6 Skills for Consulting Success

Having a successful career in consulting requires sustained motivation. When your skills are a good match for the requirements of the industry, your superior performance will be an ongoing source of encouragement.

A sensible first step towards a consulting-career would be to understand whether you have what it takes to excel in consulting.

Here is a list of six skills that will make a difference in your consulting career and ensure your long-term success.

1. Structured Thinking

Companies come to consultants seeking advice. But if the client team itself is an expert in their own industry, then why do they come to consultants looking for solutions?

Typically, the solutions lie beyond an ocean of information which is difficult to swim across. One of the key skills that consultants bring is a structured thinking approach which helps to define the problem statement and undertake a disciplined search for the solution. They can quickly discard redundant information and focus on the key facts to rapidly reach a feasible solution. This is where the consultants’ value lies. Hence, this is one of the primary skills that incoming candidates are tested on in the case interview.

2. Creativity and Intellectual Curiosity

After rattling an idea around in their own brains, companies go to consultants to get a fresh perspective. Creativity amplifies that fresh perspective, and can help the client to see a project, product, or situation in a new way. In a world where routine analysis can be done by computers, fresh thinking and analysis is more valuable than ever.

Being intellectually curious also helps a ton when it comes to working for a client industry that you have not dealt with in the past. If this curiosity is absent, it may be almost impossible to understand the industry quickly enough to complete the project.  There is no hope of coming up with a solution, let alone a creative one, if you do not understand the industry, its business, supply-chain model, key profit drivers, etc.

3. Interpersonal Skills

People skills will help with managing a team and dealing with clients. Think about it in this way. In an industry where you work for almost 70-80 hours a week, would you like to work with a dull-person or a charming one who can make the work environment more interesting? The same logic also applies to a client when it comes to soliciting work. If the client is not won over by a consultant’s charm, they may not have confidence that the person can solve their problems. Interpersonal skills are not just for cocktail parties.

4. Prioritization and Resource Management

As a consultant, your To Do list may not be limited to an A4-size page. Remember, you are a problem solver and there are a lot of problems in this world to solve. This is part of the reason why consultants work 70-80 hours a week. With that kind of list, it is important to know how to apply the 80-20 principle. It is crucial not just to know how to prioritize but also to know how to be efficient at managing your resources, which are often limited.

5. Presentation Skills

Almost all the engagements of a consultant end with a presentation. There is no point in all the hard-work and time invested in a presentation, if you are not able to convince senior clients to adopt your recommendation. Being persuasive and assertive will help in being a great presenter. Also, you must be comfortable with your oratory skills. Being concise (synthesizing complex information and presenting it in a simplified form) and at the same time having the ability to dig deep into each aspect, if need be, is one of those talents that helps a consultant succeed.

6. Business Development and Management

Consulting firms follow a sales model, where as a consultant grows in the firm, he or she will become responsible for obtaining new business. It’s a pyramid structure where the bottom of the pyramid is often engaged in executing engagements, mid-pyramid is involved in engagement/team/client management and the top executives (partners/principles) are engaged in bringing in new engagements. It is important to develop these leadership and management skills as you progress in a consulting firm.

Conclusion

We talked about six skills required for a successful consulting-career. None of them are less or more important than the other. However, it is important to acknowledge that these skills are all acquirable. So, don’t be disappointed if you find a gap between your skill-set and the list here. You can always work towards acquiring them.

The attributes that cannot be acquired and are mandatory for consulting are enthusiasm for the work, love for travel, and the willingness to accept long work-hours. If you have these qualities, then I wish you a successful career in consulting!

Vishal is currently undergoing his MBA from Kelley School of Business, Indiana University and is a management consulting enthusiast. Before Kelley, he was working with EY as a Manager and he carries 7 years of experience with EY’s International Taxation and Transfer Pricing Consulting practice.

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How I Passed All My Consulting and Tech Case Interviews

Interviews were fast approaching and I knew I wasn’t on track. Nothing was working until I finally had three key insights. These insights led to a 100% hit rate at my consulting and tech interviews, which included BCG, Strategy&, AT Kearney, Amazon, Cognizant, and several boutique consultancies.

