The consulting industry is perceived to be both prestigious and lucrative, and consultants are reputed as leaders and experts in the field. Many business organizations retain the services of consultants to help them assess areas of opportunity, develop strategic plans, and implement change in order to achieve desired growth or surpass specific hurdles.
With such extraordinary responsibilities, it’s no wonder many people aspire to work in the field. In fact, according to CNN Money Magazine, consulting jobs ranked third in their study, “50 Best Jobs in the United States,” which was based on relevant criteria such as satisfying nature of the position, potential position growth, flexibility, median salary, and stress level.
As consultants are expected to offer innovative solutions and recommendations, wouldn’t it be interesting to understand how they think and tend to see things in a different perspective? Understanding what consultants know and how they perceive things will help jump start your consulting career.
Data are Just Useless Numbers Unless They Tell a Story
Any set of data is useless until it tells a story. That’s why consultants dedicate a generous amount of time to creating and analyzing charts. Great consultants have the ability to identify relevant details in a massive amount of information. They are so obsessed with data that they can uncover the valuable story behind it. Consultants have that special ability to translate vaguely interesting data into useful insights and recommendations. Not all people have the natural instinct to uncover the story behind any set of given data. But consultants know how to recognize relevant facts and organize numbers and present them in a way that can be easily understood by their clients. Consultants are paid well because of their ability to see the big picture. They are extremely good at connecting the dots and bringing their clients the utmost value.
There is Always More than One Solution to a Problem
Consultants know that a different perspective can work. Great consultants have original ideas yet welcome other options. They listen, analyze, and solve. A critical skill of consultants is the ability to look at things differently compared to the average manager. They know that in order to put it all together, they need to consider every possible angle.
Consultants are hired to solve problems. It’s their responsibility to evaluate situations, identify the problems, and propose the best solutions. They know how to examine an issue from all sides and analyze how the different aspects of a particular situation interrelate. Thus, they can come up with more than one approach to solving an issue. But of course, they keep the best option first on their list.
Things are a Lot Simpler When You Break Them Down
Many organizations become overwhelmed by their problems because they lack the expertise to strategically break down the areas that need addressed. Consultants have the ability to break down business operations into a series of process steps in order to reveal the underlying problems. Great consultants know that the best way to figure out the problem is to split up its subcomponents. A consultant’s mind works like a diagram or flow-chart, making it easier to solve a problem, as every fragment of it is clearly defined.
Listening is More Powerful than Talking
Having a solid education is great but it’s not enough. In consulting, being an active listener is an important trait. Consultants recognize that good listening skills are powerful in gathering crucial information. Consulting isn’t just about speaking your mind; before you can make an intelligent recommendation about an issue, you need to listen. This means being able to encourage others to talk freely as well. The information shared by the people you talk to can contribute to positive results.
In order to be successful in consulting, you need to have the ability to hear and genuinely understand the people you’re talking with. Great consultants recognize that listening is the key to connecting with people on personal levels, which is critical for successful project implementation.
Curiosity and Skepticism Should go Hand in Hand
Consultants are naturally curious and skeptical. They always ask the right questions, listen carefully, and are professionally skeptical. Great consultants recognize that some of the most important details aren’t immediately presented to them, and know that asking tough questions will generate value for their clients.
Being inquisitive may sometimes be annoying; however, if done properly, it can facilitate the desired results. Consultants have the ability to see issues differently than their clients see them. They can also easily make objective evaluations which aren’t clouded by politics and other perplexing factors surrounding a problem. They tell their clients what they need to know in a straightforward manner.
Team Dynamics is Extremely Important
Consultants are known to have a thorough knowledge about the industry, and as such make monumental decisions on behalf of companies. However, being an expert doesn’t mean rejecting other ideas. Consultants know that teamwork is essential for any successful project.
Consultants recognize that although they’re primary responsible for solving a case, a collaborative relationship with their team members is vital to achieving the goal. Good consultants credit other ideas and are willing to learn from their peers. Valuing others’ input is a mark of a true professional.
