Broadly speaking, a consultant is usually defined as a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area or a specialised field. While there are no clear indicators as to how much experience or breadth of skill does one need to qualify as a consultant, the basic requirement for this position is usually a formal tertiary education followed by a few years of working experience within the industry.
So, how does a fresh graduate get hired in the consulting field? After all, most young graduates are fresh out of college and would only have minimal working experience. At best, they may have a few internships, part-time jobs or voluntary work under their belts, and at worst, they would have none at all.
With that said, Alvin Gan has a few tips to share to fresh graduates who are interested in pursuing a career as a consultant. While you may not obtain a job as a consultant straight off the bat, you may start by exploring the waters, gaining the necessary skills as well as casting your net in the industry.
Skill #1: Be communicable!
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that our offering to our clients are solely focused on our advice and not so much on our tools or systems. Hence, to build a career in the consulting field, a person first needs to have good communication skills as we are required to be articulate. Possessing a clear thought process in advising our clients is essential too.
Skill #2: Be creative!
At the same time, we need to be creative in the way we approach our clients as every client will have different needs based on their environment. We have to tailor make our recommendations and not just have a one size fits all solution. These days, our clients are faced with numerous challenges in the industry, so we need to be creative and innovative in solving or addressing these situations that our clients are in.
Skill #3: Be analytical!
Consultants are trained to dive deep into comprehending the client’s needs and to benchmark against leading practices so that we can offer a better approach that the client can take to address their needs. What really distinguishes a good consultant from a great one is the ability to not only focus on the tasks at hand, but also to think critically about the work. Can you problem solve? I hope so, because the answer may be easy, but the execution is not always as simple.
Skill #4: Be knowledgeable!
The word ‘consultant’ carries with it many dependencies. For example, you may be good at a specific service, but you will need to augment that with industry knowledge as well. On top of that, with technologies and communication tools rapidly advancing, you will need to keep yourself updated and try to incorporate these points into your advice. Don’t forget risk factors as well, especially these days where individuals or organisations are increasingly exposed to various threats like cybercrime, etc.
Skill #5: Be a specialist!
Lastly, be sure to research the area of consultancy that you want to specialise in. You wouldn’t want to be the person who goes to a ladder, works really, really hard to climb up to the top, only to discover that you have been climbing up the wrong ladder. Providing expert advice that will assist our clients goes a long way – not only for you as a consultant, but more importantly, for the client in meeting their business needs. For this reason, you should try to understand as many areas or fields before choosing to focus on a niche area that you want to specialise in.
Exercises for consultants!
To better illustrate my point, I would like to bring up one of our training sessions where we started the session by playing the video of the ‘Macarena’ song, followed by minimal instructions. After the video ended, each teams started performing their own dance, which led to various performances. At the end of the exercise, we asked the team if they were clear on what they were supposed to do, which of course, was not the case. The point of this exercise is to demonstrate the ambiguity that we experience in meeting the needs of our clients when we do not probe further into what is required.
In a second run of the same ‘Macarena’ exercise, we changed some of members of the team instead, and as a result, a majority of these teams were not able to function as well as planned. This time, we wanted consultants to understand that changes is common in reality, and as consultants, we must be trained to adapt quickly and to use all resources available to us. Stuff happens and things change. Successful consultants need to be able to foresee multiple solutions, and to be ready to think on their feet and improvise when challenged.