The Key Soft Skills Consulting Firms Hire For – and Develop

The Key Soft Skills Consulting Firms Hire For – and Develop

The consulting industry is famous for the hard skills it demands of its employees, especially at the entry levels. Can you build an Excel model? Are you a PowerPoint whiz? Do you know your financial ratios? This shows up in the application process through the case interview, which is itself a hard skill to be learned and practiced.

But soft skills are just as important in consulting, and they become even more important over time as you rise through the ranks of a consulting firm. You’ll be expected to demonstrate strong soft skills in your interviews – and in return, once you accept your offer, you can expect your firm to provide unparalleled on-the-job training that up-levels your soft skills, too.

We all know about general soft skills that the business world values: communication skills, teamwork skills, and time management skills. But let’s get under the hood of which soft skills consulting firms are specifically looking for.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Key soft skills consulting firms look for.
  • Why these soft skills matter in consulting – and how much you’ll learn.
  • How to get ahead of the game and see what firms value most.
  • 4 top tips for demonstrating your soft skills in the case and fit interviews.

Let’s get started!

Key Soft Skills Consulting Firms Look For

Key Soft Skills Consulting Firms Look For

Top management consulting firms set a high bar for soft skills. Consulting is a full-contact sport. Creating impact doesn’t only depend on intellectual ability, but also on readiness to work well with people and to influence decisions. As such, top consulting firms coach and evaluate their staff on soft skills such as:

1. Influencing skills

  • Stakeholder alignment: Major business decisions require the alignment of multiple stakeholders (e.g., sales and product need to agree on rolling out new products). For a consultant to develop an impactful recommendation, they’ll need the input and approval of professionals from different backgrounds. As such, consultants learn to consider and synthesize input from multiple stakeholders, to communicate problems from the other person’s perspective, and to act as an independent voice in the boardroom.
  • Storytelling: People remember stories. They rarely
    recall data points even though those data points are critical to support
    the narrative. Consultants are trained to communicate recommendations
    in a compelling and coherent way.
  • Presentation: To gain the trust of top executives
    and leaders, consultants must present as confident and credible. They
    are expected to prepare for any possible question, and to demonstrate
    confidence through body language and tonality.
  • Framing: There’s rarely one right solution to business problems – they’re instead about judgment. A consultant must lay out a solution in a way that resonates with the client. For example, say a client wants to grow their business internationally and is unsure about the best approach to the problem. A consultant may suggest the following:
    • Comparable companies typically expand organically or through acquisition.
    • Organic growth is typically less expensive and and preserves the culture of the organization, but it can take a long time; whereas an acquisition-based strategy requires large amounts of capital and may come with some post-integration complexities, but done right can be executed much faster.
    • Since the client is under high pressure to grow and has access to funding, and the acquired company can operate independently, then inorganic growth is the best option in this scenario.

2. Teamwork skills

    • Managing up: You’ll be reporting to someone senior to you, and they’ll be key to your success in your role. You’ll need to get their insights and guidance on your work, seek their approval at the appropriate decision points, and keep them informed of your progress.
    • Leading: As a more senior consultant, and sometimes at junior levels, you’ll have team member(s) to delegate work to. This will require an ability to give clear instructions, assist in problem-solving, distribute work fairly, and set deadlines while maintaining high morale throughout the project.
    • Collaboration: Many times, you will need to go above and beyond to help your team. Everyone remembers that colleague who stayed at the office late to help them debug an Excel model. It’s considered a part of the job to coach junior team members, to share information and insights across the team, and to build team rapport.

3. Process skills

    • Prioritization: There will always be more work and problems to solve than there is time. Effective consultants prioritize which problems to solve first. For example, getting the client’s approval on a proposed approach for building a financial model will lead to fewer iterations in the future.
    • Managing meetings: Business decisions involve multiple stakeholders. Consultants learn to manage meetings toward a desired outcome. They’re expected to set a clear agenda for meetings and to define next steps. This is to make the best use of people’s time and ensure regular progress.
    • Time management: For consultants to deliver on their workload, they need to learn to optimize their time and energy throughout the day. For example, I used to do my best to protect the first 2-3 hours of the day to create content (e.g., excel modeling or writing decks) because that’s when my energy level is highest.
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Why These Soft Skills Matter in Consulting – and How Much You’ll Learn

The above skills matter a lot in consulting for many reasons, including:

  1. A consultant’s job is to work with people: In large organizations, many people typically must provide their input to get to the right decision. Within the scope of their work, consultants typically lead that effort, which requires the ability to maintain an independent position and align everyone on a strong solution.

  2. There’s rarely one right answer in business: The decisions that consultants work on are complex. The facts and analysis presented won’t be enough to convince a decision-maker of the possible next steps – judgment and vision are required too. This requires the ability to tell a story of a brighter future for the organization.

