Am I a consultant?

For graduates and young professionals aspiring towards 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, compiled a list of the most important qualities and skills that are expected in consultants.

In the current, dynamic market landscape, expectations of organisations and professionals keep increasing. Most notably, the ongoing trend of digitalisation has caused the constant reform of organisations’ business models and transformations of complete systems, processes and companies. These developments also have an impact on consulting 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 emerging talent also keep increasing.

This, in turn, has raised the bar in terms of the requirements for becoming a consultant, especially in the top segment of the market. The following is 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 examine the candidate’s background, including their level of education. The course taken isn’t necessarily the most significant factor, so even if one hasn’t taken the typical path of graduating in business administration, one can often enter the profession with other backgrounds (mathematics, law or psychology). The defining factor is whether one can demonstrate an academic level of thinking and convincingly explain why one would make a good consultant.

Logical reasoning and ability to problem solve 

As a consultant, one is expected to have excellent problem solving skills. Based on the available (and sometimes incomplete) data, one often has to make sense of the complex challenges posed by clients in a short time and find viable solutions to present them. With a substantial 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 in terms of 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 that have 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, especially as they step up the career ladder.

Analytical skills 

With the rise of digitalisation (as well as Big Data and Analytics), demand for analytical and quantitive skills among (consultancy) professionals is growing. Consultants regularly conduct research using their ability to gather and analyse data (and presenting their findings to clients), which represents 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 that they can 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. For this, intellectual curiosity or thinking ‘outside the box’ is necessary 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 aided 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 responsibility within these teams. However, the objectives of the team always remain top priority. During a job interview held by a potential employer, the candidates need to concretely show why they are the team player that 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 guide 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 behaviour demonstrative of initiative 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 do 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 the junior level, consultants spend between 70% and 85% of their time with clients. The relationship with these clients forms the basis of every firm, demonstrating the importance of maintaining excellent relations with 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’, by recounting, for instance, previous experiences in past team work cases. 

Other activities 

Lastly, when applying for a job as a consultant, it is 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 that a candidate pays ample attention to advancing in personal development.