When applying to McKinsey, candidates are invited to submit a cover letter (although this is now optional at most offices). The McKinsey cover letter is a 1-page document that explains your story, serves as a writing sample, and why you want to work at the firm.
As a rule of thumb, a knockout cover letter will not guarantee an interview at consulting firms. However, a strong cover letter can move the needle on borderline candidates. For example, a cover letter especially makes a difference if the candidate can tell a compelling story. That component may not come through in the resume and it can give concrete reasons why they want to work at a firm.
On the flip side, a weak cover letter with limited personalization and grammatical errors can cost candidates interviews. For example, if a candidate ends a cover letter for McKinsey with “and this is why I want to work at BCG,” the candidate will be rejected.
To conquer the cover letter for McKinsey, it’s first important to understand why firms are asking for the cover letter. Then, to put into practice some McKinsey cover letter tips.
What’s the Rationale Behind Cover Letters?
The cover letter serves several purposes, including:
- Enabling firms to understand your story and, most importantly, why you want to work there. When reading cover letters, it is easy to see which candidates are really interested in the firm, given they can speak to:
- Networking events they attended
- People they talked to at the firm
- Non-generic reasons they want to work there (e.g., saying you want to work at McKinsey to “help clients solve their toughest problems” is true for any consulting firm – get more specific or your application will be tossed)
- Explaining any potential questions from your resume (e.g., if you took leave during college)
- Filtering out less engaged candidates that don’t make the effort to write out the cover letter. This is less of an issue with McKinsey, given the sheer number of candidates interested in the firm
How to Write a McKinsey Cover Letter
Writing a McKinsey cover letter is very similar to the process for any other firm. The most important aspects are:
- Knowing your story and the top 3-5 points that you want to get across
- Linking your story to why you want to work in consulting (and specifically, why you want to work at McKinsey)
- Giving quantitative, specific examples that prove out your story
- Addressing any potential questions a reviewer may have head-on (e.g., if your GPA is lower because of a family emergency, call it out!)
- Following the McKinsey cover letter tips – see below!
What is McKinsey Looking For?
Ultimately, McKinsey is using the cover letter to assess whether you would be able to be a successful consultant (especially for edge cases). Specifically, McKinsey defines four specific qualities they are looking for. The four qualities are:
- Personal impact
- Entrepreneurial drive
- Inclusive leadership
- Problem solving
While you do not need to hit the nail on the head and use these words in the cover letter, it is a good idea to pick stories that highlight these points. For example, for problem solving, can you show a time where you had to solve a conceptually difficult problem and used data and analysis to help you crack the issue?
Common Resume Mistakes To Avoid
There are four common mistakes to avoid when drafting your cover letter:
Not telling your story in a compelling way
The cover letter is your time to make your story shine. Unlike a resume where each experience is a distinct set of bullets, the cover letter enables you to link different experiences together in a thoughtful way and build up your experiences to show why you are interested in consulting and McKinsey. Cover letters that read as “disjointed” or give generic reasons for applying will not stand out.
Not being specific and including quantifiable examples
As you tell your story, it is important to be very specific on the outcomes and give quantifiable results. This enables the interviewer to better understand your experience. For example, saying that you “created a new social media strategy for X client” stands out less than saying you “created a social media strategy across Tik Tok and Instagram, leveraging 5 social media influencers. The strategy increased X client’s social media following by X% and was attributed to $XK in sales.”
Lack of proofreading
It happens – people have closed a McKinsey cover letter with “and this is why I want to work at Bain.” One purpose of the cover letter is to see if you are detail-oriented – because that’s part of the job. Leave time at the end to proofread and/or have a friend (or a professional) give it a once-over before you submit. Proofreading incorporates:
- Spelling and grammar
- Using the correct firm names
- Making sure all the supporting points in the cover letter reflect McKinsey. For example, McKinsey has a global staffing model, so do not say one of the reasons you want to work at the firm is for a localized staffing model
Not Adhering to the McKinsey Cover Letter Format
See below for details
McKinsey Cover Letter Format
The cover letter should be 1-page with standard font type (Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri) and a legible font size (size 10 or greater). While it may be challenging to get your whole story down to 1 page, the cover letter is a test of your ability to be concise and clear.
