8 Key Consulting Skills Valued by Employers and Clients

In the United States, management consultants are paid more than $2 billion annually for their services. 1 A large portion of this money is used to purchase useless data and poorly carried out recommendations. 2 Clients must have a better understanding of what consulting assignments can achieve in order to lessen this waste. They must learn to set higher expectations for such advisers, who in turn must learn to meet them.

This article is the result of recent research on efficient consulting, which involved speaking with partners and officers of five reputable companies. It also comes from my experience mentoring new consultants, as well as from the numerous interactions and associations I’ve had with clients and consultants both domestically and internationally. These encounters inspire me to suggest a method for defining the goals of management consulting. Both parties are more likely to handle the engagement process satisfactorily when there is clarity regarding purpose.

A wide range of activities are included in management consulting, and the numerous firms and their members frequently define these practices quite differently. The professional’s area of expertise (such as competitive analysis, corporate strategy, operations management, or human resources) is one way to categorize the activities. But in reality, there are just as many variations between these categories as there are within them.

Although there is some controversy surrounding purpose 5, purposes 1 through 5 are generally regarded as legitimate purposes. The likelihood of management consultants explicitly addressing purposes 6 through 8 is lower, and clients are less likely to request them. But top companies and their clients are starting to approach lower-numbered purposes in a way that also takes into account the other objectives. It is preferable to think of objectives 6 through 8 as byproducts of earlier goals rather than as extra ones that only matter once the other goals have been accomplished. Even if they are not identified as explicit goals when the engagement starts, they are still crucial for successful consulting.

As one climbs the pyramid toward more challenging goals, they must become increasingly sophisticated and skilled in their management of the consultant-client relationship and consulting processes. The firm may have lost track of the line between what’s best for the client and what’s best for the consultant’s business when a professional attempts to change the purpose of an engagement when a change is not necessary. However, trustworthy consultants typically do not attempt to extend engagements or broaden their scope. The outsider’s first responsibility, no matter where on the pyramid the relationship begins, is to address the client’s request. Both parties might decide to switch to different objectives as needed.

Getting information may be the main reason people ask for help. Its compilation may involve market research, feasibility studies, cost analyses, surveys of consumer attitudes, and competitive industry or business structure analysis. The business may desire a consultant’s specialized knowledge or the firm’s more precise, current data. Alternatively, the business might not have the time or resources to develop the data internally.

Often information is all a client wants. But sometimes a client’s information needs are different from what the consultant is asked to provide. One CEO asked for an investigation into whether each vice president produced enough work to support a secretary. He reached out to some people, but they turned him down because they claimed that he already knew the solution and that an expensive study wouldn’t persuade the vice presidents anyhow.

“I frequently ask: What will you do with the information once you’ve got it? Many clients have never thought about that,” the consulting firm’s partner later remarked. Frequently, the client simply needs to utilize the data already at their disposal In any case, no outsider can provide useful findings unless they are aware of the purpose for the information’s request and the intended use. Additionally, consultants should ascertain what pertinent data is already available.

Questions from both sides that seem inappropriate shouldn’t be taken personally because they can be very helpful. Additionally, experts have a duty to look into the underlying requirements of their clients. As an accepted component of the engagement’s agenda, they must respond to data requests in a way that enables them to understand and address additional needs.

Managers often give consultants difficult problems to solve. For instance, a client might want advice on whether to make or buy a component, whether to buy or sell a business division, or whether to alter a marketing plan. Or, management might inquire about the best financial policies to implement, how to restructure the company to make it more flexible, or what the most workable solution to a problem with compensation, morale, productivity, internal communication, control, management succession, or another issue is.

Finding solutions to issues of this nature is undoubtedly a legitimate task. However, the consultant also has a duty to determine whether the issue at hand is the most pressing. Very frequently, the client needs the most assistance in defining the true problem; in fact, some authorities contend that executives who can precisely pinpoint the source of their problems do not require management consultants at all. Consequently, the consultant’s first task is to investigate the problem’s context. To do so, he or she might ask:

The initial description provided by the client shouldn’t be rejected or accepted by a management consultant too quickly. Let’s say the issue is low morale and subpar performance among hourly workers. The consultant may invest a lot of time studying symptoms without ever discovering causes if they blindly accept this definition. However, if a consultant dismisses this method of describing the issue too quickly, the consulting process could be stopped before it even gets started.

When possible, it is wiser to structure a proposal so that it concentrates on the client’s stated concern while also exploring related issues, which can sometimes be delicate issues that the client is well aware of but finds it difficult to discuss with an outsider. The issue might be reframed as the two parties cooperate Instead of asking, “Why do we have poor hourly attitudes and performance?,” the question might change to, “Why do we have a poor process-scheduling system and low levels of trust within the management team?” Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter Management Tip of the Day Useful, immediate management advice to help you do your job more effectively.

