What key skills do graduates need to impress future employers? Richard Stewart, founder of consultancy recruitment firm Mindbench, advises on the competencies you need to poses in order to become a successful consultant. He discusses how to develop these skills as well as how to demonstrate them throughout the consultancy application process.
Do I need a degree?
Consulting firms all generally require candidates to hold a degree. Most do not specify which discipline a candidate must come from but they typically expect an upper second or a first class degree. Some consulting firms with a highly analytical focus prefer that candidates have a degree which is quantitative in nature such as engineering, maths or science. It is worth bearing in mind that a number of the big consulting firms are now abolishing their entry requirements and placing more emphasis on individual behaviours and values than traditional academic routes.
Are there any other entry requirements?
Certain consulting firms require candidates to be fluent in particular foreign languages. This is because the scope of their work includes several countries and business proficiency in the local language helps to engage with clients. Consulting firms generally insist that a candidate is a UK or European national or has the right to work in the UK. Some of the larger firms are willing to sponsor individual work visas for candidates on a case by case basis.
What key skills are employers looking for?
Firms are looking for a blend of demonstrable competencies and attributes.
- Logical thinking and problem solving: Firms need candidates who can structure a problem logically and come up with a reasoned solution with the available data points. They should also be able to create estimates where the data doesn’t exist already.
- Analytical capability: Most firms are looking for graduates with a high level of numeracy, who can think on their feet. It doesn’t mean that they need advanced maths, but they do need to be able to do simple calculations quickly in their head without a calculator, and be able to ‘sense check’ the answer to know if it is reasonable given the circumstances.
- Leadership: Consulting firms are looking for their consultants to take clients on what can be a difficult journey. They are also on an accelerated development path internally, which means that they will quickly be managing more junior members of staff. Employers therefore look for nascent leadership potential in their hires.
- Ability to work well under pressure: Consulting work can be unpredictable and is often situated far away from the base office at a client’s site. This can cause pressures beyond most industry roles, which are usually at a fixed location.
- Communication skills: Consulting firms work across sectors and at different levels of an organisation. They may require consultants to work on the factory floor or in the boardroom. Employers therefore need consultants who can interface well with different audiences and have a clear communication style, building trust easily.
- Technical skills: Some consulting firms require an advanced level of data modelling skills. This could involve advanced Excel, VBA or SQL. For consulting work which involves implementation, programming languages such as C# or mobile, and big data languages such as Hadoop and Python are becoming more popular as well.
How can I develop these skills?
The best way to demonstrate these skills is through undertaking internships at consulting firms. This will show that the candidate has a clear interest in the profession whilst simultaneously testing out capability. Internships at blue chip industry firms and extracurricular activities which demonstrate initiative and involve team based work, such as running sports events or charities, are also useful. Technical skills can be learned through courses at university, and can be taken further through internships and business start-ups. Relevant experience can also be gained on problem solving and logical thinking by undertaking appropriate case study review. You can search current consultancy internship vacancies here.
How can I demonstrate these skills within an application/interview?
In the CV and cover letter there is normally space to summarise any relevant skills. Some online application forms will also ask for information on these areas. One stage of the interview process will normally focus on competencies; candidates should thoroughly research employers beforehand to find out what specific competencies they expect candidates to hold. The skills will typically be tested out as well through case study interviews and sometimes also through maths tests, technical tests and group exercises. You can find case study interview tips here.
Any other advice?
Don’t just apply to the major firms – search for the smaller consulting firms on the internet, particularly looking at those that work in the sectors and functional areas that most interest you. You can also find many of the smaller firms listed on the MCA’s website as members. Speak to alumni who have worked at the firms to find out more about what it is really like to work there. If you are working with recruiters, check for any information they have on the interview process and what the specific skills and aptitudes the firm wants you to demonstrate during the interview are.