The fantastic thing about a career in consulting is that there is no one pathway to get there. Currently, universities do not offer a course in consulting in Australia; not because it lacks reputation, but because of the diverse nature of the work and broad mix of skills required. Consequently, firms hire from a variety of disciplines including business management and engineering. While this offers students from various backgrounds the opportunity to move into consulting, it doesn’t provide them with a chance to discover if they are truly passionate about consulting or suitable for the occupation before they land their first job.
That’s where we come in. Although the profession doesn’t consist of a strictly defined skill-set, you’ll be happy to know there are a number of qualities most consultants possess, irrespective of which kind of consulting work they do. To assess if this career is right for you, check out the following list of traits and skills that you’ll see in consultants across the board – from social media consultancy right through to investment consultancy. Which of these do you possess?
As consultancy firms provide services on an extensive range of projects, it is crucial their team members have widespread interests and a hunger to delve into areas outside their expertise. There’s no room for just sticking with what you know. Unless you are part of an in-house consultancy team, consultants work for a number of different clients on various projects across many sectors (often at the same time!). Even in-house consultants will work in different markets and disciplines as they change employers throughout their career. It’s therefore imperative that consultants have a natural curiosity and a real interest in learning about each new client and the environments they exist in, in order to analyse the situation fully.
When you hear about a new company, do you immediately find yourself dissecting and scrutinising their business model? Have you been told that you spend too much time analysing your personal life? It’s time to put these traits to good use. An analytical mind is one of the most important traits of any consultant, and it’s a skill that can be developed and honed with practice. As an expert problem solver, analysis is needed to examine and interpret data, identify patterns and form conclusions. The budding consultant is the kind of person who notices even the tiniest detail, and is aware of its potential impact on the bigger picture. From qualitative data to facts, numbers and literature, there are many different types of analytical skills needed in the world of consulting.
From research and analysis right through to implementing new strategies and solutions, consultants work in teams. They understand how their individual skills and tasks contribute to achieving the common goal and problem-solve with colleagues in a respectful manner. Group assignments and team sports can provide students with important insights about themselves in this area. How do you act in these situations? Do you have trouble relinquishing control or placing the consensus of the group above your own ideas? If so, this is certainly an area to improve on.
As well as teamwork, consultants must demonstrate the capacity to be effective leaders. Great leadership can be developed across a career, but promising traits are confidence, fairness, the ability to delegate and great communication skills.
When thinking about whether consulting is the right career for you it is important to consider your communication skills. Communicating within teams and directly to clients is a key part of the job – one that can be challenging if the analysis of current practice or the proposition of new ideas is met with resistance on the part of the client. Compounding this, consultants may be communicating with individuals who are decades older than them. This calls for professional and respectful communication that can alleviate any doubts the client may have about the consultant’s capacity or age. Expert communicators can articulate ideas clearly, debate opposing viewpoints and remain calm throughout interrogation, all without putting others offside. If you communicate well under this type of pressure, consulting might just be the career for you.
We know you’ve heard it before, but never underestimate the importance of staying organised and managing time wisely! The everyday life of a consultant can consist of giving a presentation to one client while writing a proposal for another, juggling project deadlines in vastly different sectors, all while flying back and forth between cities. Those suited to these demands are logical thinkers who can plan well in order to prioritise tasks and manage their workload effectively. This includes being able to stay calm and change plans when a spanner is thrown in the works. Flexibility is paramount and will certainly help you on those days when technology goes down or planes are grounded!
Consulting is certainly not for the faint-hearted. It’s for the adventurous – those who like to jump in and become engrossed in their environment. Whether this means diving in to team culture or making the most of working away from loved ones in foreign countries, consultants need a ‘yes, and… ’ attitude. Arrived in Dubai at 2am, jetlagged and with a half-baked presentation? Bet your bottom dollar you will be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to present at 9 on the dot! You are a problem solver, and you are expected to be enthusiastic and optimistic.
Lastly, consulting will bring with it regular 60-80 hour working weeks, including some weekend work, late nights and travel, but for the sort of salary and opportunities it offers this is all just part of the gig. If you are serious about starting a career in consulting, be prepared to put in the hard yards. There is no room in the competition for those who don’t face up each day with a ruthless attitude to overcoming obstacles and achieving outcomes. Commitment at every stage of the game is an absolute must.