Therefore, an effective consulting process entails working with the issue as it has been defined by the client in a way that more accurate definitions naturally surface as the engagement develops. Since the majority of clients—like people generally—are ambivalent about their need for assistance with their most pressing issues, the consultant must adeptly address the client’s implicit needs. The definition of the most important problem may change as the study goes on, and client managers should be aware of this. Consultants often need to explore a problem before attempting to solve it. Even the most impatient client will probably concur that neither a solution to the incorrect problem nor a solution that won’t be put into practice are helpful.

The value of management consultants is largely derived from their skill as diagnosticians. However, the method by which an accurate diagnosis is made occasionally causes strains in the consultant-client relationship because managers are frequently afraid of uncovering challenging situations for which they might be held accountable. Examining the external environment, the business’ technology and economics, and the behavior of non-managerial team members is not sufficient for competent diagnosis. The consultant must also inquire as to why executives made certain decisions that now seem foolish or neglected certain elements that now seem crucial.

Although the need for an independent diagnosis is frequently given as justification for hiring outside help, including clients’ organization personnel in the diagnostic procedure makes sense. One consultant explains: “We typically insist that clients be included on the project team. They, not us, must do the detail work. We’ll help, we’ll push—but they’ll do it. While this is happening, we meet with the chairman once a week and speak with the CEO for an hour or two each day about the issues that are emerging.

It is obvious that clients who participate in the diagnostic process are more likely to accept a revised definition of the consultant’s role and to acknowledge their role in problems. Therefore, top companies set up mechanisms like joint client-consultant task forces to work on data analysis and other aspects of the diagnostic process. Managers naturally start implementing corrective action as the process progresses, without having to wait for official recommendations.

The engagement typically comes to an end with a written report or oral presentation that highlights what the consultant has learned and makes specific recommendations to the client. Companies spend a lot of time and effort designing their reports so that the data is presented clearly, the analysis is presented clearly, and the recommendations are convincingly related to the diagnosis that they are based on. Many people would probably say that the professional’s presentation of a consistent, logical action plan of steps intended to improve the diagnosed problem fulfills the purpose of the engagement. The client chooses whether and how to implement the recommendations made by the consultant.

This arrangement is in many ways simple and inadequate, even though it may seem like a sensible division of labor. Numerous reports that appear to be convincing and that have been submitted at great expense have no real impact because the relationship ends with the formulation of theoretically sound recommendations that cannot be implemented due to limitations outside the consultant’s assumed bailiwick.

For instance, a nationalized utility in a developing nation spent years trying to increase efficiency through more stringent financial oversight of its decentralized operations. A professor from the top management school in the nation recently completed a thorough analysis of the utility and submitted 100 pages of recommendations. The CEO claimed that this guidance disregarded significant roadblocks, including employment laws, state and local government relations, and civil service regulations. Consequently, the report was placed on the client’s bookshelf next to two other costly and unfinished reports by renowned global consulting firms. More frequently than management consultants like to acknowledge, and not just in developing nations

In cases like these, each side blames the other. There are explanations offered, such as “my client lacks the ability or courage to take the necessary steps” or “this consultant did not assist in converting objectives into actions.” “Almost all of the managers I spoke with about their interactions with clients complained about the recommendations being too practical. Additionally, consultants frequently accuse clients of lacking the common sense to take the obvious actions. Sadly, this way of thinking might prompt the client to look for yet another player to play the game with again. Roles are not strictly defined in the most effective relationships; formal recommendations should be free of surprises if the client helped create them and the consultant is concerned with their implementation.

There is a great deal of disagreement within the profession regarding the consultant’s proper place in implementation. Some contend that one who assists in putting recommendations into practice assumes the role of manager and thereby goes beyond consulting’s acceptable boundaries. Some people feel that those who only see implementation as the client’s responsibility lack a professional attitude because recommendations that are not implemented (or are implemented poorly) are a waste of time and money. There are many ways the consultant can help with implementation without taking over the manager’s duties, just as the client can participate in diagnosis without devaluing the consultant’s role.

A consultant will typically request a second engagement to assist with the installation of a suggested new system. However, if the process up to this point has not been collaborative, the client may reject a request for implementation assistance simply because it represents such a sharp change in the nature of the relationship. An ongoing process of building trust and cooperation is necessary for effective work on implementation issues.

Any successful engagement requires the consultant to continuously work to understand which recommendations are most likely to be implemented and which situations call for people to act differently. Recommendations may only include actions that the consultant thinks will be successfully implemented. Some people might believe that using such tact amounts to telling a client only what they want to hear. In fact, an ongoing conundrum for seasoned consultants is whether to advocate for what they believe to be right or what they believe will be accepted. But there is little point in recommending actions that will not be taken if the assignment’s goals include developing organizational effectiveness, fostering learning, and fostering commitment.

