Today we’re talking about The Consulting Mind Set. How to get your head into the consulting profession and understand how to succeed as a consultant in many situations.
This week, Lew attempts to explain the difference between what makes a good consultant vs. a typical worker in another industry (such as insurance or manufacturing).
Questions we address are:
1 – If someone is thinking about entering the world of consulting, what things should they consider?
A good consultant is passionate about solving problems. Ensuing discussion could cover an independent consultant who comes in for a surgical strike on one particular need a company has (compare to a homeowner hiring a plumber for an issue the homeowner can’t do himself) or a medium to large delivering a large project to help a client get to the next level (compared to a contractor building an addition to one’s house)
2 – Being a consultant implies being an ‘expert’ of some type. Can you explain the amount of expertise required in order to be a consultant?
This may be the leading reason that keeps people from becoming a consultant. They believe that in order to be an expert, they need to know more than anyone else.
Let’s go back to my previous comparison of the plumber. If someone put out their shingle as a plumber, I assume they have some training or experience in that field. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he knows more than any other plumber in town
If you’ve been trained in college in marketing or computer programming, you have some expertise. If you have worked in an industry, such as for an insurance agency for a couple of years, you have some practical knowledge of that industry that would be valuable to a consulting firm who consults with insurance companies.
Everyone who has had some kind of training, experience or a combination has potential skill for consulting.
3 – So are you saying that people who work for professional service firms aren’t much different than the employees at any other company.
Not necessarily from a knowledge perspective. Professional services firms try to hire the brightest people they can, but how much they know is just a small part of it. They want someone who will persistently and creatively pursue solutions to their client’s issues. If that means staying until 10:00 at night to do research or work out an issue, then that’s what is expected.
4 – How demanding is it to be a consultant?
It can be demanding at times, requiring longer hours when something needs to get done but at the same time, it’s fun and interesting work. Have you ever gotten so involved in a task that you lost all track of time? That’s what it’s like.
It’s also demanding in that there is a higher expectation. This is what drives consultants to excel.
· Longer hours
· More achievement-oriented rather than just ‘how many hours have I worked’
· Positive peer pressure from team – don’t want to let them down
5 – What types of people do consulting firms hire?
We always hear “the best and the brightest”. That’s true to some extent, but those are ambiguous terms. Firms look for smart people that are driven. They want people that can work in a team environment and like to solve problems.
Attitude is very important.
Many firms use the case study interviewing technique, where they give them a real business situation and ask how the interviewer would solve the problem.
In these situations, they aren’t looking so much at their final answer as much as their approach:
· Did you get overwhelmed with the issue or attack it directly?
· What questions did you ask to get more information?
· Were you able to think on your feet or freeze under pressure? The interview is very similar to a client experience where a demanding person is asking questions of you and expecting an answer.
· And finally, what track of logic did you follow. Did you reduce the problem into manageable segments or just meander on in their discussion without an apparent direction.
6 – If someone has mediocre grades should they not waste their time applying?
If one barely squeaks by grade-wise, they may not have a great chance. But grades aren’t the only criteria. I’ve seen valedictorians that never became successful and C-students who did.
The first firm that hired me out of college didn’t even ask for my college transcripts. Many firms are looking for problem solvers that are driven. If you think you can exhibit those traits, go for it. Also, professionalism is very important… during the interview and in all communications. They want someone that they can put in front of a client and charge $100 or more an hour.
My advice is if you try a few firms and don’t get in, get some experience in a non-consulting industry and try again in a couple of years.
7 – When you hire consultants, what things stick out to you that make you think they’ll be a good consultant?
In addition to the traits I mentioned already, there are a couple of other things I look for:
· Do they consistently make eye contact – shows they have confidence and will stay engaged
· Do they answer the question thoughtfully, or did they have canned answers ready that diverted the topic (sounds like a politician).
· Do they turn the question into a conversation? That makes them a much more interesting person to me and to a client.
8 – What things give you pause when hiring?
Perhaps the opposite of those I just mentioned:
· If they seem distracted, looking around the office, I’d be concerned that they lacked focus. (Use example of Gibbs’ story of the view of Lake Michigan.)
· If they don’t have any questions, or their questions show they didn’t research our firm or consulting in general, it shows that they aren’t prepared.
· I also look for maturity and professionalism. If they do anything that indicates that they aren’t ready to work in the professional world, I’m going to be hesitant to take them to a client meeting.
Next week: Travel