What I discovered is that the interview outcome, a response of “We’re excited to tell you…” or “We regret to inform you…”, depends on just a few key factors.

Despite this, students are inundated with advice – often contradictory – about what to do and what not to do. Entire books are written about mastering the 30 minute case! Why? Content equals money. If experts were to make the process as simple as possible, they would see their revenue drop. They want to give you more advice, not better advice. That’s not my incentive, so here’s the three key things you need to know.

1. Everything is Behavioral

I used to like the expression “the case is a behavioral and the behavioral is a case,” but I’ve realized over time that everything is a behavioral interview. Yes, you need to have organized thoughts. Yes, you need to solve the problem. Yes, you need to get the math right. But we know this already. Everyone who walks into the interview should get those things right! This does not differentiate you from other candidates.

To get there, many candidates practice into a coffee-induced comatose state and forget the big picture. The interview is about who you are. Can you work on a team with others? Can you be put in front of a client? Is the person interviewing you left curious and wanting to get to know you more, or left gasping for social air?

So, how does this translate into acing a case? Be normal. I don’t mean act stock standard and boring. Instead, be who you would be at work. Ask those tough questions, show curiosity, and don’t be afraid to say you haven’t encountered a problem like this before or to make a light joke (ok, maybe not if it’s McKinsey). Respect the interviewer like you would a manager, but show them you are a person. They don’t need you to know the decision tree of a case (there isn’t one) or to be an expert in the industry in question. They just want a break from the monotonous, banal garble that is most interviewees in a case. Show them who you are so they can see why they want to work with you instead of another candidate.

2. The Case is Real Life

The case wasn’t just picked lackadaisically from the interview tree by major consulting and tech firms. It exists because that’s what you will do on a daily basis at your job, albeit in a less condensed format and for 14 hours a day instead of 30 minutes. At these companies you will be put under both time pressure and pressure from being observed in action (by clients and bosses). You will need to deal with complex problems that lack immediately clear paths or answers. You will need to think critically and be able to articulate these thoughts in a clear, concise, and organized manner. Understanding this is what it takes to get #1 right.

3. You Have to Want It

Notice I didn’t include “banking” in the title of the article? That’s because I interviewed at one bank…and absolutely bombed. They asked me their stock price and how I would go about evaluating a target acquisition. They also talked about growth targets and how imperative it was to meet them. All I could think was “I don’t care.” And, they could tell.

Make sure consulting or tech is right for you. Do you enjoy casing (at least did you enjoy it before you reached your 50th case)? Do you like dealing with ambiguity, solving problems, and understanding the world? If yes, you’ve got three major benefits:

  1. Interview preparation won’t feel like an uphill battle
  2. The interviewers will be able to sense your interest and excitement and you will be more likely to get an offer
  3. You’ll actually be glad you got an offer once you hit the trenches!

Unfortunately, many people only realize what they truly want during the interview. Try not to be one of them!

Summary

I want to re-emphasize that you still need to use the right framework, understand industry dynamics, research your company, solve the problem, be structured, and get your math right; the fundamentals have to be there. However, don’t lose sight of the big picture! If you understand that the case is real life, that the job you are applying for will be an extended case, and that the interviewers want to see that your personality is right for the job, then you’re ahead of the rest. If you recognize this and also confirm that this is what you want and where you know you’ll thrive, then hello MBB and The Four.

Ian Glennon is a strategy consultant at BCG, but not sure how he got there. Having lived in the US, France, Australia, and Colombia, but also having U.S., U.K., and New Zealand citizenships, he’s also not quite sure where he’s from.

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How To Pitch A Disruptive Business Plan

One of the things I learned during my EMBA was how to break down, re-organize and clearly explain certain kinds of information; a skill which has proved useful when preparing and pitching my start-up based on my b-school business plan.

