Consulting advice: Get smart quickly

By | April 12, 2014

You cannot know everything. As consultants, clients know more about their business than you do. Fact. However, we have the logical structuring, resources, focus, and objectivity to do great work. It’s a life-saving skill to get smart quickly on the topic, client and competitor. You need to be a fast study.

I conducted 5 interviews for consultants yesterday.  1 was solid, 4 were weak. While there is no strict formula for good management consultants, there are a few prerequisite things that we test for in case interviews:

  • Logical structuring – asking good questions? building a business narrative?
  • Communications – good listener?  articulate? personable and persuasive?
  • Energy level – are they a bore?  could they handle a 7:30am client meeting?
  • Curiosity – are they picking up on cues?  are they enjoying the case?  learning?

Management consulting is for learnersManagement consulting is a unique profession where is it okay to not know the answer at the beginning of the project. Not all projects are unique and strategic, but there is always something to learn – whether it has to do with the client’s industry, team management or your own leadership style. If you are not learning, you are dying as a professional consultant.

Read. There is no other way to get around this. Take an interest in your client and industry, even if temporarily during the project. If they have an earnings announcement, you should be the first one on your project to know. Search for podcasts on the topic. Trust me, there are obscure podcasts on every imaginable topic from cars, chemicals, cardiology, critical conversations, and the capital asset pricing model.

Get smart quickly. As advice to all consultants, it’s good to get smart on the topic before the project starts. Do the industry research. Look for best practices. Interview subject matter experts. Dig into previous project deliverables. Read the Economist.

Depending on the partner on the project, it is permissible to be a little “green” on the subject for the first week or two of the project. It’s expected and a known fact that they are staffing you in stretch roles; after all, if we weren’t doing new things, we are the type of people to be bored. Naturally, you should not embarrass the team in front of the client by asking stupid questions, but there is temporary grace for a few days, or week.

Spend money on books. I typically spend about $200 a year on books related to client work. This is a personal expense as the client should not pay for me getting smart on their business. On one project I was learning the ins-outs of how companies hire outside counsel legal firms, and bought some of the books you see below. The only time that these books left my home, or hotel room, I had them wrapped in brown paper, as if I were a frugal student who was planning to re-sell my books back to the bookstore.

Getting Smart

Advice to newbie consultants. I love teaching consulting and some of the advice to analysts and consultants this year related to content expertise looks like this:

  • Think deeply about the project. What are the core questions?
  • Use Google to answer stupid questions. Don’t waste the partner or client’s time.
  • Be resourceful. Proactively reach out to your network to get smart on the topic
  • Read about the topic: corporate executive board, analyst reports, everything
  • Use the data to drive hypotheses. What is the data saying?
  • Find similar projects, presentations, pdf online.  Slideshare.  search: pdf
  • Write your findings down. Re-sort them into buckets and make it MECE.
  • Use finviz to survey the industry’s financial ratios

What other advice do you have for consultants to get smart quickly?

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One thought on “Consulting advice: Get smart quickly

  1. jefmiles

    Great post here, I’ve often considered moving into the consulting game however I know the hours probably wouldn’t do it for me..

    I know they are remunerated well but I’d rather focus on building my own personal brand.. Love your passion for consulting though 🙂

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