If somebody mentions consulting, many things may come to mind, mainly because there are so many types of consulting. There are consultants in virtually every industry that will provide any number of services needed by their clients. But regardless of the industry or service sector, there are three primary categories of consultants.
Staff augmentation (Staff Aug) consulting: This is a filler role. It’s usually used when a person or a group of people with a specific skill is needed for a temporary project or a peak time. This can be handled by an individual, but they usually work with intermediary firms that connect people and skills with an organization’s needs.
Boutique consulting firms: This is usually a fairly small firm that focuses on a niche market. They may provide strategy consulting or provide services for one specific industry.
Management consulting: while this could be a boutique firm also, most people think of the top tier. Top tier firms include “The Big Four” firms (KPMG, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, EY, and Deloitte), as well as firms like IBM Global Business Services, McKinsey & Co., BCG, and Accenture.
For many, these large management consulting firms are the holy grail of consulting positions. They are tough to get into. They practice case interviewing, and they only pick the best of the best.
So what are they looking for? They have many criteria. But there are three specific skills that every management consulting firm looks for in every candidate.
Management consulting firms offer many types of expertise to their clients. They may provide marketing advice, information technology solutions, finance models, and many others.
They want to hire consultants that have some expertise in one of those areas. When they interview college graduates, they know that the candidate won’t necessarily be deep with experience. But they are looking for someone who has a strong enough foundation that they can easily bring them up to speed on the advanced knowledge.
When firms hire experienced people, they are usually looking for someone with an expertise in some area or some industry that they can begin advising clients immediately.
Regardless of how deep your expertise may be, if you can’t transfer that knowledge to others, it’s worthless from a consulting point of view. Firms want to hire consultants that can communicate a point clearly so that the recipients can easily understand.
Some people are verbose. They are the type of people who, when you ask them the time, they tell you how to make a watch. These people don’t make good consultants. They provide more detail than is necessary and confuse people more than they inform.
Some people are too technical. They don’t consider their audience when they talk. They are often too caught up in showing their audience how knowledgeable they are. Like being verbose, they lose their audience and end up passing limited knowledge off to them.
A good communicator is succinct. She is able to consider the audience, organize her thoughts, and provide the information that they need; no more and no less.
Many people think of hard-sell tactics used by door-to-door salespeople when they think of sales. But a good sales person is more of an educator.
If you go to a store to buy carpeting for a room in your home, a good sales person asks you questions about what room it is for and how much use it will get. Then she will show you what they offer, explain how it is made for durability, how easily it will clean, tell you the price, and answer any questions you have.
They educated you on everything they have available to allow you to make a decision. You may decide that you need to keep looking at other stores, but eventually you will have enough information to buy what you want and can afford.
The same goes for consultants. A good consultant working with a client will identify issues at the client where the firm can assist. She will ask the client questions that identify areas of pain for opportunities to help.
She will then provide information about possible solutions where the firm can help. By educating the client, the client has the information needed to decide whether to move forward with your solution.
Selling is a natural extension of consulting and a critical skill.
Every firm has different criteria for deciding who they hire. But they all focus on some core skills in every consultant. They know that a consultant has to have some area of expertise, the ability to communicate it, and the ability to sell that expertise for the firm and the consultant to grow.
It is critical for the candidate to demonstrate those skills during the interview process for any chance to become a consultant for a management consulting firm.
Which skills do you need to work on?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
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