Iwas in the reception area of the Melbourne, Aus- tralia office of a global strategy consulting firm, and it took me precisely two seconds to realize that the
three well-pressed young professionals were from my
alma mater, there for their second or third round of recruitment interviews (with those dreaded case studies).
This got me thinking… It’s been 100+ years since
management consulting has come into being, and the profession remains as popular as ever. Each year, thousands
of aspiring consultants apply for roles in the many firms,
knowing that only a small percentage of the candidates
will be accepted into the profession—especially into the
most prestigious firms. Yet for most, the tenure in the
profession is short-lived. Some candidates self-select out.
For many, the decision is made for them. So, I couldn’t
help but wonder: What makes a great consultant?
First—there are minimum qualifying attributes. Consultants need to be smart, well-educated, articulate, self-confident and ‘business ready.’ But those attributes are
simply the ‘ticket to the dance’ when firms charge their
Day 1 consultants out at per diems of $2,000 to $5,000.
What else is required for long term success? As a consultant who has recruited and mentored many consultants, and more recently a corporate executive who has
hired consultants, I believe 10 personal attributes matter:
Consulting is about problem-solving, and great consultants have insatiable curiosity in their DNA. They
are constantly thinking about what the real problem
is (“what is the question”), what’s causing it and how
best to crack it. This is regardless as to type of issue
—strategic, financial, people, program management
or implementation. They are therefore unafraid to ask
questions—typically high level to begin with, and progressively incisive. And clients love it when the deep
curiosity extends to trying to solve their problems! One
bit of 360 feedback I received years ago was that having
dinner with me felt like being interviewed—both interesting and exhausting. I took it mainly as a compliment!
I’ve tried to tone it down over the years, but it’s hard
when the subject or topic is fascinating.
Prospective strategy consultants are tested for their
structured thinking during recruitment via case studies,
but ultimately all consultants must be strong on this at-
tribute that is critical to problem-solving. It’s the ability
to diagnose the issue, frame the question, form a hy-
pothesis then structure an approach and work plan to
solve it. This skill is also fundamental to recommending
and implementing. Structured communication is also
important—which is the ability to communicate suc-
cinctly and precisely. It’s a skill that is perhaps more
important than ever, in the digital age of short attention
spans. Thankfully it can be taught. The Pyramid Princi-
ple by Barbara Minto is a method.
3. ABILITY TO ITERATIVELY DEEP DIVE AND ABSTRACT
This attribute is key to both developing great insights
(the key to much consulting) and communication. It incorporates the ability to dive into the detail (whether it’s
data, regulation or a project plan) then constantly ask
“so what” and use that to drive further analyses. This
constant iteration hones application of the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule) that is applied to most consulting
work. It’s an attribute that can thankfully be practised
and is, when junior consultants are asked the “so what”
question by their Case or Module Leader daily.
4. TENACITY AND STAMINA
Consulting is made for A-type people, who tend to
have large doses of tenacity and stamina. But gosh does