Achievement-focused: writing CVs and cover letters for McKinsey & Company

McKinsey is interested in the 'impact' you had and the changes you brought about.

Why your CV and cover letter matter to McKinsey & Company

McKinsey declares the CV review to be the first part of its candidate screening process, through which applicants are shortlisted for interview. Your CV and the optional covering letter you must submit when applying form the recruiters’ first evidence of your communication skills, so it is vital that you do yourself justice.

Your CV and covering letter (if you choose to include one) should give a sense of who you are as a person, as well as demonstrating at a glance the attributes and strengths that make you suited to McKinsey’s business analyst role. The recruiters will receive vast numbers of CVs, so it is highly unlikely that every applicant’s will be read in full.

You can use a cover letter to highlight the most relevant and important points of your CV and apply them both to the role of a business analyst and to McKinsey; however, take care not to simply repeat yourself.

What McKinsey wants to see in your CV

McKinsey & Company requires an excellent academic record and evidence of leadership, which may be from workplace roles or extracurricular activities. Successful applicants will demonstrate an aptitude for analytics, an interest in business, and an enjoyment of teamwork and problem-solving. McKinsey suggests that you include all meaningful work experience, such as full-time jobs, internships and military service, even if they are not in a related field.

CVs for McKinsey should communicate more about your work experience than just the day-to-day responsibilities you performed: McKinsey is interested in the ‘impact’ you had and the changes you brought about. The firm is looking for evidence of impact, leadership, entrepreneurship, problem solving and an overall orientation towards achievement. Draw attention to positions of responsibility, especially where they reveal initiative, entrepreneurship or extraordinary commitment, significant extracurricular involvement and participation in sports and societies, but do not simply describe them: make your achievements, and how they demonstrate your strengths, clear.

Always use language that is clear to any reader; for example, if you are describing your final year engineering project or your university air squadron activities then try to limit any specialist descriptions and technical jargon.

Optional but recommended: your cover letter for McKinsey and how to pitch it

Unlike the CV, you are not required to submit a cover letter; however, you may find it a way to strengthen your application.

The essential point to remember is to write a unique cover letter for every employer you apply to. McKinsey expects to receive a cover letter that has been constructed with them, and no other firm, in mind – recruiters will be able to tell. Starting from fresh ensures that you will not copy and paste in any other firm’s name, and that everything you include will be relevant, considered and carefully targeted towards McKinsey & Company.

McKinsey states that the cover letter is a good place to draw attention to

  • an unusual situation – such as dates you will be unavailable for interview
  • distinctive elements of your application – such as a role as president of a student society: were you elected in favour of other candidates? Has this given you experience of leadership? Of teamwork? Of delivering presentations? Of handling financial spreadsheets? Have you organised events, and on what scale?
  • details regarding a reapplication – such as why you are now a stronger candidate

The McKinsey application form (largely designed with American candidates in mind) asks which percentile of your year you are in academically. If you do not have this information, and it cannot be obtained from your department, you can use your covering letter to explain this, such as by referencing your current module average.

You should also demonstrate an understanding of the role of the business analyst at McKinsey & Company, which will involve interviewing clients, delivering presentations, conducting desk research, analysing data and building financial models.

It’s a good idea to spend a paragraph detailing exactly why you want to work for McKinsey & Company in particular. You might like to focus on what differentiates it as an employer by mentioning, for instance, its mobility team who assist with a range of opportunities for moving abroad; this suggests McKinsey is committed to global opportunities – does this suit your ambitions? The firm also emphasises that it encourages entrepreneurial spirit in its employers: if relevant, you could pick up on this in your covering letter. It is important not to focus on the benefits the company offers and talk instead about the firm’s values and work.

The best cover letters explain not only why you want to work for that firm, but also why they want you to work for them. Link what you say about McKinsey and its business analyst role back to your own values, achievements, strengths and experiences. Recruiters read hundreds of cover letters: make it easy for them to see why you are different.

How to present your CV and cover letter

Your CV and cover letter are uploaded, along with your short essay, to the online application form. Each file should be no bigger than 5MB and your CV should be in either a PDF, doc or docx format.

A cover letter should be no more than one page long, while your CV can be two (but no longer!). McKinsey states that a one-page business resume style CV is not expected, as you may sell yourself short in too little space. You should use a font that is no smaller than 10 point and business-appropriate, such as Times New Roman or Arial.

Remember not to get overly creative with the formatting: McKinsey wants the focus of the document to be on you.

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