Consultancy skills for business successPosted on: August 5, 2022
by David Diaz
Consultancy, and the role of a consultant, is about as varied – in both type and application – as you can get. When you consider what the role of a consultant is – to provide professional or expert advice in a certain area of expertise – it’s possible that most of us will have operated in a non-formalised consultancy capacity, in some form or another, during our working lives.
However, the formal business consulting role, and all that it entails, is a different matter entirely – and excelling in all areas of the consulting process requires a specific set of key skills that can be learned.
What does consulting involve?
After gaining sufficient industry experience, or reaching a certain level of success or seniority, people may decide that they are in a good position to provide expert advice to others in either the same or similar industries. As consultants, these professionals help to create better-led and better-managed organisations.
While many consultants are freelance or independent professionals, possessing the skills, knowledge and sector insights to help other businesses succeed, clients can also opt to hire consulting firms to support their ambitions. Taking the financial services sector as an example, well-known consulting firms include the likes of KPMG, Deloitte, Accenture and McKinsey & Company.
Businesses commonly hire consultants to advise and support during challenging times, or to solve specific issues within the company. As such, consulting work requires close analysis of business situations, together with identification of potential solutions. The exact terms of any given consulting process depend on the scope of the client’s needs. For example, they may seek to: increase profitability; gain objectivity on a specific issue; restructure the company; design more effective marketing campaigns; re-evaluate processes; or find someone external to run large, complex projects.
Consulting work itself varies, with common types including:
- Management consulting
- Marketing consulting
- Legal consulting
- Human resources consulting
- Cybersecurity consulting
- Financial consulting
- Strategy consulting
- Sales consulting
What skills are needed to be a consultant?
In order to be an effective consultant, Inside Careers suggest individuals develop a range of core consultancy skills:
Logical thinking and problem solving
Understanding client needs and structuring problems coherently and logically are two fundamental competencies in consulting. Without the ability to create logical frameworks, identifying solutions using various data points – or using estimates as a basis in the absence of data – is difficult, and quality is likely to suffer. Consultants with strong problem-solving skills can assess situations using the means available to them and devise action plans accordingly.
Analytical skills are a prerequisite for mapping out often-complex issues in detail in order to see the bigger picture, as well as understanding the minutiae of various elements within the whole to pinpoint issues, causes and effects, and solutions. For example, if a client flags issues with their supply chain – which can comprise vastly complex processes and numerous players – an analytical mind will be able to focus on the most crucial tasks and identify pain points. Additionally, consultants with good numerical skills can sense check estimates, thinking on their feet more easily as a result.
A consultant’s role involves ensuring that clients feel supported, understood and as if they’re in capable hands – during what can typically be difficult and challenging times. Leadership qualities help to inspire and reassure stakeholders, making the overall process smoother and less stressful. On top of this, consultants may also be required to manage other members of staff.
Ability to work well under pressure
Consultancy can be an unpredictable game. As well as the multitude of pressures complicit in solving a client’s issues, achieving targets and delivering to deadlines, as a role it can often involve travel and long periods spent on location.
Communication skills underpin most aspects of business, but consultancy in particular. Building strong client relationships, managing stakeholder, and keeping various parties updated – without confusing them with unnecessary detail – is key. Similarly, presentation skills are useful, and depending on the nature of a consulting project, teamwork and the ability to work well with others is useful.
Technical and industry expertise
Commercial awareness and knowledge of industry are likely to be two elements that a client will seek in a consultant. Technical skills come in useful for data modelling and forecasting the results of data collection exercises – for example, using Microsoft Excel, SQL or VBA. Some consulting work, such as implementation, may require programming languages and knowledge of big data processing.
Consulting firms are often tasked with organising and running large, challenging and complex projects. Possessing the skills necessary to successfully manage a project from inception to completion – and achieve the intended outcome(s) – demands creatively minded consultants who are adept at organisation, time, stakeholder and resource management, flexibility and more.
Skills such as business process re-engineering (BPR), marketing, organisational change and transformation, IT or financial systems are also highly regarded.
How to get into consultancy
There is no one route to landing a consultancy job. While many consultants pursue training or qualifications via a more-formalised route – and often with employer backing – there are select others who possess the business acumen, experience and credentials, without a formal background, to begin consulting.
Some individuals choose to secure internships at consulting firms, gaining real-world work experience and learning from experienced consultants – with many also undertaking training while in post. There are numerous consulting courses to choose from, suitable for those who require a solid understanding of the theory, principles and tools of consulting to complement their industry experience. The Institute of Consulting (IC), an organisation within the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), is one example of a consultancy education provider. It aims to “support individuals whose collective impact is to enhance performance in small and large organisations across the private, public and voluntary sectors”, and focuses on professional and ethical conduct within consultancy, among other things.
Most consultant roles and recruiters require a degree-level qualification, though subject disciplines vary widely.
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