Because consultants, particularly at the top 3 strategy firms, don’t specialise in certain topics or industries until later in their careers many people might think they don’t know that much.
But because consultants are privy to top-level conversations in multiple industries, they do know a few things that most people wouldn’t.
Consultants have the brain tools to solve any problem
Consultants are obsessive about defining problems and breaking them apart. At the start of a project they’ll spend a lot of time figuring out what the problem really is and how it can be split up into its subcomponents.
If it’s profitability, you could look at revenues and costs; if it’s revenues, you could look at sales in Europe or the US; if it’s the US, you could look at product quantity or price; if it’s quantity, you could look at existing customers and new customers; and so on.
This immediately makes a problem much more tangible and therefore quicker to solve. As soon as you define a problem’s subcomponents, you can work out where the truth is most likely to lie and what you’ll need to know to figure it out.
Speak to a consultant who’s been around long enough and there’s even a fair chance they’ll think like structured flow charts, which can be a good thing when you’re trying to solve a problem in a short space of time.
As a result, being a consultant for even a short amount of time increases your resilience to the unknown because you feel more confident than most in approaching and solving problems outside your area of expertise.
Consultants story-ify data
Consultants know that data doesn’t mean anything until it tells a story, so they spend a lot of time making charts and often behind those charts lies hours of research and analysis.
That means they can’t waste their time making charts for the sake of it or throwing in data just because it’s vaguely interesting. They need to show how the data can lead to an insight that can change the way someone looks at things.
Consultants have an instinct for finding the story behind data. They know that the data isn’t just a bundle of numbers, but rather that it’s a representation of real life. And as with real life, sometimes the stories will be clear and straightforward and other times they’ll be complex and nuanced.
Consultants know feedback is important
Consultants are probably some of the most evaluated people in the world. They’ll have a formal evaluation every six months, be rated and scored on a set of metrics after every project, have weekly feedback sessions with their managers, and can be given on-the-fly corrections if they do something even moderately dumb.
This is unusual and unsettling at first. There aren’t many industries where you’ll sit down for thirty minutes or an hour every week or fortnight with a manager and talk through what you can do differently.
But it’s incredibly valuable. As with anything, if you want to get better you need to figure out what you’re doing well and what you’re doing less well, which is hard without straightforward feedback and coaching.
Outside of consulting, you often don’t know what you’re doing well and what you’re doing badly. And in reverse, there aren’t many industries where you can give feedback to your manager and see them do things differently as a result. It’s a powerful mechanism.
Consultants know the importance of team dynamics and how to optimise them
Teams change frequently at consulting firms. When every team gets together, they’ll typically go through a kick-off process more extensive and eccentric than you’ll see outside.
Among other things, you might talk about:
- Working styles: whether you’re a morning or an evening person, prefer working from home or client site, etc.
- Personality types: who’s more structured, detail-oriented, extraverted, etc.
- Skills you’re working on and what that means in terms of structuring the project
Every week or so, there might be check-in meetings to see how the team’s doing, what concerns people have, and how you might work better together.
What you learn is that this stuff matters. Nailing the project has a lot to do with the team gelling and working well with one another.
Consultants spend hours optimizing this—they have to form a team with entirely new people every month or two and work well with them—so they pick up a lot of tricks to make teams work effectively.
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