If you've spoken to many a management consultant, you may have discovered a fun variety of backgrounds, personalities, and specializations among these professionals. Within this variety, however, a few key elements bring them together. Whenever you see these tell-tale signs, there's a good chance you're speaking to a current or former management consultant:
- Fascination with problem-solving
- Strong academic credentials
- Analytical prowess
- People skills
- Tolerance for travel
1) Fascination with problem-solving
Consultants -- from analysts all the way up to partners -- often love solving problems. They may have loved puzzle books as a kid and have a hard time walking away from a riddle or brainteaser a colleague serves up while passing through the kitchen. Many consultants will confess to conducting random analyses in their head frequently. They may try to answer miscellaneous questions served up by outside stimuli and likely loved the case interview process.
If a restaurant says, "I'm sorry, we're all out of that menu item," the management consultant might wonder, "How often does that happen? What's the problem? Is their demand forecasting out of whack? Was there a supply chain or communication problem upstream?"
If a news article provides a startling statistic or number, the management consultant might respond with skepticism and put that number into perspective. "$36 billion, really? That amounts to about $120 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. That seems like a bit of a stretch to me."
At the analyst level, some consultants admit to feeling a sense of heart-thumping anticipation in the moment just after the data has been cleaned and inputted into the charting software. The moment of truth when a hypothesis gets supported or demolished can be quite exciting.
2) Strong credentials
Management consultants -- particularly those at top firms -- tend to have strong credentials academically, professionally, and even personally.
Many earned top test scores, gaining them admission into top schools, and then earned top grades. Sometimes people want to know: how top? While every firm's cutoff varies in its intensity and uniformity, roughly speaking in the United States, a 3.8 (out of 4.00) GPA at a top 20-ranked university and a 99th percentile standardized test score (ACT or SAT) is enough to make most recruiters at top firms think you've got adequate intellectual horsepower. For lower-tier firms, a 3.5 GPA at a flagship state university is often enough to cross that bar.
Professionally, management consultants have often interned or worked at firms with a strong name brand (e.g. Goldman Sachs, Google). Even better, they've produced a real, meaningful result while there. The best resumes for consulting (and most other industries) convey that the person achieved something -- often quantifiably and expressed through numbers. Merely having held a position or conducted recurring transactional responsibilities doesn't incline management consultant recruiters to extend an offer.
Finally, management consultants often have some really interesting personal accomplishments. It's fun how often in conversation you'll hear that someone completed an ironman triathlon or was a kid actor or led some impressive volunteer coalition. Being surrounded by these types of people on a regular basis adds an extra layer of fun and interest to workplace conversations.
3) Analytical prowess
Fascination with problem-solving combined with strong academic credentials creates a valuable combination for businesses. Management consultants are hailed for their ability to take large quantities of data, identify what's relevant from what's irrelevant, and package those insights into compelling presentations.
Some consultants take great pride in the massive models they build out in Excel. Investment bankers are usually the ones who take the most pride in "never having to touch the mouse" because they've mastered the Excel shortcut keys so completely. Management consultants, however, are usually a close second. Often massive, multi-megabyte Excel models that yield multiple key outputs from the available source data become the thing of office legends.
Management consultants also tend to have a special mastery of PowerPoint. They can quickly create many sharp slides. Ideally, these slides will neatly and convincingly relay the key insights from the data analyzed, coalescing into a persuasive story that "proves" the business must pursue this course of action.
4) People skills
While there are definitely some arrogant bastards out there in management consulting (you may have encountered one of them during your interviews), their careers tend to be short in duration. Or, the consultant is arrogant in some places, but knows how to turn it off in front of their superiors and clients. Ultimately management consultants work in the professional services industry. If they fail to provide courteous service to their clients, they fail.
A talented management consultant is able to build terrific relationships with their clients and teammates across all levels. He deftly maneuvers political issues in order to get people to discuss sensitive matters openly. He's able to get buy-in from key stakeholders across the client organization so that the proposed solutions are implemented.
Tremendous consultants come across as very likable. They're the kind of person you naturally trust. Clients need to feel comfortable opening up to them, and may desire to grab a beer with them. Management consultants can also persuade well while presenting the team's work. Some of the very best partners are downright mesmerizing as they progress through the "story" within the PowerPoint.
5) Tolerance for travel
Most management consultants travel frequently. While the travel demands vary from firm to firm, it's not at all uncommon to fly out to the client on Monday morning and fly back Thursday night, week after week. Many management consultants develop their own set of particular travel preferences and eccentricities that come up during idle consultant chatter.
Some consultants love the road and make a game out of maximizing their hotel and airline points, while others merely tolerate travel as a necessary evil of the job. Either way, a management consultant tends to have a mastery of packing everything into a single carry-on bag, which loyalty programs are optimal for his particular needs, and how to get preferential treatment when necessary.
So if you end up in conversation with someone at the airport on Thursday evening who displays these characteristics, go ahead and ask, "Did you ever work as a management consultant?" Odds are she at least thought about it.