Management Consulting – Part 2

This is the second part of the first episode of the management consultant series. Be sure to check the first part of the first episode where we discuss, what does a management consultant does? Which are the key companies in the consulting industry? Internal versus external consulting companies and more. 

Keep listening to the second part to learn about what are the key skills to be a successful management consultant, and what a day in the life of a consultant looks like? 

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Episode Notes

Fundamental Skills of a Management Consultant

Are there some skills that you need to be an internal or external management consultant?

Orestes, wrapping up the internal versus external, which is quite interesting. My guess is that there are skills that are common in both types of companies, that are very important for any management consultant. What are the skills or what do you need to be a management consultant? 

[0:54] Yes, that’s right, these skills would be common to both and there’s a number of them. And again, this is where I think that the MBA program itself, both the classwork and also the extramural activities that people are involved in are really helpful to help you develop that. 

And of course, if you’re interested in consulting, you should look for those opportunities to develop these skills because it won’t just be the whole program, whether it’s the classes, projects you can do, summer schools or group works, it’s always an opportunity to develop and train these skills. Especially if you’ve not worked in consulting before. That’s the idea of an MBA. So you can do that. 

Some of them we can run through, clearly being analytical, and having analytical reasoning, being able to analyze things is a key skill of a consultant. So, if you’re given a problem, goal, or objective so that you can understand it. 

First, you need to structure this question or this goal properly so that you can understand it, and then also be able to analyze, prioritize. You need to see what is important, what do I need to include, what should be in scope and out of scope. Which are the most important factors that are helping me to achieve the goal or things that I really need to focus on if I want to solve the problem that I’ve been given? And to do this it needs analytical skills

And in your MBA or master program, you have this whenever you get an assignment or questions that you’re asked to analyze, to prioritize, to put a rating on something, to understand it. 

That’s one of the key things. And also, I would say that the ability to do research, to gather information is going hand-in-hand with analysis. So being able to do proper research, gather data, structure the data, analyze the data, and then find a conclusion from that to get to a result. Those are all the key skills. 

You’ll find that analysis is important, the ability to structure things, to structure problems, to structure information is also a key skill, as would be problem-solving. The nature of the job of a consultant is that you’ve given a project or a mission that is going to be quite challenging. 

It’s not something that people have been able to do maybe on a day-to-day basis, it’s a challenge, or problem that the company doesn’t deal with very often or maybe not at all. It’s going to be something challenging you’re going to work on. 

So you need to have a good way to solve problems, to understand in a short space of time the crux or the gist of what is really important, and how do you go and solve the problem because it’s very often you’re not going to be given clear instruction. There’s no clear path on what to do. 

So being able to work in a team, and being able to do the proper analysis and then structuring it. And then it’s going to come into how we solve a problem. So you need to have the solution mindset of this challenge, maybe it’s not done before or it’s a complex, complicated problem. 

You have a methodology from a behavioral perspective in your behavior, in your mindset. But also in how you approach things that you can be good at problem-solving, and you can deal with that quite easily. 

So that’s kind of a trait, I would say as much as a skill to solve problems. Some people avoid problems or you feel stress or anxiety. And that doesn’t work if you’re gonna be a consultant because as a professional, you’ve been asked to come in to help.

Those are the kinds of skills that are important, I would say, it’s more on the behavioral side, or the interaction side, this is like client engagement

For example, how do you engage with the client, preparing for a meeting, having good questions to ask, understanding their priorities, taking the input, being able to challenge the client? On certain things, to challenge their thinking, to bring innovative solutions to the table. To be able to convince your clients of your recommendations and of your views, of your ideas. 

That all involves influencing skills and involves communication skills, both verbal and nonverbal, written and oral skills. These are all very important because, again, you work on a project, you do analytical work. 

A big part of the work is to present the findings and have the findings accepted, and also on making an impact that involves that connection that you’ve understood the mission. But then also that you’re able to communicate your recommendation or communicate your plan of action, and have this accepted. So that’s a key skill in itself.