In late October, that got put to the test. I had the opportunity to pitch my start-up at an innovative business contest at a well-known business school in Frankfurt. My nascent company is called MedPayRx. It will use blockchain technology to create smart prescriptions for all legal prescription drugs and medical devices. This being Germany now, that includes medical cannabis.

In other words, we are planning to help mainstream a revolutionary medicine using a highly disruptive technology and business model.

In this post, I will share three insights from the pitching event that might be of interest to students, start-ups, and those in disruptive businesses.

Introduction To The Event

The Maintech Summit at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management (co-sponsored by Excon, a local start up instigator) is the first real academic-based “shark-tank” environment for disruptive start-ups in Frankfurt. The event is held on an impressive campus, and tackles disruption from all angles. Blocksource, the team who won this year’s competition (MedPayRx tied for second place), also pitched a blockchain-based business model – although focusing on a different market niche. Blockchain 2.0 is here!

If you are a disruptive tech start-up, the Maintech Summit is a must for next year. Frankfurt is a major European banking centre, and you can pitch in English!

But enough about the event; here are three lessons I learned.

1. Have a Story to Tell

The concept of medical cannabis covered under health insurance has just become law in Germany. But the law is new, and so there is still a stigma attached to this form of treatment. There is also still a great deal of uncertainty about blockchain. Not to mention its use in managing health records. And so, we had to address both.

The whole point of a start-up is to come up with a monetized solution to a pressing problem. MedPayRx aims to do this by solving privacy, supply chain and compliance issues created by the new regulations and an existing infrastructure which is literally paper-based and managed by fax. From a digitalization perspective, prescription management and insurance approvals is ripe for reform.

And on the issue of medical cannabis? The Bundestag voted unanimously for it to be covered by public health insurance in January and the law went into effect in March. Don’t like cannabis reform? Blame the German government!

When pitching, I usually get a laugh at that line. And I am pretty sure I did at the Maintech event. Although it is tough to know for sure because academic Germans don’t seem to laugh easily in such settings. Left to their own devices they do not clap either. They rap the desktops with their knuckles!  Clapping is an invention that is being introduced slowly in international business schools. That said, once the Germans warm to it, they do it enthusiastically and well.

No matter how hard they tried to conceal them, though, I did get a few grins. MedPayRx may not be the first cannabis-related business plan conceived or pitched at an accredited b-school since medical reform this year in Deutschland, but we are on the cutting edge of this trend!

2. Build a Strong Business Model

A successful business model for a start-up combines the trifecta of a desirable product, identifiable market need, and a capable team who can execute on the idea.

For MedPayRx, cannabis is part of our strategic market entry plan. It is a medical product suitable for a couple of niche markets whose time has come. The recent legal reforms give us a unique window of opportunity.

In addition, our team has already built a working proof of concept harnessing well defined technology.  The combination of these three factors established our cred, which helped win us a business school pitch opportunity, and secured us second place in the competition.

It is clear that blockchain business models will become a staple at business schools everywhere soon. It is also very likely that cannabis-themed business models will begin to percolate through business school competitions in every jurisdiction where reform has taken place.  But with lingering social stigma towards cannabis – even of the medical variety – how do you begin to be taken seriously? Short answer – build a strong business model.

3. Justify Your Product-Market Fit

MedPayRx’s smart prescriptions can be used for all prescription drugs and medical devices, including medical cannabis.  In light of recent reforms, our initial focus on cannabis makes our initiative timely and relevant.  However, the stigma against cannabis is still real.

Be ready to justify your product-market fit.  You can bring in science, market analysis, and common sense arguments to explain why you are focussing your product or service on the market you have chosen.  Why is now the right time for this solution?

Anticipate your audience’s fears, biases and objections, and the resistance will quickly disappear. By focusing your potential investors’ attention on your innovative solution to a specific social need you can control the conversation, helping to shift their questions from “should MedPayRx be doing this?” and “should I invest?” to “how should MedPayRx be doing this?” and “how should I invest?”

Marguerite Arnold is the founder of MedPayRx, a blockchain healthcare startup in Frankfurt. She is also an author, journalist and has just obtained her EMBA from the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

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