However, bringing together different people with large egos to work on a project for a client may not always be an easy task. Great consultants understand how to effectively optimize the working styles, personality types, and abilities of their team members in structuring a project. These tricks are key to efficient teamwork.
“I Don’t Know” Is Not an Option
Saying “I don’t know” is considered a mortal sin in the consulting industry. These three words are detrimental to the reputation of any consultant. Although they may not immediately know the answer to every question, their minds continuously work to find the solution. Consultants are expected to have a broad expertise; that’s why they stay current on news, innovations, and trends through reading informative materials and networking with colleagues.
However, it’s also true that even the most experienced consultant doesn’t know everything. In this case, saying “I don’t know” is still not an acceptable answer. They know that the best way to convey their lack of knowledge about a problem is to say, “I don’t know, but I know someone who does know.”
By the Book is Not Always Applicable
Successful consultants don’t always follow what they’ve learned in books. They’re aware that there should be a balance between knowledge gained from books and knowledge acquired from real life experience.
Models and frameworks are great, but sometimes consultants need to bring things down to a more practical level. Their main priority is to design and implement the best solutions for their clients. In order to do this, they look at things from all angles and consider every possible solution, whether conventional or not. They know how to devise a practical approach coupled with applicable theories.
Logic Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Numbers
Consultants are known to be analytical thinkers who are good at solving quantitative problems. However, these professionals recognize that logic doesn’t necessarily mean excelling at quantitative computations. You can be a great mathematician but a terrible consultant. Great consultants know that an understanding of quantitative subjects can be advantageous but doesn’t guarantee anything.
Other professionals, such as lawyers and historians, are also extremely analytical, yet their ideas are not merely founded on quantitative elements. This is because logic entails one’s thought process. Great consultants are aware that the ability to correlate the gathered data is more important than mere quantitative computations in generating useful insights.
Not All Days are Created Equal
We all have bad days, and even the greatest consultants can hit a brick wall. But they’re resilient and have the ability to pick themselves up—they know that predictability isn’t in their job description.
The consulting industry isn’t for the faint hearted. There will be days that entail a higher level of stress than most. But successful consultants are aware that part of their job is to motivate their team to carry on until they see the light at the end of the tunnel. Some problems may be more difficult to solve than others, but a good consultant embraces the opportunity to learn and grow from the experience.
Network Requires Brainwork
Networking is critical in consulting, not only at the beginning of your career but also as you progress. In order to build a strong network of professionals, you need to think and strategize in order to maximize the potential benefits.
Consultants have limitless opportunities to make new contacts and successful consultants take advantage of this. However, it’s not enough to simply ask for business cards or add new online contacts; you need to understand that networking is an active process. Consultants know how to effectively build and maintain strong relationships with key people in the industry.
Feedback is Critical
Consultants are used to being evaluated as they undergo a formal review every six months. They’re rated based on a set of metrics after every project. Some even have weekly feedback sessions and are corrected even for moderate slips. This may be unsettling for most people, but the process is incredibly valuable. Great consultants value feedback and are always willing to talk through what he/she can do differently. As with any profession, you need to be aware of your strong and weak points in order to improve.
Word of Mouth Advertising Goes Far
According to Nielsen’s “Global Trust in Advertising” report, people don’t trust advertising as much as they trust recommendations from friends and consumer opinions. The company surveyed more than 28,000 respondents in 56 countries and found that 92% of consumers trust endorsements from friends and family above any other form of advertising.
Consultants are acutely aware of this and provide valuable services as a marketing tool. They understand that growth can be achieved through persistence and foresight. Successful consulting professionals effectively demonstrate humility and satisfaction in helping their clients. And in the end, people will find ways to give credit where it’s due.
The consulting industry remains one of the most sought after industries today, and only those candidates with brilliant minds and fresh and unique perspectives are able to break in. No wonder professionals in this industry know things that most people don’t realize.
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