8 Key Consulting Skills Valued by Employers and Clients
Updated November 9, 2022
This article has been approved by an Indeed Career Coach
As a consultant, having the right skillset can be a powerful tool for pursuing job opportunities. The relevant skills you develop over the course of your career can help you in a role where your client list and responsibilities often change. Strengthening this skill set can help you become adaptable and effective no matter where you work.
In this article, we discuss eight key consulting skills valued by employers and clients, how to improve those skills and how to apply them in the workplace.
What are management consulting skills?
Good consultants demonstrate skills that offer concrete and specific information to help solve a problem or improve a process for a business. You can develop these skills in the course of your career experience by actively pursuing personal opportunities to learn and improve your business acumen.
8 examples of key consulting skills
As a consultant, you will likely spend your days gathering data, formulating a strategy and presenting a plan to businesses seeking your advice. Here is a list of skills that help you with all of those steps:
Thinking conceptually and practically
Communicating clearly and empathetically
Collaboration with all job levels
Organization and time management
1. Creative thinking
Creativity is a top priority in fields like art, writing, graphic design and food. Other industries may not seem like they would prioritize creative thinking, but the definition is broader than just producing art. Creative thinking gives people ideas that go beyond the standard and normally accepted ways of approaching the business of the industry. It encourages brainstorming and listening to ideas from all kinds of people.
2. Thinking conceptually and practically
Conceptual thinking suggests you are visionary and innovative. You may have a strong sense of intuition, or the ability to coax ideas from people who have a difficult time finding the words for abstract concepts. You might ask provocative questions in a group brainstorming session to help others think conceptually and formulate inspirational touchstones for the company to believe in.
Once you have established your vision, your practical-thinking skills will allow you to help others transform vision into actionable items and deliverables. You may help outline a specific strategy that narrows a business’s focus. You can help them organize projects into their parts, and assign tasks based on broad ideas that have been customized for your client.
Related: Ultimate Guide to Strategic Planning
You may be called in to consult when permanent employees need additional guidance or expertise. Your role may often involve problem-solving, possibly without a great deal of advance information on issues you might be presented with. Depending on the type of consultant you are, you may be responsible for conflict resolution among employees, assisting in the creation of a business plan for a self-employed man or woman, analyzing bookkeeping practices of a company or providing training in a variety of fields.
Your ability to listen carefully to the concerns the employees present to you and react quickly and thoughtfully to help propose solutions may be among the most valuable skills you can possess.
4. Communicating clearly and empathetically
Once you have some solutions for a company’s problems, the recipients should value your ability to communicate those answers clearly, concisely and with empathy. You show empathy by demonstrating a willingness to understand how a problem is affecting the employees personally, and not just the bottom line from a financial or production standpoint.
For example, if your consultancy is focused on improving efficiency in a restaurant, the cooks, servers, hostesses and kitchen workers will be the ones to carry out your suggestions. When you can show kindness and understanding while clearly outlining the changes those workers need to make, they are more likely to respond favorably and accept the work they should do.
5. Collaboration with all job levels
As a consultant, you may be hired by a company’s board, senior management or a specific department within a company. It will be useful to have a sense of confidence when working with both stakeholders and employees who will carry out a plan. Developing poise, politeness, friendliness, excellent listening skills and public communication skills will serve you well in any circumstance.
6. Organization and time management
When a company hires a consultant to help with a restructuring or a concern, their time will be just as valuable as yours. Meetings are likely an inevitable part of the process, but you can show respect for their time by conducting meetings with a sense of brevity and efficiency. You could work with people in advance to prepare an agenda and be polite but firm in your attempts to keep a meeting on task.
You could suggest limiting the meetings to necessary employees only, especially for preliminary work where you define the scope of your consultancy project. Prepare for meetings well in advance and have any electronic presentations and documents easily accessible so you can give your suggestions with confidence and avoid delays.
Because consultants work with various clients, a sense of curiosity can help you acquire the information you need to do your job well. Curiosity encompasses asking thoughtful and focused questions and then listening sincerely to the answers. It also helps you understand how each business fits within the framework of its industry, and the ways a business may be innovating its product or its philosophy.
