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9 Consultant Skills They Don’t Teach You in Business School

As children, many of us dreamed of becoming a fireman, a soldier, or (in my case) a garbage man. When many reach business school, they fantasize about something quite different: Becoming a consultant.

Whether you aspire to McKinsey to BCG, you imagine earning six-figure incomes and traveling to exotic locales, where you get to rub elbows with the CEO and tackle the tough problems. As a consultant, you’ll be treated as an expert (you assume), where you’re paid to think, and everyone else is paid to act. And it will be so rewarding, you gush, when your ideas are ultimately what turn things around.

Here’s reality: You’ll grow weary of the 80-hour work weeks, as hopping planes, living in hotels, and never being home takes its toll on your relationships and health. The workloads are as ridiculous as the expectations. As a consultant, you’re never really one of “them.” You always need to prove yourself again and again. And there’s nothing worse than when your recommendations are ignored or twisted (and that happens a lot).

Sure, business schools teach you modeling and finance, how to analyze and apply. But do they really give you the tools to be a consultant? Probably…but there’s a lot to learn away from your cases and projects. That’s the premise behind a recent Fast Company column authored by Nathalie Kleinschmit, a 20-year-old international consulting vet who is currently studying at the IAE Aix Marseille Graduate School of Management in France. So what are some potential practices that MBAs should master before heading into consulting? Here are some of Kleinschmit’s observations:

1. Dot-to-Dot Literacy: Dot-to-dot literacy is the ability to connect the dots and as such anticipate threats and opportunities long before others do.

Intelligence takes its meaning from the Latin “inter” and “ligare,” or “between” and “links.” To be intelligent therefore is to create meaning between different realities: to understand that a violent storm in the Gulf may affect oil production, which in turn jacks up fuel prices, which might hit an airline’s bottom line, etc.

Dot-to-dot literacy develops through ongoing scanning of trends, reading from multiple sources, asking questions, and actively seeking out new ideas.

2. B.S. Identification: As an effective listener, a consultant needs to be able to identify–and discard–the “bullshit” to capture the truth within a message. Though hired by the CEO, a consultant often depends on input from his sycophantic inner circle. In times of threatening transition, many of these senior executives might sugarcoat a situation or indulge in window-dressing to present the most positive image possible. A consultant needs to dig deeper to get to the heart of a situation. A “That’s interesting. Why would you say that?” is one way to draw out information from insinuation.

5. Synergetic Efficiency: A sustainable solution needs the buy-in from all areas and levels of the company, and a consultant needs to offer recommendations that drive efficiency in a way that brings the efforts together.

Long gone are the days when decisions made at the top were implemented en masse. Today, the power of the individual voice–through customer boycotts or employee revolts–echoes throughout the globe thanks to the click of a mouse. And it must be heard.

The value of fairness is held up against a consultant’s recommendations: Even when these prescribe tough decisions, they will be more readily accepted if understood as fair.

9. Competence Cap Recognition: To be truly great, a consultant needs to know and recognize when they are simply no longer good enough.

As a consultant gains experience and moves up the ranks to the C-suite, the responsibility of providing sound advice and key expertise increases accordingly. Knowing when to turn to others for extra support is capital. And for some, going back to school is a way of moving forward. Humility is the quality and recognizing the competence gap is a skill that leads a consultant to do great work.

To read the full article, click on the Fast Company link below.

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Source: Fast Company