And also that what goes with this is teamwork. So the critical skill of a consultant is the ability to work in teams. Consulting is not an individual job or solo kind of work, it’s very much about being part of a team, also you might have a project partner that’s involved. So you would normally have a project manager or an assignment manager, or an engagement manager, that would lead the team and kind of be the spokesperson for the team. 

But it’s then about how do you come together, plan the work, support each other, share ideas, challenge each other’s thinking, give feedback to your colleagues, helping to develop the solution, make it better. All of those things and the value comes from working in a team. 

This comes in a lot of the workshops that I teach and also when I was an MBA student, one of the top feedbacks I get is that the group works are quite challenging, you have a team, and different roles or there’s different motivations and different things in the team. 

I would say that the best opportunity you have to develop this is actually in the MBA workgroups, in the master workgroups that you get put into to work on together and get assigned to. 

That is good training, it’s a good development because people are diverse, we have different views, we have different working styles, we have different preferences, we have a lot of differences, diversity. And that adds a lot to consulting projects, that’s the value of having a team, and not just having 10 people working individually on different things. So, teamwork is critical. 

And what I would also add to this, and this is maybe not so much skill, also more of a trait is business acumen. So you need to know that, yes, it’s a skills-based job, but to really be successful you need to bring this general understanding. And a general sense of business, of strategy, of marketing, of finance, of HR, the market itself, knowing the industry and what are the key trends. All of this together, this is what I refer to as business acumen

So coming out of a business school you’ll be in a great position of course to do that, and you should have this well-rounded view. So, you should also need to be a business expert, as well as a consultant. And it doesn’t mean that you know everything about everything. 

But doing your research, knowing the company that you’re going to be doing the project for in the business school. Knowing about key trends, like digitalization, like organizational transformation, digitalization of the workforce, key trends, environmental sustainability concerns. 

These are all things that you need to bring to the table. And also have those basic understandings that you learn in an MBA, like in finance, what are an income statement and a balance sheet, a marketing strategy and budgets. 

You’re expected to know all of those things and be able to apply it in a real-life situation. You still need to have that content knowledge. You’re not expected to know specific things, but you need to bring that to the table. 

If I have to summarize the section, I would say that it’s also the synthesis that you bring at the end of the day. So you can take all of these things together, how do you combine it, make it work in a comprehensive way, and do things at the right time. 

But having all of these skills individually, also being able to bring them together, and then work in a team, work on a project, execute the workstreams and the tasks, and then present that. Have the deliverables and present the deliverables. Does all the key skills to have.

Flexibility and Adaptability Indispensable Skills for Consultants 

Would you say there is the kind of person that would enjoy this kind of job? I can imagine, for example, you have to be a people’s guy, you have to like people.

[10:04] Yes, I would say so definitely to a degree. It doesn’t mean that it’s a job for extroverted people necessarily. There’s no one personality trait that would determine what makes a good consultant because I’ve worked with excellent consultants that have the whole range of traits, personality traits. 

But what I would say is that it’s definitely a role that’s suited the people who want to have a dynamic, diverse and flexible work environment. Because you’re working on a team, you’re working with deadlines, you’re working with some pressures. It’s important to work that you’re doing, it’s going to be seen by senior people and has a big impact on the company. 

And, that obviously brings a certain kind of working mode for this one thing, on the other hand, it’s also then looked at how does the role itself change because you could be on a project, have a team, a client, a mission and a project, content that is one setup, and that project can end. 

In the very next project, everything would be totally different. So you could have a different project partner, which is effectively your manager or your boss, you can say. You could have a different manager, you could have a different project manager, everything could be different. The clients, the business, the function, the type of project can change. 

And this is making this work interesting. So if people actually have different goals, different roles to play, different things to work on the time, consulting can be a great option because it gives you that. You won’t just be in one department working on one role for the next three years. This is very much within every three to six months you will have everything will change. 

Now, of course, that it needs some flexibility. So maybe a key skill we can add is you need to be very flexible in yourself in terms of your ability to learn, to form relationships with people, to change your focus to a different goal, getting to understand different plan priorities. All of these how do you adapt to a new situation? 