If the organization you are hired to help is lacking curiosity from management and employees, you may be able to encourage employees to explore their industry from the standpoint of curiosity and help them form the right questions to ask of themselves and about competitors’ practices.
Your credibility as a consultant is likely to come from your experience in the field and your reputation as someone who has helped companies and people in legitimate and measurable ways. Beyond those criteria, you can improve your credibility with further education, any available certifications, a personal website or a profile on a professional site that outlines your skills and experience.
You could start your own advice podcast or offer to be a guest on an established podcast or write an academic paper or book to explain your ideas and philosophies towards business. Testimonials from happy clients will show how well you work with actual people.
How to improve consulting skills
Daily consulting work is a good place to practice improving your skills. If you look critically at your daily interactions, you will be able to identify areas where you are strong and areas where you could use some help. Here are some ways to improve your skills:
1. Hire a consultant
You will likely be familiar with consultants across many industries who demonstrate some of the skills you seek to improve. Find out how they acquired their skills and set up a training plan or mentorship where they share that knowledge.
2. Take a consulting course
Many professional organizations offer training courses that culminate in certifications. Seek out programs that cover the skills you are most interested in and find out if becoming certified by any particular organization can help you find new clients or opportunities.
3. Increase your exposure
You can try taking on diverse clients rather than staying with the same kind of consulting for every job. Each new experience will give you exposure to something different that can help you expand your knowledge base. You can shape your career based on recognizing your greatest strengths.
4. Study the words of experts
Many successful consultants write scholarly articles, books and video talks that talk about how to develop your skills. Find those whose philosophies and skills match your professional goals and study their methods and advice.
How to apply consulting skills in the workplace
As you continue to develop your key consulting skills, here are some ways to apply those skills when dealing with clients:
Your role as a consultant may be to synthesize employees’ various ideas and experiences into a new way of conducting business. Your own creative thinking skills may inspire others to share theirs and encourage collaboration and innovative ideas that the company can implement once you are done with your work there.
Collaborate with everyone
Collaboration works well when it is managed by a strong leader, which may be a natural fit for your role as a consultant. A good leader does not dominate a conversation but encourages participation while still guiding the discussion in a focused way, avoiding unnecessary tangents.
As a consultant, you are often the perceived expert in the room. You can verify that confidence by asserting your knowledge and demonstrating the professional development you have undertaken.
Follow through on the tasks you say you will do. Provide answers when asked and research to come back later if you need to. Meet your deadlines and attempt to apply the skills you have to every unique situation.
How to highlight consulting skills
In the process of applying for a consulting job and preparing for the interview, the skills you develop are a vital part of describing yourself. Here are some ways to highlight those skills:
Consulting skills for resume and cover letter
A cover letter and resume for a prospective consulting job should prominently feature your soft skills. Instead of a list under a heading, you may consider describing them in specific examples. This approach shows how you were able to apply them to your work. Wherever possible, include concrete numbers or descriptions that help the hiring manager understand your role clearly.
Example: “I planned and executed a two-day marketing retreat for a team of 25 trainees, including arranging presenters, mock projects and meals. During the retreat, I taught a training course on project management software and hosted a Q&A following the session. Unexpected weather dictated a last-minute change in our planned team-building activity, but I was able to adapt and prepare a new exercise that proved highly successful in the end.”
Related: Soft Skills: Definition and Examples
Consulting skills for the job interview
Just as you might adapt a cover letter and resume to highlight soft skills, you can answer interview questions with specific applications and examples, even if the question starts more generic and philosophical.
Interview question: “What does collaboration mean to you?”
Response: “I think good collaboration is when each person approaches a project open to the input and opinions of other team members. It works best when everyone prioritizes listening over vying for attention, and each person is valued for their unique skill set. Recently, I mediated a brainstorming session with a team that was having trouble communicating. Through some conflict-resolution exercises and allowing time for each person to talk, the team talked through some frustrations and found a way to create a plan for their project.”
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