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So....you want to be a consultant...

So You Want to be a Consultant?

Five things every consulting candidate should know

From all outward appearances, business consulting is glamorous. You work with top people at respected firms. You travel constantly. You delve into the deepest recesses of prominent organizations to help solve their problems. Essentially, you play hard and work harder. For all that you earn some serious money. If that’s your definition of glamour, consulting could be for you.

But the process of getting into management consulting is far from glamorous, and competition is fierce. The ability to reach into a complex body of knowledge and then think quickly, objectively, laterally, and quantitatively while expressing yourself succinctly and persuasively doesn’t come easily to everyone—even to otherwise well-prepared business school graduates. Moreover, consulting is a career in which the learning requirements never stop. A consultant will spend the rest of his or her working days constantly soaking up, correlating, processing, and assimilating knowledge.

Do you think you have what it takes? You already know the basic education and knowledge requirements, but here are five key skills you will also need to be successful in business consulting:

1. Influencing Skills. The traditional influencing skills that are rooted in education and knowledge are just the start. To be successful, you'll need to be an active listener, which means leaving your preconceived notions at the client's door. Influencing skills also include knowing how to ignore internal politics when assessing issues, thinking several steps ahead of your clients at all times, and knowing how to fill a personal knowledge gap in very short order winning your clients over to your point of view—often while under pressure.

2. Vertical Skills. A successful consultant must have deep knowledge of his or her chosen verticals. Whether it's banking, wireless technology, healthcare, or government, a top consultant will know the vertical’s history, be on top of the latest news and trends, and have informed opinions about the financial impact of legislation and regulations. The deeper your knowledge, the more likely people will demand your expertise.

3. Practice Skills. Most of a consultant's activity is focused on client work—but success also requires dedicating a portion of time to the activities of your practice group, even when those activities aren't billable. A consultant should drive thought leadership, seek opportunities to speak at forums, write papers, and constantly increase knowledge through certifications and training.

4. Process Skills. The ability to see business operations as a series of process steps is essential. That includes being able to see how knowledge steps—for example, assessing a bank's risk in making a loan—are based on output steps, such as validating the loan applicant's personal information and processing the data. This process skill includes seeing the financial impact of your work on the client’s bottom line. If you are able to relate your consulting project/activity and show how it will positively affect their ROI then why are you even there? A consultant also needs to be able to articulate how a client's processes compare to industry best practices.

5. Technology Skills. We live in a fast-moving global economy that's rooted in rapidly evolving technology. Do you know what ‘cloud’ is? ‘Big Data’? How will ‘enterprise mobility applications’ change the competitive landscape of various industries? A consultant needs to be able to offer meaningful insights about game-changing technologies in order to help clients understand the opportunities and pitfalls.

When all is said and done, a consultant is first and foremost a change agent—and the most successful practitioners have a passion for change that they can translate into practical business plans that make clients feel comfortable, confident, and just as passionate about change.

Is this glamorous work? Maybe. Is it hard work and occasionally highly stressful? There's no doubt. But the rewards—not just the financial gains, but also seeing how your guidance benefits an organization and its people—make it all worthwhile. Consulting firms are looking for talented advisors who can help their clients become leaner and more competitive business machines. Are you that person?

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