So, your ability to be flexible and adaptable with every project that is changing, with every mission that is different. That is a key skill, and not a skill also like a trait and something that you yourself need to know, does that work for you or not? 

Because it’s very rewarding in one way that you learn a lot and you get the first exposure, a high impact on the projects. But you need to know that you’ll have to adapt. And also, develop the skill of how do you change and how do you adapt to new contexts, new projects and teams because you are going to have to recreate this on every new project that you work on.

Anyways, beyond that, all the changes in your environment, I guess there are some anchoring frameworks you can use and use again.

[13:13] Yes, they are, so it’s very much that. I would agree with that. I think it’s very much about having it, it’s a skill in how you do this. But also, remember that the company that you work for is still the same, so the organization you still work for is the same consulting company. So that’s always common, it’s just that your immediate day-to-day will be different.

A Week in a Consulting Position

What looks like a day in the life of a consultant? What’s your day-to-day? What time do you wake up? What kind of interactions do we have? Can you talk a little bit about that?

[13:49] Yes, there’s also a nice question, and I think also in the business school is very often coming up. People hear about consulting and people want to join consulting firms, but it’s not so easy to know what is actually happening there. So this is, this is a frequently asked question. 

And the way I would explain it is more like, what is the week in the life of a consultant? Because normally, I found that every week is different. So you might work on something for the span of a week in the same thing, and maybe a few days would be similar. But almost every week can be on something different than the previous one. 

What you would find is that you would normally start in the morning and at the same time as most corporate companies. Maybe 8 am, or between 8 am and 9 am, and that would be quite typical. Then depending on how you’re working, you would go into your own office or you would go into your client’s office. And you would normally have a shared office that you would share with your team, so the other two or three people that you’re working with. 

And then you would look at your agenda because what you find is that every week and every day, you would have, for example, a project meeting or project alignment. So who is working on what? What is the current status? What are the deadlines that we’re working towards? What is the progress that has happened? 

So it’s very typical in the morning to have this kind of the first alignment to say, “Okay, everyone in the team, what are we doing? What are we working on? What are the key things now? There any questions or roadblocks?” So you have this kind of team meeting. 

And from there, you would see that you would have your own workstream or workstreams to work on. You could have potentially one or two or three different tasks that you’re doing. It could be that you’re helping to organize a workshop as part of the project with a client and some team members. 

It could be that you’re helping to develop, maybe an organogram or organizational structure for your client’s department. And then it could be something else, maybe involving the design of a digital product or digital tool that’s going to support this initiative. So you could have these kinds of different workstreams.

 And you would look at your calendar, very typical to have calls or talking to people, either to get information or to run a project. Also, a call that you would have kind of people giving updates and getting that input. In between that you will then be actually working on the content, yourself. 

So this is where it’s more individually focused, you would be creating this, you would be preparing this workshop, and you would be looking at the structure of it. So maybe your colleagues will help you with a structure and what works in the past, getting input from different people. But it would be your job, for example, to put all that together and it’s up to you then. 

So you have a lot of job freedom, a lot of flexibility because you can decide how you want to prepare, what you think is best. You can research different mythologies of how to do that, if you’ve attended training, you can use that material. So then it’s up to you how you do it. 

And then from there, you would normally have a lunch meeting with a team or with a client. That’s quite typical to also maintain relationships over lunch when people have a break. 

Then in different times of the week, you could also have a meeting with your project partner, who is kind of overviewing and steering the project. And you’re going in there and giving an update, also receiving feedback, and also getting the general direction on the project. So that they are informed and you can also then get input from their side.  

So it’s quite a dynamic job and you would continue it. So during the day, you could have called, you could have meetings, you would work on the content with the slides, or in a Word document that you’re working on, to tell the mission that you’re working on the workstream. And then you will continue typically quite late into the evening. 

You would find that also in the evening is when there are fewer calls and fewer meetings taking place. And then that is when normally there is also a chance to work on things, and depending on if there’s a deadline for the next day or things are being finalized, it could go quite late into the evening sometimes, depending. 

