3 Qualities a Management Consultant Must Have

I am a young professional who is trying to build my social circle. I do this by indulging in activities I enjoy, unwillingly attending networking events and reaching out to professionals I admire on LinkedIn. A job title that often comes up whilst speaking to many is, a management consultant. There are about 50 international consulting firms in Malaysia, and it only makes sense to hear it at the frequency I hear it at. At first, I was indifferent to it. However, as the frequency of hearing the title increased, my curiosity was sparked. Then, together with my team at FutureLab we gathered a few management consultants from top firms and decided to understand more about the role. We focused on understanding what it means to be a consultant, and with the aim to share this information on how to be one.

1. What are Management Consultants?

Management Consultants are a group of people hired for various reasons. The reasons vary from companies having questions, problems they are facing to ideas they would like to test. Why can’t they do this themselves when they should know their company the best? ­­­The main reason companies seek answers from management consultants vary. They seek them out for expertise, time and the absence of vested interest. The list of reasons are exhaustive but more often than not they want an outside eye. You know how sometimes when we face problems in our life, we turn to friends and family for their suggestions on how to solve it? Managing that problem on our own might be the reason we miss out an obvious answer because we are too close to the challenge. Companies need this too, especially when making tough decisions. The difference between personally turning to family and friends, and companies turning to management consultants is that this is not just any opinion. It is based on a large database of knowledge on what works best and what does not. As a unit, management consultants have dealt with it all.

 

2. How do you become a consultant at a top firm?

There are two main ways consultants get hired. More often than not, through campus recruitment or lateral hiring. Heard of Graduan? Many consulting firms in Malaysia direct their graduate recruitment efforts through it. For campus recruitment, there are no stringent rules about discipline. However, a good rule of thumb to work by is to strive to be the best even amongst the best.

For lateral hiring, the work experience is likely to take lead. Over here, industry knowledge, understanding of its nuances and application is key. Of course after this, internships, referrals, and various other means can facilitate you to set foot in one. Google, Quora, Forums and many other platforms will educate you on the many ways you can become a consultant. Or a faster way could be to book in a mentor’s time on FutureLab 😉

 

3. We dug deeper into the question of prerequisites – what do you need to become a consultant?

a. Analytical/problem solving skills

Why do you need this?

As a management consultant, you will be constantly solving puzzles. To solve this puzzle well, you should first know how to approach the puzzle. During this problem solving process, it is necessary to think about the broad questions and the detailed questions you will need to answer. During your interview and even later on, in your role, you will be expected to know how to lead questions. This drives to the biggest factor, a structure in the way you think. Linearity in thought processes needs to be demonstrated. An important point to remember is that you might not be always the one to deliver the answers to a client. More so why clarity in thought process and articulation of how a decision is made is of utmost importance.

How to acquire this?

If you think you lack this, a good place to start will be through a book by Victor Cheng – Case Interview Secrets. Many universities also have consulting clubs which have ample resources on case studies which are free to use. Two to mention are Harvard and Wharton. Accessing their resources and finding practice material is not hard at all. Key is practice, practice, and practice. This is a process that cannot be nailed without practice, and the work you put in is also a strong indication of passion which they want to see.

b. Interpersonal skills

Why do you need this?

Management consultant’s job is also built on the warmth of a relationship one shares with their client. It forms the foundation. There is no doubt on interpersonal skills if you want to become a management consultant. A client needs to trust the consultant giving the advice. There is also an element of selling and proving that the service is required. The ability to put your ideas into words, to listen to others, and to provide support is required. As a consultant, the projects you work on will also be constantly changing. You need to be able to integrate into teams quickly, adapt to different management styles and get up to speed quickly on industry terminologies and operation for your client. You also need to be able to disagree and to suggest ideas counter to what your client may be proposing, in a tactful manner.

How to acquire this?

If you are a student, don’t worry about being a kick ass orator for now. For a start, develop yourself to be likeable, passionate and genuine. ­The rest will come with exposure and practice!

c. Drive and motivation

Why do you need this?

Motivation is essential for this job. Constant preparation and hard work are what leads to valuable work experience. Being a consultant means often being in a high pressure environment, and during such times top performing consultants don’t throw in the towel. Many consultants share that while recruiting, a key desired characteristic are people who have taken on added responsibilities and pushed themselves.

How to acquire this?

A commitment to updating your skills and appetite for learning is important to have and demonstrate. This is a tough one to explain and assess, but a good principle to go by is that you have tried to achieve something beyond your call of duty.

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In essence, we’d like to emphasise the importance of preparation for a management consultant interview or role. Depending on the company, you will go through 4 – 8 interviews before a decision is made. The process is rigorous and completely possible, but only if the ground work has been done right and you show the right attitude (determination, likeability and passion). Consulting firms are also a good platform to develop a wide range of technical skills and soft skills. If you are someone who is drawn to the ‘it depends’ factors which call for creative, innovative thinking with a practical problem solving approach, a management consultant role could be for you. A good way to start preparing will be with the tips we provided above! 🙂

We would like to thank everyone who was involved in sharing their thoughts but whose names we can’t reveal because of company disclosure regulations.