Am I a consultant?

For graduates and young professionals aspiring a career in consulting, one of the key questions is: ‘Do I have what it takes to become a consultant?’ To support students and professionals with their decision making process, collected the most important qualities and skills that are asked from consultants.

In the current, continuously changing market landscape, expectations of organisations and professionals keep increasing. Most notably, the ongoing trend of digitalising has caused a constant reform of organisations’ business models and transformations of complete systems, processes and companies. These and other developments also have an effect on consultancy firms, who are frequently called upon to support their clients with the complex change initiatives or transitions that they face. The consequence nowadays, is that expectations of consultancy professionals and its emerging talent also keep increasing.

This in turn, has raised the bar in terms of requirements of becoming a consultant, especially in the top segment of the market. An overview of the most important qualifications, characteristics and skills a consultant is required to possess.

College or university degree
First and foremost, practically all consultancy firms will require the candidate’s background, including their level of education. The courses taken isn’t necessarily the most significant factor, so even if you didn’t take the typical path and graduated in business administration, you often can enter the profession with other backgrounds (mathematics, law or psychology). The most defining factor is whether you can demonstrate an academic level of thinking and that you can convincingly explain why you think you would make a good consultant.

Logical reasoning and ability to problem solve
As a consultant you are expected to have excellent problem solving skills. Based on the available (and sometimes incomplete) data, you often need to get to make sense of the complex challenges posed by clients in a short time, and find viable solutions to present them. At a complete lack of data to analyse, consultants need to be able to make reasonable estimates based on logical reasoning.

Working under pressure
Consultants are expected to command good presenting skills under (high) pressure. Some client assigments and projects will come with sharp deadlines whereby flexibility is expected from consultants as well as working longer hours when necessary. In other instances, consultants need to take drastic measures for a client (for example with a reorganisation) which can cause staff members or other stakeholders to put consultants under high (mental) strain. Moreover, consultants are often involved with large-scale projects of which huge interests and sums are at stake with little to no margin for error. Consultants are expected to be able to deal with working under such high pressure, certainly as they step up the career ladder.

Analytical skills
With the rise of digitalising (as well as Big Data and Analytics) demand for analytical and quantitive skills among (consultancy) professionals is growing. Consultants regularly conduct research through their ability to gather and analyse data (and presenting their findings to clients), which forms a crucial skill for consultants in this day and age. During a job interview it is important that candidates can provide examples of a complex problem in which they solve on the basis of finding and analysing data.

Intellectual curiosity
Consultants are expected to possess a high degree of intellectual curiosity. Seeing as they frequently work in diverse sectors and areas of expertise, it is of utmost importance that consultants are capable of finding simple solutions for complex problems. In this, intellectual curiosity is necessary in order to think ‘outside the box’ when tackling problems. During a job interview, candidates can demonstrate their intellectual curiosity by illustrating their own unique interests and passions.

Team players
Consultants are expected to be able to operate well within teams. Clients of consultancy firms are often consulted by a team of consultants who, often in a multidisciplinary context, are equipped to tackle the challenges posed by the client. From day one, consultants usually get a high level of responsibilities within these teams. However, the objectives of the team always remain top priority. During a job interview held by a potential employer, the candidate needs to show concretely why they are the team player the consultancy firm is looking for.

Leadership skills
Leadership is another essential quality that consultants need to possess. Besides managing individual tasks and responsibilities, consultants need to display leadership toward their client – partly based on their input and approach to a problem - and be able to take them by the hand during a project. Moreover, once consultants have been working at a firm long enough they also need to be able to lead more junior consultants. In a job interview, it is important that candidates are able to convey examples of their own leadership (of a team).

Entrepreneurial and bold in initiative
Consultants need to be entrepreneurial and show enough initiative. Since consultants are continuously busy solving often complex problems (mostly for clients) they constantly need to find ways of improving matters and translate them into concrete (business) plans. During a job interview, candidates need to be able to name examples of situations in which they showed initiative and developed active ideas for improving an existing process or solving a problem. Another example of initiative favouring behavior is taking the time to revise your knowledge on a particular subject - in order to better tackle a problem – which leads to a higher regard for candidates by consultancy firms.

Client oriented and ‘people skills’
For the most part, consultants work for- and with clients in which they, for instance, give advise on a strategic concern, or offer support for an implementation trajectory. Particularly at junior level consultant spend between 70% and 85% of their time for clients. The relationship with these clients forms the basis of every firm, therefore, it is essential that consultants maintain excellent relations with their clients. Consequently, it is of great importance that consultants command the right ‘people skills’. Aside from verbal communication skills, consultants are also expected to work on their listening skills, on body language and negotiating skills. In a job interview, candidates must show that they possess these ‘people skills’, for instance, by recounting previous experiences in past team work cases.

Other activities
Lastly, when candidates apply for a function as consultant it’s of great interest that they highlight enough extra curricular activities on their C.V. alongside their work experience and educational background. Out of these activities possible skills could emerge that may benefit a consultant in their career. Activities such as: carrying out a management function during a study demonstrates qualities of leadership, practicing a team sport (at any which level) showing team player skills, and following a language course or workshop could display you pay ample attention to advancing in personal development.