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4 Key Skills Consulting Firms Look For

by Charles Nwabueze
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The information found in this article is primarily for management consultants but can be applied to other kinds of consultants. 

Over the past few years, the consulting industry has witnessed a spike in pay packages awarded to consultants as the traditional big consulting firms fought a war for talent with tech firms. The traditional firms include the top three firms: McKinsey, Bain and Boston Consulting Group (BCG), known collectively as MBB. For example, in 2022, McKinsey paid their entry-level candidates (undergraduates) $108,000-$116,000. Bain paid $103,025-$109,025 while BCG candidates enjoyed $107,800-$113,800.  Experienced consultants at MBB are known for enjoying pay packages totalling over $200,000. Perhaps, because of this level of investment, top consulting firms can be quite selective when choosing people that will join their workforce. Thus, getting into MBB or the less prestigious firms can be quite difficult. According to managementconsulted.com, securing a position at MBB is more difficult than securing admission to top Ivy League schools. The figures are that only 3% of applicants are taken in by MBB compared to 6 per cent of applicants at top Ivy schools. 

Here are a few skills that you should have to make your application stand out when seeking consulting jobs. 

Academic Brilliance

By now – if you are familiar with our website – you will understand that at Congrapps we are big believers in the important role your academics play in you landing the job of your choice. So it should not be surprising to find us talking about academics here. Excellence in your academics shows the recruiter that you can think and understand ideas and information that is you possess the rigour to engage in intellectual stimulating tasks. Before your application can move past the first step of the application process, consulting recruiters will have to be satisfied that you possess the intellectual capacity to take on the intellectual challenges that will come about as a result of being a consultant. To date, there is no better way of displaying intellectual ability than through your academic ability – grades. If it’s not yet too late, I’ll advise you to put great effort into attaining the best grades you can. 

Commercial Awareness

Considering that the responsibilities of consultants include sharing their expertise and knowledge to help clients (organisations) in different sectors attain their goals and solve issues, be it the improvement of performance in the metrics of operations, management, risk, profitability and management. As such your ability to understand how businesses make money, what clients want, and what problems they face in their particular area of business will make you appealing to consulting firms. If you are clever that you can quickly understand the fundamentals of an industry and how it works and can display such feat in your application, then your application stands a great chance of excelling. To improve your commercial awareness you’ll need to develop a good grasp of different topics across a variety of industries – you can do this by researching issues affecting prominent industries. You do not need to be an expert in the matter you research; just being able to hold a conversation on that topic can go a long way. Another way is following the news; you must keep up-to-date with the news. It would be concerning if you were given a shot at an interview and you were asked about a trending topic but you could not offer an answer because you had no clue. Furthermore, engaging in work experience will also help you improve your commercial awareness.

Communication Skills

If you recall that I stated earlier that the responsibilities of consultants include sharing their expertise and knowledge to help businesses achieve different metrics and solve problems you will understand the importance of this skill. To share the said expertise, consultants must engage in a lot of communication, particularly the two major ones: verbal and written. With a host of consulting firms fighting to be the dominant force in the field any consulting firm you are applying to will be looking to see if you can keep the clients on their side by communicating clearly and effectively. Let’s say you book an appointment for a service – perhaps to get a haircut – will you not feel more confident to stay for the appointment or give up your money when the service dispenser through his/her speech shows that he/she is an expert. In the same way, you will be able to display effective and clear communication when through your communication clients can trust you and view you as an expert on their issues. But you might say I’m just entering the consulting career, how can I become an expert? The next skill is your answer.

Work Experience

You are already aware of how competitive the field of management consultancy is (if you’ve forgotten, have a look at the first paragraph of this article), as such participation in work experience – relevant ones – is essential to you gaining your dream job as a consultant. At Congrapps we believe that relevant work experience includes internships, placement opportunities, part-time jobs, volunteering and insight days. However, of all the aforementioned, insight days to a great extent are the least relevant because of their duration; a typical insight days program lasts for two days. If you have only two days of experience when it comes to the experience sector on your application you’ll find it difficult to convince an interviewer to pick you over someone that has a litany of experience. At the top of the pile for relevant experiences are internships and placements. Most firms use them to decide who to recruit into their graduate programmes. If at any time you have the opportunity of taking part in any of the just mentioned schemes please do take such opportunity even if it means taking a gap year for those considering engaging in placements which last for a year. Why do we favour these two? Well, the main reason is that both offer enough time for you to engage in the sector to determine if consulting role is for you and it also tells the consulting firm seeking to employ you that you have engaged in the sector for a reasonable period to know that this is the career path you want. However, do not panic if you do not have work experience with a consulting firm because relevant work experience need not be with a consulting firm. Part of relevancy in this situation is showing that you have engaged in other work experiences that have helped you decide you do not want to pursue that career. Essentially you should go for any work experience that will show a prospective employer that to the best of your ability you have made efforts to participate and figure out what career you want to commit to. 

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Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)

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