But normally not so late. Like an internal consulting, it would not be that late maybe around 8 pm – 9 pm that would be maybe in some days. It depends, it does vary quite a lot. Some days could be 7 pm, it would just depend. But in general in consulting if there are deadlines to be met, then it could be quite a long day as well. So it all depends.

Internal Structures, Working Hours and Travelling Issues

Does your team work long hours as well?

[18:34] Yeah. So, normally all the workstreams are spread quite evenly across the team. So then you would find that your people are normally staying together and working together. This is the typical case, and that’s also the probable project management perspective of how this is organized. 

What I can say is that if you think about the concept of the team like work content, for example, it can vary quite a lot. You could have different colleagues working on research, producing management presentations or slides of findings, or also strategic planning that’s taken place. 

It could be developing a budget, or developing a business case, or doing the financial analysis of a company, of a business unit. It could be the workshop facilitation, which I’ve mentioned, and has happened quite a lot in consulting, that you need to either share information or gather information from groups of people. And workshops are the best way to do that in a short timeframe. 

It could be creating media materials, press releases, for example, or websites or videos that support the project. This could also be happening, it could be helping to prepare content or conferences or events. Also organizational planning, such as designing organograms or assisting with the role definition that can happen as well or product development, product roadmaps. 

There’s really a wide range of possible tasks that you could be working on. It can be any one of these things and then there’s the team. So one person would normally have one of these content tasks. There’s one person working on the slides. Another person would be preparing the workshop. And the other person would be doing maybe business case development. So then that’s how it would be split, but in a way that it’s quiet even in terms of hours that are worked.

And there is also the need to travel?

[20:37] Exactly. So if there are projects where there’s travel involved, then this is more from my MBA classmates and my colleagues. They would normally then travel on Sunday, normally travel out at night to be at the location early Monday morning, so that people can go to the client directly. And typically staying there until Thursday evening. 

Because normally what you find in consulting is that you will work at the client’s office from Monday to Thursday. And then Friday is normally an office day, more like a home office day, home in the sense that you are based at your consulting office with the rest of your colleagues. 

And that’s normally how it’s structured. There’s like four days on-site, one day off. This is more typical for external consulting. But that seems to be the structure also within in house firms. This is roughly speaking their structures. 

On Friday, it could be to do the things that are happening in terms of training or town hall meetings or general office meetings that are taking place there. And it also is a way to kind of bring everyone together, create this kind of a team environment and organizational sense in people by being together.

I can imagine that companies try to avoid that every new employee needs to invent the fire again and again. Are there any type of resources that you have available to avoid this or it’s only because you are in any specific organization?

[22:06] Yeah. So I would say that the strongest point for this information is always the assignment manager for the project. This is the person that is essentially managing the team, and also working on the content themselves, with managing the team and overall responsibility for the project itself. Both to the project partner, but also to normally engage with a client on some level. So that is the key person. 

And what you find is that the knowledge and experience are there also the methodologies and frameworks are there. But it’s very much on the job knowledge that gets shared and also gets passed down from the senior people. So partners and everyone in the structure who have been there the longest time. They can give this input or make suggestions. 

The assignment managers as well because they would normally already be in a six-year mark in a consulting career. So they have a lot of experience. And then also if you have any good ideas that you learn from business school, from internships or from previous jobs or your own creativity you can bring to the table. 

So I would say it’s much more flexible in the sense that there are no fixed rules necessarily, or how to do things, it’s left much more to the teams and to the individuals. So that is also quite nice that in consulting you actually get this flexibility to be able to do that so that you can use your knowledge and experience and apply it in a way that works. And if it works, then it’s perfect.

Life Balance in a Consulting Career

What about your personal life? I mean, do have time to go to the gym, be at home with your partner, wife, kids, whatever your family looks like? And what about weekends as well?

[23:58] So, I would say consulting in general, the colleagues that have the need to travel, also within the external firms, they are away from home, from Monday to Thursday. So that one is quite challenging. So it’s very much about working on the road and life on the road. 

