Consulting Skills: Definition and Examples
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated 22 January 2023
Published 25 June 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Consulting skills are technical skills and personal qualities that make you suitable to offer guidance to businesses. These soft skills might be related to finance, marketing and sales, managing personnel or overseeing production. Depending on a consultant's area of expertise, they can suggest improvements at any level of the corporate hierarchy. In this article, we explain consulting skills and offer several examples.
What are consulting skills?
Consulting skills are the skills required to offer guidance to an organisation. Consultants might be contracted to address a particular shortcoming or issue within a company, or they might be consulted to improve overall efficiency. Given the variety of different requirements of a consultant, some relevant skills can only be developed with experience. Consultants can work on a freelance basis, spending a short time observing a company and offering advice, or they can be contracted to advise in the longer term.
Examples of consulting skills
A consultant must gather relevant information from various sources within a company and analyse it. This analysis then allows the consultant to determine whether a company is operating as efficiently as possible and whether parts of the organisation can be improved. The opinions of a consultant can have a significant impact on the success of a company, for better or worse. With this in mind, it is essential that a consultant is highly qualified and possesses necessary consulting skills, such as:
Creative thinking is the ability to look beyond the obvious facts of a situation to devise a different solution that can produce better results. These creative solutions often require knowledge or experience that comes with experience, rather than strictly academic learning. With regard to consulting, creative thinking allows a consultant to offer ideas or solutions that a company's staff has previously not considered. After offering a creative plan, creative thinking might also include suggesting employees that the consultant believes will be suitable for the task.
Conceptual thinking and practical grounding
These two skills might seem in opposition, but they can complement each other with great benefits. A consultant might possess intuition or experience that enables them to perceive an abstract concept, then explain it to others who might lack the same perception. When employees have a fuller understanding of concepts or problems, they will always be more effective in developing or addressing them.
After explaining these abstracts and developing a shared sense of understanding, they need a practical and measured response. This requires providing guidelines that can be understood and put into action by a company's employees. This process makes it possible to transform abstract ideas into workable strategies. This skill is invaluable to companies as independent consultants are usually hired to address specific problems within the organisation.
As mentioned previously, companies usually call in consultants when they feel their company is underperforming or facing a specific challenge. This is done with the understanding that the consultant will possess knowledge, expertise or experience that the company's staff currently lacks. This means that much of a consultant's work is fundamentally problem-solving, in scenarios where the specific problem might not have been identified.
The first task a consultant faces is to identify the problem and, if it has already been identified, to discover its origin. This means applying expertise to devise solutions that the company's employees have not. Even in situations where a company's staff believes it has a relatively full understanding of the issue, a consultant might need to disagree and provide their expert interpretation.
Communication and empathy
Communication and empathy are key in consulting. A consultant's time working with a company might be relatively brief, so they must learn whatever they can from a company's employees. Developing a sense of trust is also important; if an employee feels that a company's management is the reason for its problems, they might be afraid to speak out. In these situations, the employee can confide in a consultant.
Interviewees should not be made to feel that they are being pressured or accused by a consultant. Consultants are contracted to solve problems and this might mean that an individual within the company is responsible. As a consultant, it is important to remind the staff that you are offering improvements to benefit the company as a whole. This means projecting an approachable and empathetic attitude, in turn allowing the consultant to perform their role more easily.
The strategies and improvements that a consultant suggests cannot be successful without the cooperation of employees at every level of the company. After identifying a problem and devising solutions, a consultant needs to explain why their strategy is the most logical.
It is the consultant's role to offer suggestions, not to ensure that the company implements this advice. Even so, convincing the company to adopt a strategy that yields positive results will only enhance the consultant's reputation in the future.
Related: Top 9 Leadership Skills to Develop
Organisation and time management
Whether a consultant is working on a freelance basis or as a long term employee, companies want solutions to their problems as quickly as possible. This means consultants need to make the most of their available time. Meetings should be utilised efficiently, to minimise disruption to a company's workforce. Setting a clear agenda before meetings will ensure that it remains focused on the problem at hand.
One strategy is to allow interviewees to prepare in advance. This can include providing documents and questions that the consultant wants to discuss. This allows the interviewee to formulate answers and results in more efficient use of time, rather than surprising them with questions that can potentially catch them unprepared.
Improving consulting skills
If you're embarking on a consultancy career or looking to improve your skill set, we have gathered some methods for developing your abilities:
Numerous institutions provide certified consultancy courses. In addition to gaining formal qualifications, these courses can also connect you with more experienced consultants, who are invaluable sources of guidance when beginning your career. Given the huge range of professions that consultants operate in, take the time to find a course that is relevant to the skills you want to reinforce.
Broaden your horizons
Consultants can specialise in one industry or offer more general advice to a range of clients. Each type of consultant has different benefits. In-depth knowledge of a particular profession allows a consultant to provide specific guidance to an extent that their peers might be unable to. On the other hand, experience working with different types of business might impart knowledge that can be applied to other companies.
Stay up to date
It's important to stay up to date with trends and innovations in your chosen career. This can include reading industry publications or listening to seminars given by successful consultants. Not every piece of advice will apply to you but the more sources you learn from, the easier it will be to choose the information that benefits you in future.
Highlighting consulting skills
When applying for a consulting position and hopefully being interviewed, it's important to highlight your consulting skills and provide examples.
CV and cover letter
During work as a professional consultant, personal qualities are often more important than technical skills. Take the time to mention your consulting skills, with brief descriptions of situations where you have previously demonstrated them. Any claim of possessing skills will be more impressive when supported by evidence. For example:
"I coordinated a training program for a team of telemarketers. The aim was to improve the quality of service and reduce waiting times. Before developing the material for the course, I visited the facilities and spoke with the workers. I was able to identify bottlenecks and design a more effective care procedure. In just six weeks, the service improved its customer satisfaction rating by 37%".
Consulting skills in interviews
Examples should also be provided in interviews when the opportunity arises. Sometimes this isn't possible and recruiters ask more abstract questions, such as "What does collaboration mean to you?" Your response should be broad enough to cover a variety of scenarios but, ideally, it should be related to your role in some way. For example:
"Collaboration starts by approaching projects with an open mind and proactive attitude. When all members of a team are treated with respect and committed to a positive result, collaboration can occur spontaneously. Sometimes it requires a leader who encourages participation and delegates tasks to each member of the team, determined by their unique skills."
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