Implementation is viewed as the primary concern, which affects how the professional conducts themselves throughout the engagement. The consultant queries how information will be used and what steps have already been taken to acquire it when a client requests it. Then, he or she decides, in collaboration with representatives of the client organization, which steps the business is prepared to take and how to begin additional actions. By asking questions that are action-oriented, frequently discussing progress made, and including team members from the organization, an adviser continuously increases support for the implementation phase.

As a result, managers should be willing to test out new practices throughout an engagement and not wait until the project is complete before starting to implement change. When innovations succeed, they are institutionalized more successfully than when they are just suggested without any evidence of their worth. To truly be effective, implementation must be accompanied by client members learning new problem-solving techniques and developing their readiness and commitment to change. How well both parties comprehend and manage the process of the entire engagement will determine how well these goals are accomplished.

People are much more likely to adopt and institutionalize innovations that have been proven successful than suggestions that are only made in writing. The results of experiments with implementing procedures during a project rather than after the assignment is finished have been very positive. In conclusion, consensus, commitment, and novel management strategies are all necessary for effective implementation.

TALK LIKE A CONSULTANT – Top down communication explained (management consulting skills)

8 examples of key consulting skills

As a consultant, you’ll probably spend your days gathering information, creating a plan, and delivering it to companies that are looking for your advice. The following abilities support you with each of those steps:

1. Creative thinking

In industries like art, writing, graphic design, and food, creativity is of utmost importance. Although it may not seem like other industries would value creativity, the definition extends beyond simply creating art. Thinking creatively inspires individuals to develop concepts that go beyond the conventional and generally accepted methods of approaching their industry’s business. It promotes idea-generating sessions and welcoming everyone’s input.

2. Thinking conceptually and practically

Conceptual thinking suggests you are visionary and innovative. You may possess a keen sense of intuition or the capacity to elicit ideas from people who struggle to put abstract ideas into words. In order to encourage conceptual thinking and the creation of motivating touchstones for the company to believe in, you might pose challenging questions during a session of group brainstorming.

Once your vision is established, your ability to think practically will enable you to assist others in turning their vision into actionable items and deliverables. You might contribute to the creation of a detailed plan that sharpens a company’s focus. You can assist in breaking down projects into their component parts and assigning tasks based on general concepts that have been specially tailored for your client.

3. Problem-solving

You might be asked to provide advice or expertise when permanent employees do. Your job may frequently require you to solve problems, possibly without having much information about the problems you might face beforehand. Depending on the type of consultant you are, you might be in charge of mediating disputes between coworkers, helping a self-employed person or woman to create a business plan, examining a company’s bookkeeping procedures, or giving training in a variety of subjects.

One of the most valuable skills you can have is the ability to listen intently to the concerns that the employees present to you and to respond quickly and thoughtfully to help propose solutions.

4. Communicating clearly and empathetically

Once you have answers to a company’s problems, the recipients should value your capacity to convey them in a clear, succinct, and sympathetic manner. When you are willing to hear how a problem is affecting the employees personally as opposed to just the financial or production bottom line, you are displaying empathy.

For instance, if your consultancy aims to increase restaurant efficiency, the cooks, servers, hostesses, and kitchen staff will be the ones to implement your recommendations. They are more likely to respond favorably and accept the work they need to do when you can be kind and understanding while outlining the changes those employees need to make.

5. Collaboration with all job levels

The board of a company, senior management, or a particular department within a company may hire you as a consultant. When collaborating with stakeholders and team members who will carry out a plan, it will be beneficial to have a sense of confidence. You will succeed in any situation if you have poise, politeness, friendliness, excellent listening skills, and public speaking abilities.

6. Organization and time management

Their time will be just as valuable as yours when a business hires a consultant to assist with a restructuring or a problem. Even though meetings are probably a necessary part of the process, you can respect people’s time by conducting them quickly and effectively. To keep a meeting on track, you could collaborate with attendees in advance to create an agenda and exercise good manners while remaining firm.

You might suggest keeping meetings to the bare minimum, especially during the planning stages when you define the parameters of your consulting project. To confidently present your ideas and prevent delays, thoroughly prepare for meetings and have any electronic presentations and documents available.

7. Curiosity

Given that consultants deal with a variety of clients, being curious can help you gather the knowledge you need to do your job well. Asking thoughtful, targeted questions and then paying close attention to the responses are all parts of being curious. It also enables you to comprehend how each company fits into the larger scheme of its industry and the ways in which a company might be innovating its philosophy or its product.

If management and employees at the organization you were hired to assist lack curiosity, you might be able to encourage employees to investigate their industry from a point of curiosity and assist them in developing the right questions to ask of themselves and about the practices of competitors.