So that’s also for people who are in an MBA program, it’s something to think about. It’s knowing that it’s okay for you to do that if you really want a job in consulting. So this is fine, this is great. But you need to think broadly about the work-life balance, the setup, and can it work for you? is it feasible?

And I know that it can work in some families, and obviously for single people as well. It just depends on your own personal situation, what are you prepared to do? And can you put things in place? Can you prepare or structure your life in a certain way, and having expectations with a partner that this can work? 

So, then it will depend on the conditions given by the different consulting firms. It will then just depend on how much you travel and how late you need to work. So that’s the difference that we’ve covered between, maybe the internal and the external. 

So very much that the things happening now with consulting, and what you will find, is that there’s also the flexibility of the job that comes into effect. So there’s definitely the opportunity in the mornings or in the evenings to do personal activities, like going to the gym or doing sports and so on. And then if you have something to work on or a task to complete that you can come back to it. 

It’s very much about having the flexibility of the time. And in each team, you can set up this flexibility and really make it work for you so that it can be done. I think a big part of that for those MBAs that have partners or families it’s also about expectation like I mentioned. 

So if you really want to pursue a career in consulting you would need to go back and also discuss with them. And given the company you’re going to work for, they will tell you what the travel expectation is. Also alumni or one of our current employees would tell you that typically these are the working hours.

And you would need to have that conversation, I would say, before you engage in the recruiting, before you engage in the job offers. Because if you have this in place, it really doesn’t need to be a problem at all. It’s a very rewarding career and it can work very well, but you need to have this understanding in place. 

Of course, if your partner just wants you to work from 9 am to 5 pm, and strictly expects 5 pm o’clock to leave the office and not travel ever. It’s going to be a bit quite difficult to work in consulting. I would say that it would make more sense to go into a functional role in a corporate company. And even there, I think sometimes people are working late hours. But that’s more the exception, I would say. So that for me is the key. 

I would advise people what I’m already used to, do the research of the company you’re interested in, get a realistic view of the travel, the working time requirements, and the practice or what people are actually doing in that office. And you can ask to talk to people or reach out to them and they’ll tell you. And that would be the best way. 

Then from there, as I say, I think that years compared to other jobs because of the remote working, you have that flexibility that you can leverage and you can cover everything. 

In terms of your question on the weekend. It’s not typical. It’s not happening in my experience to work on the weekend. But I have heard that of colleagues who come from external consulting firms, that on certain projects because of the timeline constraints, and maybe in some projects or some client situations, in a crisis mode, that there was kind of like a seven-day working mode. I would think. “Cool!”.

But anytime you’re on a project with certain companies, depending on what they’ve agreed, it may happen. I’ve heard of it happening. It doesn’t happen normally in internal consulting ever. But certainly, with external consulting I believe it’s a possibility, but it’s not typical.

Typical Time Length of Projects and a Real Case 

You mentioned that the live changes from week to week, but how long does a typical project last?

[28:38] So a project could be anywhere from at the low end three months, which is really the shortest and very focused project, up to one year at the most. The one year would be more of a program, something that you work on, a project, but this one it’s taking longer. Maybe there are more people involved or there are multiple phases involved, or maybe the scale is large. So it could be up to one year.

Any examples that you can share projects you did in the past?

[29:11] Yes, a project that I’ve worked on. I worked as an external consultant to a medical device company in the US, and that was quite interesting. So this was assisting them with the market entry for an innovative product that they were going to launch. 

And it was the mission that we were given, firstly is to understand the current market landscape. So who’s the incumbent? Who are the main competitors of the company, or the product? And after, kind of do a SWOT analysis. 

So we decided to do strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats kind of analysis for the project launch, given the current market situation. And the second part of the project was also to then get the view of the main users and customers of this product. 

And that involves preparing and also doing interviews with experts, and also with the customers and users of the product. To get the views, to understand the preferences, their concerns. And we did that, and all of this information will then be used by the product team and by the marketing department, to customize and set the communication, and the approach for how this product would be launched into the market. So that was a very interesting project.

Topics That Will Take Place in Further Episodes

I think we covered much of what we wanted for this first episode of the series. Can you talk a little bit about what we will cover in the next episodes?

