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by Vault Consulting Editors | March 31, 2009

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by Hannah Im

Many consultants boast MBAs from top 10 programs and/or decades of experience. Some hang PhDs on their walls alongside their MIAs, MDs or JDs; others show off their trophies, bronzed certificates of appreciation and accomplishment, and the numerous newspaper clippings featuring their names. No wonder consultants tend to view themselves as an elite group of professionals, and no wonder consulting appears prestigious to outsiders.

It's true that entering the consulting field without the obvious credentials can be initially discouraging - but breaking into the consulting world and assimilating into it is not impossible.

Step 1: Know thyself
Before quitting your job to conduct a full-time search, make sure consulting is right for you. If your reasons are external to how you define yourself (like money or prestige), you will likely not be satisfied in consulting. If your reasons are integrated with your self-identity (like you wish to apply your knowledge and talents in new and interesting ways that help you grow), chances are, you will find your new career path gratifying.

Also consider that for every alluring facet of consulting, there is an unappealing one. For example, traveling through four continents and meeting hundreds of people in a three-month time span is not without tradeoffs - limited time for personal development, unrelenting jet lag, and constrictions in relationships with family and friends top the list of common complaints.

Once you determine the rewards satisfactorily balance the sacrifices, take a serious inventory of your skills. Include "hard" skills, like technology skills or industry skills, as well as "soft" skills, like communications skills or interpersonal skills. Then, compare your results to the skills that consulting companies seek in their hiring pools. Understand how your skills fit into the current picture of demand.

If you conclude your skills are not in demand, take a second inventory of your past job history and community activities. Detail every line item relating to consulting or your target firm in ANY way, no matter how seemingly ridiculous or far-fetched. Translate them into something consulting-related. Also, take whatever nascent skills you have and hone them. Market drivers determine a large part of what services consulting companies offer, so even experienced consultants continuously reshape their skill set to remain competitive and attractive to clients.

~Your Cheat Sheet
Consulting companies like to hire two types of people - those graduating without job experience but with solid academic and internship credentials, and those with proven consulting, industry, or technology experience. Graduating students provide the hands-on detailed analysis required on engagements and can be molded into the consulting company's ideal service professionals. Industry or technology experts provide the talent consulting companies need to convince clients of their credibility.

Anyone not fitting into one of these categories has a lot of competition. To get started, review the following list of attributes in an ideal consultant as part of your inventory process:

  • Works integrally and collaboratively with other team members.
  • Views and analyzes circumstances and data from multiple perspectives
  • Learns concepts and skills quickly
  • Applies learned concepts and skills immediately
  • Adapts quickly to dynamic environments
  • Communicates articulately and concisely
  • Influences how clients receive work
  • Manage multiple complex situations, including projects, people, and issues resolution

If you possess these abilities and can demonstrate them in non-consulting examples, consider yourself competitive. But be absolutely certain you can back up your confidence with tangible examples.

Step 2: The Job Search
First, do not waste anyone's time. Research consulting as a field, your target companies, and your target audience. Aside from knowing why you want to be a consultant, know why for that particular specialization or for that specific company. Consultants are hired largely for their knowledge and their ability to impart knowledge. Research helps to ensure you do so with credibility.

~Then visualize the connections between your skills inventory and the research you found. Use these connections as practice interview questions and answers, as well as to write a tightly focused resume. Written communication is as important as oral communication for a future consultant. Make sure your resume reflects accurately the staffing needs of the organization.

Once you are comfortable submitting your resume, consider the two ways to get your resume noticed and your phone ringing for an interview:

  1. The traditional approach
    Obviously, anyone can submit an unsolicited resume to HR departments or in response to ads in the newspaper or on the Internet. However, this method rarely results in more than an acknowledgement-of-receipt postcard or e-mail. HR departments receive mountains of resumes daily, and most scan them into a database. As position requirements come up, HR searches for key words from the database. This means all the meticulous work you invested in your resume usually goes unnoticed. People do find jobs in this way, but statistics are not in your favor.

  2. Cutting in line
    Never underestimate the value of networking. Talk to anyone in your way and let him or her know about your desire to enter consulting. Even if he or she appears far-removed from consulting, you never know who they might be acquainted with. As you develop your network, your acquaintances will undoubtedly include hiring managers or others with access to hiring managers.

Step 3: Now what?
When you finally get that job in the consulting industry, ensure your success from the start by finding a mentor. Success in any industry or job can be difficult, but a good mentor can lessen some of these difficulties. Although consulting firms generally offer well described career tracks, wading through the politics and delineating training plans can be confusing.

As you succeed in your new career, be sure to remember your origins and help others along the way.

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Filed Under: Consulting

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