36 Core Consulting Skills to Set You Apart from Your Competition

consulting skills

There’s a certain halo effect that often surrounds the field of consulting. It’s the alluring idea that a consultant’s job is to walk in the door, sweep everyone off their feet with their brilliant ideas, and then leave with a fat paycheck. Now, while some masterful consultants do make solving cases look like a breeze, there’s much more to their work than meets the eye. Namely, a set of consulting skills that enables them to deliver massive value to their clients every time without fail.

So What Makes a Good Consultant?

The first thing that comes to mind for most people about consultants is that they are deeply knowledgeable. They know their industry and area of expertise inside and out. But knowing about a topic doesn’t necessarily mean being able to share that knowledge and, more importantly, applying it to solve problems.

To be an effective consultant, you need to listen to your clients and analyze what they say. You need to reframe that information and put it into context in order to point out correlations between issues. In the end, you have to take charge of the case and drive the conversation forward, to solve problems collaboratively. And of course, repeat that every time you’re in the meeting room.

People often wonder if you need a consulting certification to do that. The answer is no. You don’t legally require certification to become a consultant, and there are other ways to pick up these important skills. However, a great training program or mentor can definitely make a big difference in your professional development and career.

[ Read: Here’s Exactly How to Become a Certified Life Coach]

Whichever way you choose, there are some abilities every consultant should possess to deliver results for their clients. Here are the 6 most essential consulting skills that you absolutely need, to succeed in this field.

The 6 Most Important Consulting Skills

Analytical Skills

No matter how many frameworks, cheat sheets, or strategy models you have up your sleeve, great consulting always comes down to analytical skills. What matters is whether you can deconstruct and categorize information effectively, identify new correlations, and draw conclusions from all this.

Analytical thinking requires you to use critical thinking and logical reasoning. You will need this to run tons of research on and off cases in your industry and to interpret data points that lead to solutions. Though this may sound a bit dry to some people, analytical thinking actually requires creativity too. It’s being imaginative that will help you link facts to possible opportunities that can be implemented in the future.

Problem-Solving Skills

A solution-oriented mindset is the biggest asset of a consultant. At the time you arrive at your first meeting, your clients have likely thought of all the most obvious ways that their issues could be solved (and of course, none of them worked, which is why they hired you.)

Consulting frameworks will help you map out all facets of a case on the spot and reveal ideas that have not been thought of before. By fleshing out these ideas in detail and drawing a clear comparison between them, you can present solutions to your clients that they can then choose from.

[ Read: 7 Consulting Frameworks That Win Big Clients ]

Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking is a unique combination of the conceptual understanding of a business situation and grasping its practical applications. Consultants need to have an extraordinary perspective on all layers of strategy, from the more abstract, visionary ideas down to the daily business as usual.

Much of business consulting is zooming in and out of these layers and finding the points where they’re disconnected. This also means being great at observing details that might normally skip other people’s attention.

Effective Communication

As a consultant, you’ll be presenting frameworks and concepts to your clients in real time, either in person or on a call. You need to be able to transmit your ideas and interpret data in a way that it’s clear and understandable for your audience.

Besides presenting your point of view, you’ll also need to interview your clients and ask solution-oriented questions that move the case forward. You need to have great listening skills and be able to collaborate effectively with all your stakeholders, often across multiple functions.

Leadership Skills

Your job as a consultant is to drive the conversation forward and keep it productive, so that it brings the client closer to their business goals. You need to take bold initiative and steer the discussion in the direction that leads to solutions in the fastest way.

If you want to be outstanding in your field, you need to do more than what’s expected of you and strive to constantly outperform yourself, in terms of the results you can bring to your clients. No one’s going to tell you how to conduct a consultation session or what your next steps should be, so this profession calls for an entrepreneurial spirit — especially if you work as a self-employed, independent consultant.

Adaptability

On the other side of that relentless drive, lies the ability to adapt to unexpected situations. Issues may arise during a client relationship, and a case might go in a very different direction than what you initially expected.

Clients sometimes change their minds or take a different decision than what you suggested to them, and you need to accept that. You can’t be too invested in a case, because at the end of the day, it’s their business, and they have the right to make the final call (and bear the consequences).

Adaptability also applies to rapidly changing industry trends. You need to be up-to-date with where the market is evolving and bring those insights to your clients. What might have worked a few years ago may not be an effective strategy anymore; you need to keep up with the times.

