What skills are required and how do you present your past experiences to your advantage?
What are consulting skills?
The route from your MBA to a consulting role is a popular one – consulting firms hire MBAs from many different industry and function backgrounds. So, what are the transferable skills you can take from your previous experience that are directly relevant to consulting? How can you articulate the skills and experience you already have in a way that shows your potential to be a successful consultant? In short, how can you present yourself as a consultant, without having consulting experience?
Though interpretations may vary, there are some desirable skills and traits that all consultancy firms look for, and this is how we advise Cambridge MBAs to present themselves as they network, apply and interview for their target consulting roles.
What has been the impact of your achievements on your team, your employer, clients, the industry? How have you influenced others to effect positive change? What value did you add to your employer, or sports club, or charity where you volunteered? What has been your legacy at these organisations?
Drive and Initiative
Drive can be demonstrated through your career progression and achievements to date. Show that you initiated actions or dialogue, rather than simply acted upon instructions. What have you done over and above what was expected of your role? How have you driven continuous improvement?
Consulting firms look for individuals who thrive in positions of responsibility and demonstrate leadership even from a position of no authority. Having previous management experience does not necessarily prove you are an effective leader, nor does having little experience mean you don’t have leadership potential.
Think about what positions of responsibility you have sought out in your professional, academic and extra-curricular experiences. What have been your greatest leadership challenges? Why were they so challenging?
Effective leaders understand the need to continuously reflect on their own leadership style and their impact on others. What is your leadership style? How do you adapt this? What feedback have you had from others?
How have you motivated and inspired others, even in difficult times or to achieve a difficult goal? When have you had to convince someone in authority to accept your ideas? How did you make the case? What techniques did you use as part of your leadership style to convince colleagues, managers, clients, suppliers?
Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship
Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship all regularly come up as a key skills consultancy firms look for in their candidates. How these skills are interpreted varies from company to company (make sure your research your target company deeply, and preferably get insider information), but there are things you need to consider when demonstrating these skills in your own experience, such as:
• A desire to learn about future trends, and consistently generate new ideas for growth.
• Openness to risk.
• A drive for constant improvement, rather than being satisfied with the status quo..
• Persistence to find the best / most pragmatic solution to challenging problems.
Consulting firms use case interviews to gauge your aptitude for analysis and approach to problem solving as well as your soft skills (listening, articulating your argument etc). However, the case interview is not the only opportunity to demonstrate these skills.
• How can you show you are not afraid to take risks to come to a solution?
• How have you demonstrated persistence when faced with complex problems?
• What did you do differently that led to a resolution of a long-standing problem?
• What would have been the outcome / consequence if you hadn’t resolved the issue?
As part of your research, make sure you understand the different firms’ approach to problem solving. How does this resonate with your own preferred approach?
“Consulting is all about helping clients overcome their most vexing challenges, so we look for candidates with the ability to frame complex problems, think creatively, find pragmatic solutions”
Decision making and comfort with ambiguity
Making decisions with incomplete information is also tested in case interviews. You must be confident and comfortable in making quick decisions based on available evidence. Are you comfortable with making your own decisions, even when not all of the facts are known, or the impact of that decision is not fully clear? How do you handle risk? What decisions have you made that have impacted a company’s strategies, goals and people?
And your reaction to ambiguity is also considered – have you had to make an important organisational decision before you could know all the facts? How did you come to that decision? What motivated you to do so? What was the result?
All employers are looking for strong communication skills. So, what is it that consultancy firms are specifically looking for? How effective your communication skills are in different contexts such as small and large groups, direct reports, managers, inside and outside of the organisation is important. How have you used your communication skills effectively to diffuse a heated situation, or communicate a challenging idea?
Adaptability is also key – are you able to communicate effectively with anyone (not just with people not like you)? Are you able to change the delivery of your message to suit your audience, from factory workers to CEOs? How do you adjust your communications to ensure that your message is delivered and understood in a difficult situation?
And persuasive skills are vital – how have you Influenced different audiences? How do you motivate your audience? How do you handle a difficult audience? How do you communicate the need for change? How have you overcome resistance to change?
And the all-important listening skills – frequently overlooked but critically important! What type of listener are you? How have your listening skills made a difference to a difficult situation?
Relationship and stakeholder management
Being interested in people is a key requirement in consulting and you are being assessed on your ability to build relationships from your first contact with a recruiter. Consider how you have established relationships in your career? What methods have you used to achieve success? How do you get to know people? How do you develop an understanding of what motivates them?
Consensus building skills are something to consider – you need to be able to build and maintain group consensus. How have you achieved this, whether at your own firm, with the client’s employees or working with other groups? How have you handled disagreements? What is your negotiating style – how do you achieve a win/win?
Consultancy firms look for people who can thrive in being part of a high-performance team and understand the importance of team goals and objectives.
Though a recruiter is interested in your personal achievements, failing to appreciate the value of others in your own success is a sign of a poor team player.
How has your understanding of teamwork been critical to your success? Most people would consider themselves good team players – but this isn’t about your ability to get on with others or how likeable you are.
Consulting is a popular career destination for many MBA students, and experience at Cambridge has shown it’s a highly achievable target for people with a range of different backgrounds, with the right preparation and work, engagement with our Career team and resources. Consulting skills? You have them!
Article written by Cambridge Judge Business School Careers team.