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What management consultants know that most people don’t

An important part of the work that management consultants do, particularly at top-tier firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain, is participating in conversations with senior executives about complex problems in a wide range of sectors and industries. As a result, consultants quickly gain a huge amount of insight that would take those in other professions years to accumulate. It’s one of the reasons why there are so many attractive exit opportunities available to former consultants. Here’s an overview of the unique and valuable insight they gain during their time in consulting.

Consultants have the intellectual 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 sub-components.

If the problem is about profitability, for example, it could be broken down into revenues and costs. Revenues could be considered through the lens of either sales in Europe or sales in the US. Sales in the US could be considered through the lens of either product quantity or price. Product quantity could be considered through the lens of either existing customers or new customers, and so on.

This way of thinking about a problem immediately makes it more tangible and therefore quicker to solve. As soon as consultants define a problem’s sub-components, they can work out where the truth is most likely to lie and what they’ll need to know and do in order to reach a solution.

As a result, consultants are extremely resilient when it comes to facing ambiguous or complex problems, including those that are outside their area of expertise.

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Consultants use data to tell stories

Consultants know that data doesn’t mean anything until it can tell a story, and they often have an instinct for finding that story. After sourcing data, they usually conduct hours of additional research and analysis in order to create a chart that shows how the data leads to a meaningful insight.

For consultants, data isn’t a bundle of numbers but a representation of real life and, as with real life, some stories are clear and straightforward, while others are more complex and nuanced.

Consultants know that feedback is important

Consultants are probably some of the most evaluated people in the world. In addition to having a formal performance review every six months, they’re rated and scored on a set of metrics after every project. They also have weekly feedback sessions with their managers and can be given additional ad-hoc corrections on their work at any time.

At first, this can feel unusual and unsettling; there aren’t many industries in which such regular and detailed can be expected. However, consultants soon come to understand that this is incredibly valuable, as the feedback provides them with the clear insight they need to improve their performance.

Consultants understand the importance of team dynamics

At McKinsey, BCG and Bain, consultants join a new project team every month or two. As a result, they quickly become comfortable with the concept of teams changing frequently. They also have an appreciation of the importance of team dynamics.

When a new project team gets together, there is usually an extensive kick-off process, in which consultants meet their new teammates and discuss:

  • their working styles (e.g. who is a morning or an evening person, who prefers working from home or working from the client’s site)
  • their personality (e.g. who in the team is more structured, detail-oriented or extraverted)
  • the skills each person is working on and what that could mean for the project

Once the project is underway, there are usually weekly check-in meetings where team members can update each other on progress, share any concerns and suggest optimizations that could help the team operate more effectively.

Consultants come to learn that this stuff all matters. Nailing the project has a great deal to do with team members gelling and working well with one another.

If a career in management consulting sounds like it might be right for you, you can learn more in our complete guide to the management consulting industry. And if you’re preparing to apply to a top consulting firm, the resume and cover letter templates and specialized advice in our Free Resume Course will help you get your application in great shape.

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