8. Credibility

Your expertise in the field and your reputation as someone who has benefited businesses and individuals in real and quantifiable ways are likely to serve as foundations for your credibility as a consultant. Beyond those requirements, you can increase your credibility by getting more education, obtaining any certifications, creating a personal website, or creating a profile on a website for professionals that lists your qualifications.

You could launch your own advice podcast, volunteer to appear as a guest on an established podcast, or write a book or academic paper to share your thoughts and business philosophies. Client endorsements will demonstrate how well you interact with real people.

What are management consulting skills?

Good consultants show abilities that provide precise information to help a business solve a problem or improve a process. By actively seeking out opportunities to learn and advance your business acumen on a personal level, you can develop these skills throughout your career experience.

How to improve consulting skills

Working as a consultant on a regular basis will help you hone your abilities. If you take a close look at how you interact with people on a daily basis, you can see where you excel and where you could use some assistance. Here are some ways to improve your skills:

1. Hire a consultant

You probably know consultants from various industries who exhibit some of the abilities you want to develop. Establish a training program or mentoring relationship where they can share their knowledge by explaining how they learned their skills.

2. Take a consulting course

Many professional organizations offer training courses that culminate in certifications. Look for courses covering the topics you are most interested in, and research whether earning a certification from a particular body will help you land new jobs or clients.

3. Increase your exposure

Instead of always using the same type of consulting, you could try taking on a variety of clients. You will be exposed to new things through each new experience, which can help you broaden your knowledge. By identifying your greatest strengths, you can build a career.

4. Study the words of experts

Numerous knowledgeable consultants share their advice on how to advance your skills in scholarly articles, books, and video talks. Find people whose philosophies and competencies align with your professional objectives and learn their techniques and advice.

How to apply consulting skills in the workplace

Here are some examples of how to use your key consulting abilities when working with clients as you continue to hone them:

Think creatively

One aspect of your job as a consultant may be to combine different employee perspectives and ideas into a fresh approach to business operations. Your ability to think creatively may encourage others to do the same, foster teamwork, and spark original ideas that the business can use after you have finished working there.

Collaborate with everyone

When managed by a strong leader, which may be a natural fit for your position as a consultant, collaboration works well. A good leader does not dominate a conversation, but rather invites participation and keeps it on topic while avoiding unwarranted digressions.

Assert yourself

Since you work as a consultant, people frequently view you as the area expert. By stating your knowledge and outlining your professional development, you can back up your confidence.

Be dependable

Follow through on the tasks you say you will do. When questioned, respond with information, and if necessary, return to your research later. Respect deadlines and make an effort to use your skills in each different situation.

How to highlight consulting skills

The skills you acquire are an important part of describing yourself when applying for consulting jobs and when getting ready for interviews. Here are some ways to highlight those skills:

Consulting skills for resume and cover letter

For a potential consulting job, your soft skills should be highlighted prominently in both your cover letter and resume. You might think about describing them with concrete examples rather than listing them under a heading. This method demonstrates how you were able to use them in your work. Include specific figures or descriptions that will aid the hiring manager in understanding your role, if at all possible.

Example: “I organized speakers, mock projects, and meals for a two-day marketing retreat for a team of 25 trainees. I led a Q&A session after my training session on project management software during the retreat. Our scheduled team-building activity had to be changed at the last minute due to unforeseen weather, but I was able to adapt and prepare a new activity that ultimately turned out to be very effective. ”.

Consulting skills for the job interview

You can answer interview questions with specific applications and examples, even if the question starts out more general and philosophical, just as you might modify a cover letter and resume to highlight soft skills.


Interview question: “What does collaboration mean to you?”

In my opinion, effective teamwork occurs when all participants approach a project with an open mind to the ideas and viewpoints of all team members. It works best when everyone values each other’s individual skill sets and listens more than they compete for attention. I recently served as the mediator for a team that was having communication issues during a brainstorming session. The team discussed their frustrations and came up with a plan for their project through some conflict-resolution exercises and giving everyone a chance to speak. ”.


What are some consulting skills?

8 examples of key consulting skills
  • Creative thinking.
  • Thinking conceptually and practically.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Communicating clearly and empathetically.
  • Collaboration with all job levels.
  • Organization and time management.
  • Curiosity.
  • Credibility.

What is the most important skills in consulting?

Management & Operations Consulting Skills Systems thinking. Process optimization. Attention to detail. Solving complex problems.

What skills do consultants gain?

11 key skills consulting firms look for
  • Academic Success. Academic success is essential for top roles in Consulting.
  • Work Experience. …
  • Leadership and Initiative. …
  • Perfect Presentation. …
  • Consulting Fit. …
  • Commercial Awareness. …
  • A Natural Communicator. …
  • Self-awareness.

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