From outward appearances, business consulting is glamorous. You work with top people at respected firms. You travel constantly. You delve into the deepest recesses of prominent organizations to help solve their problems. You play hard and work harder—and for all that you earn some serious money. If that’s your definition of glamour, then management consulting could be for you.
But the process of getting into consulting is far from glamorous and competition is fierce. The ability to reach into a complex business situation and think quickly, objectively, laterally, and quantitatively while expressing yourself succinctly and persuasively doesn’t come easily to everyone—even to otherwise well-prepared business school graduates.
Do you think you have what it takes? Here are six key skill sets you will need to master:
- Consulting Skill. Consulting skills rooted in education and knowledge are just the start. To be successful you will need to be an active listener who leaves preconceived notions at the client's door—one who can ignore internal politics, think several steps ahead at all times, and quickly fill a knowledge gap. Let’s say you’re helping a Finance Department assess ERP systems. You’ll be working with people who embrace change as well as people who don't. To succeed, you’re going to have to find creative ways to convert resistors to champions.
- Financial Skill. Business schools provide a solid foundation of the prerequisite financial skills, but you must be able to use that knowledge to articulate how a consulting engagement will affect a client’s bottom line—even when the impact isn't obvious. The junior consultants on a recent Shared Services project created assumptions and projections assuming the lead consultants would present them. But the client turned the tables, asking the junior members to explain precisely how the plan would save the company money.
- Vertical Skill. Successful consultants must have deep knowledge of a chosen vertical—including knowing its history, the latest news and trends, and the potential impact of regulations. A Telecom client I worked with interviewed my consultants one by one to see if they could compare the strategies of at least two Telecom companies in the region. He told me he couldn’t have people on the team with "general" experience because his industry was in such flux that specific thinking was needed to address the issues.
- Practice Skill. Success means dedicating a portion of time to your practice, even when the activities aren't billable. A consultant should drive thought leadership, seek opportunities to speak at forums, and increase knowledge through certifications and training. Being visible is important. A young consultant I know persistently asked for work outside of his consulting assignments. Naturally, his name came to mind when we needed a consultant with high energy and creativity for a particularly interesting supply chain project in Saudi Arabia.
- Process Skill. The ability to see a business's operations as a series of process steps is essential—as is understanding best practices. At a recent meeting with a fast food client in the Middle East, our conversation about finance suddenly switched to inefficiencies in the company's operations. We started talking about Lean techniques, and before we knew it the client asked that the head of our Lean practice visit to present benchmarks on how Lean is being used elsewhere in the fast food industry.
- Technology Skill. Do you know what ‘Cloud’ is? ‘Big Data’? How ‘enterprise mobility applications’ will transform businesses? A consultant needs to have insights about game-changing technologies and trends to help clients understand the opportunities and pitfalls. A recent conversation about IT with a potential Petrochemical client accelerated when I casually spoke about Social Media. I was invited to make a presentation the following week on how the company could use social media to improve its Investor Relations function.
A consultant is first and foremost a change agent—and the most successful practitioners have a passion for change that they can translate into practical business plans that make clients feel comfortable, confident, and equally as passionate about change.
Is this glamorous work? Maybe. Is it hard work and occasionally highly stressful? There's no doubt. But the rewards—not just the financial gains but also being part of a high-value team and seeing your work benefit a client and its people—make it all worthwhile.
Consulting firms are looking for talented advisors who can help their clients become leaner and more competitive business machines. Are you that person?
Vasudev Murthy is Senior Practice Partner, Functional Consulting, at Wipro Consulting Services. He is based in Bangalore, India, and can be reached at email@example.com. Rex Trewin is Global University Recruiting Manager for Wipro Consulting Services. Based in Atlanta, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.