Qualities and skills that consulting recruiters look for in graduates

When hiring for management consultant positions, graduate recruiters look for specific skills. It's a popular career, and they have a lot of options, so they narrow it down by looking for students who already have the skills that successful consultants have. These are the candidates who are most likely to fit in quickly, make an impact, and ultimately provide the best service to clients. That means you must demonstrate management consulting skills in your application. That's not as difficult as it sounds: if you look at our list, you'll notice that you already have many of them - and we've included easy-to-follow tips from recruiters at major consulting firms on how to demonstrate your consulting skills in applications and interviews.

What qualities distinguish a good consultant? The top 12 abilities and characteristics

We analyzed graduate consulting jobs on targetjobs.co.uk for trends in what firms are looking for, and we spoke with recruiters at key consulting firms about the skills they require.

1. Tenacity

According to our research, this was the most requested management consultant skill (or rather quality) by recruiters. This is not surprising: you may be compensated appropriately, but consultants are expected to go above and beyond to deliver for clients, which requires determination and drive. In your application, show that you can persevere when things get tough by describing long-term projects you've worked on or challenges you've overcome. Mention any challenges you faced and how you overcame them.

2. Outstanding communication abilities

Consultants must be able to communicate clearly and effectively with a diverse range of people. 'Whether you're discussing insights with your team, presenting to a client, or writing a formal report, your credibility as a consultant depends on clear communication,' say the recruitment experts at FTI Consulting. 'It is not enough to have the technical expertise to solve complex problems; you must also be able to translate your work into clear, simple insights that non-specialists can quickly understand.' 'Interviews, group exercises, and case studies are used to assess written and oral communication skills throughout the recruitment process.' Learn how to improve your communication abilities.

3. Commercial consciousness

Commercial awareness is the understanding of how economic factors affect businesses and the industries in which they operate. Consultants require this skill in order to develop solutions that take economic issues into account. Investigate the company, its specializations, recent projects, and competitors. Combine this with staying current on what is going on in the wider economy and political world, as these events will have an impact on consultancy clients. You can use your commercial awareness when participating in case study interviews with consulting firms or when answering typical consulting interview questions like 'What do you know about us?' ' and 'What is the most significant challenge that our firm (or our clients) will face in the next three years?'

4. Organizational abilities

According to our research, this is yet another top skill mentioned in graduate consultant job postings. Consulting is a fast-paced industry, so you must be able to effectively manage your own and others' time. Demonstrate your organizational abilities by providing examples of times when you juggled work, study, and extracurricular activities. Prepare to discuss this in greater depth in an interview and practice your responses ahead of time. What methods did you employ to manage your time? What worked for you, and why?

5. Critical thinking abilities

The ability to evaluate information objectively and see connections between ideas are referred to as critical thinking. Consultants deal with a lot of data, so being able to spot trends is essential.
'NERA's clients value our ability to apply and communicate cutting-edge approaches in a clear and convincing manner, as well as our commitment to delivering unbiased findings and our reputation for quality and independence,' says Emma Cairns, senior manager, human capital, NERA Economic Consulting.
'We need critical and independent thinkers who can effectively analyze data and draw conclusions based on evidence, even if the results are unexpected.' During the interview, you can demonstrate this by breaking down the information based on the data available and drawing logical conclusions based on the facts.'

6. Analytical abilities

Analytical skills are closely related to critical thinking: essentially, analytical skills are the ability to identify and make sense of patterns and trends in information. Data isn't always quantitative, and you don't have to be studying a STEM subject to develop analytical skills; you're likely to have acquired them through the independent study required for any degree. Your analytical skills are most likely to be assessed through a case study interview or a situational judgement test, in which you must make decisions based on the information provided - and the best way to approach both of these recruitment exercises is to practice them. However, if you are asked during an interview, "How many tennis balls can you fit in a Mini Cooper?" ' or 'What would you advise a client to do in X situation?' 'Be sure to explain your reasoning when you respond.

7. Listening and persuasion skills

Consultants must be able to carefully listen to clients in order to determine what they require, and then instil confidence in clients that the solutions they propose are the best ones. Working with others to get things done is also part of the job, so getting people on board is essential.
'Retail strategy consulting is about delivering evidence-led insights to clients,' says Javelin Group recruiters.
'During an interview, candidates should demonstrate their ability to listen carefully to information and opinions and critically assess their validity.' Candidates must also have the confidence to offer their own insights to the team and persuade them of their logic in a constructive manner. Case study interviews, particularly those involving group work, provide an opportunity for candidates to demonstrate a persuasive, logical approach, taking other people's arguments and any new information into consideration throughout. These skills are also referred to as influencing; learn how to influence and inspire confidence in others.

8. Teamwork abilities

You will be part of a team as a junior consultant. But good teamwork entails more than just working with others; it entails working effectively with them. There are numerous ways to demonstrate this skill, including group projects, sports you've participated in, art activities, or committees you've served on. Consider your role and how it contributed to the final outcome.

9. Enthusiasm

'A consultant's role is primarily client-facing,' says Catriona Dickson, senior HR generalist at Alfa. 'As a result, a client's perception of and investment in the company for which you work can be greatly influenced by their interaction with you and the manner in which you come across. You can show enthusiasm throughout the interview process by demonstrating a willingness to learn and an interest in the field to which you are applying; talking about one of your passions; maintaining positive body language and tone, and asking the interviewer interesting questions.' The best way to demonstrate enthusiasm early in the process is to make sure your cover letter or application form responses are tailored and well-researched, explicitly explaining why you want to work as a consultant at their firm.

10. Paying close attention to detail

A mistake in a client document can cost a lot of money, so management consultants must be able to see the details as well as the big picture. Show that you can do this by making sure your application is error-free. Allow time to ask a friend or family member to proofread the documents you're submitting rather than relying on spellchecks or your own ability to spot typos (they're especially difficult to spot in your own work). If you know you struggle with writing, give yourself a little more time to ensure your application is flawless.

11. Problem-solving abilities

Because consulting is all about problem-solving, it's no surprise that recruiters look for students and graduates who can do so. You're likely to have developed problem-solving skills through your studies and participation in extracurricular activities, as with many other requirements for a consulting job. That means that many of the people applying for consulting jobs alongside you will have these skills as well, so think of a good example to include in your application and discuss during the interview. When outlining the problem and how you solved it, remember to emphasize your contribution rather than the contributions of others. You should also go over as many practice case studies as you can find on your careers service and employer websites to hone your problem-solving approach. Learn problem-solving interview questions as well as a key problem-solving approach.

12. Adaptability

Management consultants work in an ever-changing environment. To meet deadlines and clients' expectations, they must be able to quickly adapt to new situations and information. Look for examples from your studies, travel, work experience, or extracurricular activities that demonstrate your ability to not only adapt but also thrive on change, such as times when you had to change your plans. Learn what employers mean when they ask for adaptability in a candidate.

What role do soft skills play for a consultant?

As you can see from the list above, many of the required skills and qualities are soft skills - that is, ones that allow a person to connect effectively with others and can be applied to a variety of situations. These are critical because they ensure that you are regarded as a trustworthy colleague and that clients trust you. They are also abilities that can be developed through study, work experience, and extracurricular activities. Use our list to identify any gaps in your knowledge. You can then devise a strategy for acquiring them, whether through internships, part-time work, your degree, or extracurricular activities.

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