  3. Consulting is a team sport: You’ll be working in teams as a consultant – both within your firm and with your client. As such, you’ll need strong teamwork skills to succeed.

As a junior consultant, you’ll have most exposure to teamwork and process skills. As you progress and begin acting as an advisor to senior clients, you’ll rely more heavily on influencing skills – though you’ll get to do some of this with your manager as a more junior consultant, too, because you’ll need to communicate your insights to them in a compelling way.

Whether you want to build a long-term career in consulting or not, developing these soft skills will take you far in your career – there are truly few places to get training this rigorous and intentional. If you exit consulting into another industry, you’ll likely see that soft skills that have become second nature to you are not second-nature to everyone.

Top consulting firms provide training and coaching to support their staff, but the best consultants own their development. They don’t wait for people to give them feedback, they seek it. They set their own goals, evaluate their own performance honestly, and always strive for more.

How to Get Ahead of the Game and See What a Firm Values Most

In this section, we’ll look at an example of the soft skills that a firm like Bain & Company will value.

You can use the same approach to understand the skills that the firm you are applying to will prioritize – by seeing how the firm presents itself online and in information sessions, and by networking with current or former employees of that firm. Then, make the most of your interview process to show that you are beginning to build these skills and will take full advantage of opportunities to develop them further.

  1. Bain’s values. Most firms will have a page on their values and you can learn a lot from it.

    • Passion and commitment: Bain & Company is committed to delivering strong results for clients in the most ethical and professional way. This means that in an interview, you should bring your own unique energy to the table and be ready to defend your recommendations with polish and confidence.

    • Honesty and openness: Bain values intellectual honesty. Consultants need to be able to challenge each other’s ideas and tell the hard truths. This requires an ability to think independently while managing up and leading without hiding information. In an interview, you’ll want to “drive” the discussion while bringing your interviewer along in your thinking – and don’t be afraid to tell them if the emerging answer is a surprise to you or might be tough for the “client” to hear.

    • Practical: There’s an emphasis on getting the job done efficiently. This requires a strong command of process skills such as prioritization, time management, and meeting management. In an interview, you can demonstrate this by knowing what level of precision is needed.

    • One team: Bain delivers client services as a global organization. This requires strong collaboration skills across offices and teams such as knowledge sharing and supporting teammates beyond your role. In an interview, be sure to make the effort to build rapport with your interviewer and to treat them as an ally and thought partner.

  2. Life at Bain.

    • A unique, flexible model: Bain’s openness for staffing consultants across offices show how Bain promotes a collaborative culture.

    • A diverse, dynamic culture: There’s a saying at Bain that “A Bainie never lets another Bainie fail.” You can expect to receive mentorship and coaching – and to learn how to provide mentorship and coaching too.

    • An opportunity for impact: Delivering impact for clients will require ability to work well with clients by honing your influencing skills and managing meetings effectively.

    • A global perspective: Bain delivers training programs globally which helps their consultants help each other when they encounter a new challenge.

    • A focus on you: Bain understands that its employees’ priorities may shift over time (e.g., externships or office relocation). You can and should be proactive about communicating what skills you are looking to build.

4 Top Tips for Demonstrating Your Soft Skills in the Case and Fit Interviews

Demonstrating Your Soft Skills in the Case and Fit Interviews

1. Practice with current or former consultants

There’s no better way to understand what a consulting firm values than practicing with a current or former consultant. Be proactive in asking for feedback on how well you demonstrate the soft skills that consulting firms look for.

Make sure you check out our article “A Comprehensive Guide to Case Interview Prep”.

2. Learn from the industry’s pioneers

The management consulting industry has been around for a while now (50+ years). There are many books and articles about the industry written by former consultants (e.g., The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch). You can learn a lot about the soft skills required to thrive in this industry from the people who pioneered it.

3. Understand your strengths and weaknesses

For example, if you can prioritize well during the case interview but you’ve been told to speak more clearly, you want to emphasize that in your practice. The best way to understand your performance is by asking for feedback and letting your case partners know what you’re working on so they can look out for it. You can also record a practice session and watch it – we are all our own toughest critics!

4. Mirror what your interviewer does

Don’t be afraid to take cues from your interviewer. For example, if your first interviewer asked you about the most important elements you need to focus on during the case interview, make sure that you proactively highlight that during the next round of interviews.

 – – – – –

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • Soft skills that matter in consulting and why
  • How to understand what soft skills matter the most to a firm
  • Tips to showcase consulting soft skills during the interview

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about soft skills consulting firms look for, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.

Other people interested in soft skills you’ll build by working in consulting also found the following pages helpful:

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Thanks for turning to My Consulting Offer for advice on case study interview prep. My Consulting Offer has helped almost 85% of the people we’ve worked with to get a job in management consulting. We want you to be successful in your consulting interviews too. For example, here is how Afrah was able to get her offer from Deloitte.

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