview process and to company recruiters can be an invaluable source of knowledge.

Read widely. In general, the more you know about consulting the better. Some good publications include Vault Career Guide to Consulting, and Vault Guide to the Case Interview.

Stay abreast of the news.The internet makes this job a lot easier that it would have been ten years ago. Staying abreast of the news will allow you to put the firm’s work into a broader context and help you to understand the nature of the firm’s work, and who the firm’s main clients and competitors are.

3. What should you research?

Know the company basics. The basics include:

  • firm history,
  • firm vision and values,
  • culture,
  • current practice areas and industry specialisations,
  • areas of expertise,
  • recent news involving the company,
  • key factors that distinguish the company from its competitors,
  • the names of major clients,
  • the names of important employees, and
  • office locations.

Know the core competencies or skill set that the firm is looking for in potential candidates.

Understand how the firm interviews. Do they ask case questions? Does the firm put an emphasis on asking questions with a numerical component? Are there multiple interview rounds? Does the firm use interview panels, or is each interview conducted in a one-on-one format?

Read the firm’s annual report if it is publicly available.

4. Making the most of your research

Research is not an end in itself. Use your research to help you structure your thoughts, to provide substance to your discussions with the interviewer, and to ask intelligent questions.