In consulting engagements, associates often need to synthesize their takeaways from a 4-8 week engagement into 1-page with size 14-16 font. You can think of the cover letter as a test of that same skill. In addition, the cover letter should be saved and submitted as a PDF file – NOT in .DOC/.DOCX format.
McKinsey Cover Letter Tips
One of the best McKinsey cover letter tips we can share is to explain exactly why you want to work at the firm.
Areas of distinction for McKinsey include:
The project variety at McKinsey is truly second to none. Not only can you work across industries, but within a specific industry, you can work on a wide variety of topics. For example, McKinsey may have a large team serving one client on a variety of engagements including blue-sky strategy projects, go-to-market efficiency projects, and operational improvement projects. There are also experiences that can be found only at McKinsey. For example, see here for work McKinsey did to support the U.S. government throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ability to “Make your own McKinsey”
This is a phrase that comes up a lot at McKinsey, and what it boils down to is the ability to really follow your distinct set of interests and make McKinsey work for you. For example, if you join McKinsey with an MD background and know you want to work only in healthcare, you can do that. If you join McKinsey and have no idea what you want to do, you can do that too.
Level of Exposure
Generally, McKinsey consultants work on projects that are within the top 10 priorities for C-suite executives at large corporations. This is truly a one-of-a kind way to see how business is done at the highest levels.
Quality of Co-Workers and Culture
Everyone at McKinsey excels at their job, and you get to learn from some of the smartest people. Colleagues are also generally nice, down-to-earth, and live by McKinsey’s values.
Outside of the above, other McKinsey cover letter tips include:
- Calling out the networking events that you attended and the names of any colleagues you connected with (see more here on how to network effectively)
- Explaining how McKinsey enables you to reach your long-term goals
McKinsey Cover Letter Example
See the McKinsey cover letter example below. You’ll want to follow the tips and guidelines we’ve provided above, but the example should give you a solid idea of how to create your own.
Address Line 1
Address Line 2
McKinsey & Company
Re: [Position Title] in [City] office
To Whom It May Concern:
As a junior majoring in [Major] at [College], I am excited to apply for a Summer Associate role in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York offices. I am confident my previous internship experience, analytical skills, and problem-solving ability will enable me to add quick value to the firm’s teams and clients.
My overwhelmingly positive experiences with McKinsey moved me to apply. From attending the McKinsey info session and speaking with several consultants including John Smith and Kate Doe, I learned about the distinguishing qualities that make McKinsey an ideal place to start a career. But beyond the obvious credentials of a top-notch client base, unmatched global network, and a platform to effect deep, large-scale change on business and society, it is the passion for business and true culture of collaboration I have seen exhibited in McKinsey consultants that sets the firm apart for me.
I have had an interest in consulting ever since middle school, when I first made recommendations to my parents on adjustments to make at the restaurant they owned. Seeing how my subtle suggestions delighted customers had me hooked, and problem-solving within a business context has been my aim ever since.
Since then, I have pursued this goal via multiple internship and project experiences. As a student consultant for a nonprofit organization, I led a team of four on a cost-reduction project. My research and analysis led to a successful recommendation of how our client could reduce costs by 15% while increasing payroll. Through a workstream I led as a Business Analyst at Dropbox, I led 10 focus groups and conducted a nationwide survey with 3,000+ responses to identify the top 5 millennial technology trends. These trends were then compiled in a report presented to senior leadership to inform decision-making.
Thank you for your time and consideration; I look forward to hearing from you soon.
You can download the above McKinsey cover letter sample. (Remember, you must make it your own! Don’t just swap some words and submit it!)
While the cover letter may not guarantee you an interview invite at McKinsey, it can be especially helpful for edge candidates. By following the cover letter tips and adhering to the McKinsey cover letter format, you are already putting your best foot forward.
If you are looking for personal support for your cover letter, click here to work with our team to write your cover letter. We’ve helped hundreds of folks land McKinsey offers, and we’d love to help you do the same.
- Consulting Cover Letter: Ultimate Guide
- Consulting Resume: Complete Guide
- Case Interview: Complete Prep Guide