[30:48] Yes. So in the next episodes, we will be looking specifically. The recruiting advice and recruiting tips for MBAs, master students, Business School students, and we’re going to have a great deep dive on these topics. 

This is then coming from myself as an MBA and alumni. I was in a master’s program, as someone who was recruiting, trying to recruit into internships, into MBA projects, into a full-time role. And also now being in the full-time role itself. Also then as Alumni, speaking to a lot of students. 

So I’ve had the privilege of having gone to two great schools in two different countries. And also from the Career Centers, from observing what worked, what didn’t work. There’s really a lot that we can share, both in terms of best practices and also do’s and don’ts, and some tips on what can work well for you. 

Because of the recruiting process whether the internship or full time, from the business school, is a critical thing that you have to get passed. So, for most people coming into business school, that is the number one goal. Yes, you want to have a good program and a good MBA experience or master’s experience. But ultimately you also want to launch your career and have a great career after graduation. 

The topics that we will cover will first be on researching companies, researching the industries, companies roles, what makes sense for you? What works for you? What do you want to do? But also what makes sense for you in terms of the fit, in terms of your chances of being recruited? What is your goal of being recruited?

Yes, you might want to have a career change, and we will talk about that. But also, how do you know where you will be a good fit from a recruitment perspective? That a company will look at your profile, and you will have a higher probability of being recruited. And that’s a key thing we need to talk about. 

The second topic will be networking. And this is also something that’s really important to know how to do this, how do you network with people? How do you leverage the alumni network that’s so heavily sold by business schools? And what can alumni offer you? What can’t they do for you? How can they help you?

So that’s also key questions to answer because it’s something that you can spend a lot of time on in a business school program. And it’s easy to get it wrong. But if you get it right, the payoff is huge. So networking is important. 

We will then look at the CV, cover letter, and the application for jobs part. And that’s also a key skill. Also how to do it right because most times you are contacting companies. Even if you have a reference or a contact, they will always ask you to submit an application, submit your CV or resume and cover letter. And the way you do this application, the way you prepare for it, the content of it, how you submit, the timing of it, all of those things are critical things to know about. So we will talk about this. 

And then from there, we’ll go to the next episode and will be on the interview preparation. Interview preparation is absolutely critical. So, how you prepare, what you prepare, what are the different methods that work? What are the different interviewing techniques that are out there, and also interviewing modes that companies use? 

And I’ve also experienced the whole range of these. So we’ll talk about the different audiences, the different industries and the different interview methods that they use, and give you some tips on that. 

Then finally,  we will end the series with, actually receiving an offer. How do you receive an offer? When do you get to that point there’s a good way and a wrong way to receive an offer, and also a very wrong way. 

And also, how do you understand the offer that you’ve been given, and understand how it compares to the market, to what other companies are offering. And being able to have an informed and constructive discussion with a company around the offer because going to a business school into an MBA program, it’s a huge investment. Very often it’s a big risk on yourself personally. You might have left your home country or your job, a very nice career, a good career to come to business school. 

So of course, you would want to go into the right role and have the right concept of the configuration of the job that you’re going to go into. And you also want to be happy about the job, that you’re going to start a post MBA, that you’re looking forward to, that you’re motivated to start. And the big part of that is how do you receive and discuss the offer with the company. So that’ll be the last topic we’ll cover there.

I think we’ve already covered it all for today. Thank you very much for your time for your insights and see you in the next episode. 

Yes, perfect. Very nice. discussing today. And if any of the listeners would like to reach out, you can find me on LinkedIn, Orestes Peristeris, feel free to send a connect request or drop a message. Also, if anyone has any feedback, or further questions are welcome to reach out there.

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Thank you for joining for this episode of the MBA talk podcast. A podcast brought to you by Optness Institute. You can find all notes for this episode, as well as SUBSCRIBE for future optness.com/mbatalk . And if you’re enjoying the show, or have any comments, topics or guest suggestions, I love you, you shoot me an email. My name is Andres and you can write to me at mbatalk@optness.com. 

With that, thank you and we’ll see you in the next episode.

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