Key Business Consulting Skills in Your Field

Besides the strengths and soft skills all consultants need, there are some consulting skills that are specific to the business function you’re working with. You need to have industry-specific knowledge to specialize as a consultant and give relevant advice to your clients.

This means being savvy of the key frameworks used in your industry or business area, the most important players in the field, the mechanism of industry relationships, as well as the most recent trends. Here are some important skills you should pick up according to your consulting area.

Strategy Consulting Skills

Strategy consultants are known for their visionary abilities. They can look at the bird-eye view of the company and rise above problems by projecting a better-future trajectory for the business. Not one to build castles in the sky, they are also extremely practical and can turn their ideas into solid plans. To do that, they need to have the following skills:

  • Identifying correlations
  • Long term planning
  • Critical thinking
  • Managing complexity
  • Unbiased judgment
  • Strong listening and questioning skills

Management & Operations Consulting Skills

Management and operations consultants look at the everyday procedures and priorities of a business. They make sure that each function in the company is aligned with the bigger organizational objectives. The following skills are essential for management and operational consultants:

  • Systems thinking
  • Process optimization
  • Attention to detail
  • Solving complex problems
  • Project management
  • Risk management
  • Prioritization

HR Consulting Skills

HR consultants focus on the processes of an organization that revolve around employees and team culture. They help advise CHROs, and other decision makers in the human resource department, on employee wellbeing and satisfaction, as well as performance and productivity. Some of their most valuable skills are:

  • Empathy
  • Communication on a personal and at an organizational level
  • Cultivating the right work culture
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Hiring and interviewing

Marketing & Sales Consulting Skills

Consultants who advise on marketing and sales strategies need hands-on experience in these areas. They have to understand the strategy of each individual promotional channel, as well as the impact they collectively create on brand recognition and revenue. Their most important skills are:

  • Application of marketing frameworks
  • Creative thinking
  • Psychographics mapping
  • Market research
  • Brand and image management
  • Public relations management
  • Practical knowledge of social media, SEO, advertising, and funnel strategies

Financial & Accounting Consulting Skills

Financial consultants aim to maximize revenue and profitability for companies. They bring in outside expertise on taxation, investments, and cash flow optimization, so the leadership team can make informed financial decisions. Their most valuable skills are:

  • Accounting
  • Budgeting
  • Revenue optimization
  • Application of profitability frameworks
  • Investment portfolio optimization
  • Data analysis

IT Consulting Skills

Consultants in the field of technology bridge the gap between the strategy of the organization and the IT solutions that make them possible. They often need to operate as software engineers and strategists at the same time. To do that, they need to master the following skills:

  • Coding
  • Software engineering
  • Risk management
  • Systems thinking
  • Process optimization
  • User experience optimization
  • Attention to detail

How To Develop Consulting Skills

By now, you probably have a good idea about your strengths and weaknesses in business consulting. The best way to take a leap forward in your consulting career is to focus on your weaknesses and consciously improve them.

There are several ways you can get better at consulting. You can take training or hire a coach to focus on a specific skill needed for you to grow in this field. You can also join a practice group or take a job at a consulting firm for a while, to learn by observing others.

Above all, you get better at anything by doing it over and over again. So practice as much as you can, and ask for feedback from your mentors and peers to track your progress.

Consulting Skills Checklist

Here’s a summary of the most essential consulting skills once again that will help you succeed in this career.

  • Analytical skills
  • Categorization and organization
  • Summarizing information
  • Identifying correlations
  • Critical thinking
  • Logical reasoning
  • Running research
  • Data analysis
  • Creative thinking and imagination
  • Problem solving
  • Solution-oriented mindset
  • Ideation and brainstorming
  • Attention to detail
  • Presentation
  • Effective communication
  • Active listening
  • Questioning and debating
  • Conceptual thinking
  • Practical thinking
  • Observation
  • Strategizing
  • Interviewing
  • Collaboration
  • Leadership and taking initiative
  • Planning and goal setting
  • Adaptability
  • Time management
  • Risk management
  • Managing complexity
  • Unbiased judgment
  • System thinking
  • Project management
  • Prioritization
  • Process optimization
  • Empathy
  • Emotional intelligence
consulting skills
By Team Paperbell
March 2, 2022

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