Consultants are problem-solvers for hire: businesses and government bring them on board when they have a problem that’s too complicated or the resources needed would be too great for internal staff to resolve.
The mysterious world of consulting eludes most people outside the industry, but those in the know understand the satisfaction of taking on complex issues that have real impact on businesses and people, and shining a guiding light over the way forward.
Business and enterprise, government and not-for-profits seek out advisory services from consulting firms on matters ranging from technology, policy, marketing and strategy, to people, pricing and products. Typically, a consultant or team will be called in to advise a senior decision-maker whose staff are too busy to consider long-term strategy, or the problem being faced is too complex and outside the skill sets of the people charged with resolving it.
The ‘big three’ are the most prestigious management consulting firms in the world. They’re also known by ‘MBB’, which is an acronym of all three - McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company.
The average entry-level package is $57,500 and the average hours worked per week is 45, making this one of the hardest-working professions for grads on a dollar-per-hour basis.
Traditional consulting firms are recruiting consistently, with a consistent intake each year. Management consulting in general is expected to grow very strongly, with more businesses each year requiring assistance navigating ever-changing business models throughout the digital revolution.
On the other side of the coin, while the traditional consulting firms have dominated for over a hundred years in some instances, freelance and transactional-style consulting services are gaining traction in the marketplace. Wikistrat, Hourlynerd and Australian-based Expert360 are three such platforms, with Wikistrat claiming to be entirely crowdsourced.
The consulting business model is sometimes referred to as 'recession proof'. When the economy is strong, clients have more money to spend on consulting services. In a downturn, business challenges often become more pressing, and consulting services are in demand to help solve problems quickly!
<img src="https://connect-assets.prosple.com/cdn/ff/XO-QBINl6jSa9LSD-4IXzhTv7kuynMT0LMsBvtmccco/1567064916/public/styles/scale_1000_no_upsize/public/2019-08/Infographic-consulting-overview-1104x1164-2019.jpg?itok=0Okc9wzR" alt="Consulting overview infographic 2019" />
Consulting is practically degree-agnostic — candidates from all kinds of backgrounds can find success, as long as they have the right aptitude. Consulting companies intentionally hire for a diverse range of skills and experience, drawing on the benefits that a tapestry of thinking styles provides.
Extracurricular activities count enormously in this industry, with employers telling us they value these experiences equally or almost equally with academic achievements, so be sure to highlight yours — particularly any experiences that have required you to take initiative, show leadership or model the values of your desired organisation’s values.
Nearly all consultancies will require you to undergo psychometric testing, so find out what type of test the employer you’re applying to uses and find a practice test online to complete so you can brush up on any areas that give you pause.
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.
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.
Consultants are hired primarily for their problem-solving abilities, and being able to help an employer by unpacking a problem and finding solutions through innate aptitude and techniques you learn on the job will complement a natural confidence and agility in your decision-making.
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.
While it’s important to have general knowledge and problem-solving skills, recruiters are always on the look-out for candidates that can tie those skills together with creativity. Being able to consider a problem with a unique perspective might trigger an idea that is practical, but provocative.
Collaboration is essential with both colleagues and clients, as you work in a team to solve a complex problem or work through changes in project scope. Knowing how to keep a sense of purpose, get things done and leave for the day with relationships intact is vital.
From research and analysis right through to implementing new strategies and solutions, consultants work in teams. 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!
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