Your resume should provides a snapshot of your qualifications to the recruiter, your cover letter should present an argument as to why you are a superior candidate for the position compared to everyone else applying.
The basics covered in my post about writing a good resume apply to cover letters as well. So, don’t use a template and make sure that your writing is free of any spelling or grammatical mistakes. It would serve you well to have your friends (preferably a business writing professor) proof read it and comment on it.
Now let’s get to the meat of this article. You need to realize that campus recruiters are little more than corporate cheerleaders with brains to match. Most of them wouldn’t be able to tell their debits from their credits, or their heads from their asses. So, your cover letter needs to connect the dots for them, in a very literal way. You need to make them think of you as a great candidate, worthy of an interview.
There are three major personality traits that recruiters look for in candidates. Your job is to prove to them that you have these traits. These traits are:
You are likeable and a crowd-pleaser. Discuss your people-skills extensively. Recruiters will probably give you extra-points for exaggerated but believable tales. Talk about how when several of your friends were struggling with a particular accounting class, you started tutoring them, and they ended up doing pretty well. Talk about how your co-workers always come to you for advice, and how your managers recognized and appreciated your efforts. Talk about how you’ve been nominated for and been awarded “employee of the month” several times during your short tenure because of your excellent customer service skills. Talk about your involvement in your community, and how you’ve enriched the lives of blind/deaf/cancer kids. Try not to seem zealous about any one particular cause. You would be well-advised to appear well-rounded with multiple sources supporting the fact that you are likeable and a crowd-pleaser.
You are a hard-worker and a smart-worker. This is one of the more difficult arguments to make in your cover letter. It your job to convince the recruiter that you will be able to transition into the very demanding corporate environment of the Big 4. The best way to do that is to show that you have great time-management skills and you are able to accomplish way more than your peers in 24 hours. If you have a part-time job, talk about how you are financing your own education. Talk about how you haven’t let your grades slip even though you are working. Talk about how you’ve managed to have an active social-life given the lack of free time. Talk about how effective time management allowed you to take an optional course on Excel and how you’ve mastered Pivot Tables and V-Lookups. And remember, exaggerated accounts are more likely to receive attention.
You have done your research, and you want this job. Finally discuss the specifics of the position, and why it interests you. When you do this, try to drop as many names as possible – especially names of partners that attend recruiting events for your particular college or university. This will get the recruiter’s attention. Now, pile on the bullshit. Talk about how inspired you were with the said partner’s career track, and how amazed you were by the opportunities presented by the firm. Talk about how you would be interested in an international rotation once you get your feet firmly planted.
End with why you are interested specifically in EY/Deloitte/KPMG/PWC over the other three Big 4 firms –it’s the people. Discuss how you really connected with the people of the firm you are applying to when you met at the various recruiting events. Mention how the corporate culture of the firm seems most compatible with your personality, and how you are looking forward to an opportunity to discuss this position further. This final buttering-up should seal the deal. Do this for all four firms. They are all the same.
Remember, the goal of the cover letter is to get you an interview. Make sure your cover letter does that for you.