Business consultants help organizations to solve issues, create value, maximize growth and improve business performance. Whether its in IT, finance, legal, or PR, they use their business skills to provide objective advice and expertise and help an organization to develop any specialist skills that it may be lacking.
Consultants are primarily be concerned with the strategy, structure, management and operations of a company, working to identify options for the organization and suggest recommendations for change, as well as advising on additional resources to implement solutions. If you are embarking on your career or taking your first steps into the world of work, here are the top ten skills needed to be an effective consultant.
From conducting research interviews with the client’s employees, to managing the team and stakeholders, writing business proposals and delivering presentations, effective communication is highly important in consulting work. So often projects break down or stagnate because of a lack of effective communication. Being a strong communicator will set you apart from the rest and will quickly gain you such a reputation.
It goes without saying that displaying leadership skills is a highly desirable quality for a good consultant. But what’s even more important is being able to work well in a team. During large projects you will be working in teams of tens, sometimes hundreds of people and things can quickly turn into a hotbed of political chaos if you can’t function effectively within a team. Learn how to support your colleagues and delegate fairly. You will definitely be judged by how well you work with others.
You will need to carry out vast amounts of research and data collection to understand the organization you are consulting for. This requires an analytical mind that is solution focused, as well as detail orientated. In order to operate effectively in this domain, you must be highly organized, reliable and well-structured in your work patterns.
If you are straight out of university or grad school, taking your first steps into a consulting firm whatever its size will be an exciting, hectic and information fueled experience. You will need to prove your abilities to conduct research and analysis, communicate effectively and work well with others, but a good employer knows that the best and brightest will be able to learn quickly on the job.
Be prepared to undergo trainings, shadow months long projects and attend lengthy meetings. Taking responsibility for you own commitment to up-skill, whether that is through online courses, webinars or text books, shows your initiative and eagerness to learn, and will not fail to go unnoticed by your employer.
It can be quite daunting having to assert yourself when you are new to the job or organization. But showing conviction and commitment to your own ideas, as well as the ability to follow through, is highly important in consultancy. Of course, confidence comes with experience, so it is vital to be just as an effective listener. Learn from your peers and offer to support them in realizing their ideas if you believe in them and that it will produce great results for the project. Doing exactly what you say you will do sounds obvious, but is essential for building trust and credibility in your team.
Creativity, intuition, resourcefulness, whatever you like to call it… As a consultant you will be challenged to solve some pretty unique problems that may be completely new to the industry. Having no experience or data to back up your decision making, you will need to step up creatively to find a working solution. Don’t be afraid to seek advice or support from your colleagues to help you think about new ways of tackling the problem. A fresh perspective is valuable and may uncover some insights you have not thought of before.
Almost all consultants have “enough ambition to last a lifetime“. But what really distinguishes a good consultant from a great one is the ability to not only focus on the tasks at hand, but also to think critically about the work. For example, your client may be asking you to find cost savings in a supply chain, but first, try to understand why this is critical to the business.
Knowing how to think this way will help you develop better insights and solutions for your client. Try spending extra time thinking through your task before jumping in, put things into context, and don’t be afraid to politely challenge your manager’s requests.
Make sure to know thoroughly what your client’s requirements are through asking relevant questions, spending time with them in their working environment and with members of their team. It is often required for you to integrate yourself within their internal team so you should be flexible in your approach and communicate well.
You will need to liaise with the client to keep them informed of progress and to make relevant decisions, so maintaining a good rapport with them is essential for progression. Some clients can be more demanding than others, so be sure to understand them and try to be consistent in how much or little you communicate with them. You want to avoid overwhelming them with details as well as giving yourself the room to actually do the job you are assigned to do.
The life of the consultant is without doubt demanding. Long working days, hours on the road traveling from one client to the next, and being on-call at any time of the day are typical job attributes. Working extensively towards the end goal for a large project requires the consultant to dig deep and show true grit.
On the positive side firms are paying increasing attention to work/life balance by offering pro-wellbeing and family-friendly benefits, like flexible and remote working opportunities, as well as enhanced maternity and paternity leave. Some encourage career breaks or secondments in another role or outside the company.
Consultancy involves a high level of responsibility and pressure. There can be some stress as there will be tough targets and tight deadlines to meet, as well as the occasional challenging project (or customer). However, if you are able to keep a cool head and communicate effectively, and be sure to enjoy some downtime, you will create the emotional strength to deal with all sorts of undesirable situations.