Getting promoted: 3 skills necessary to make it to Partner at a Consulting Firm


When you sit down for an interview or a performance review at a management consulting firm, you are being evaluated beyond just your current role. In fact, you are being assessed for longer term viability – from the next level up all the way to Partner.

Management-Consulted-Interview-Picture

In October, a student at a top-tier MBA program (an undisputed target for all Top 10 consulting firms) asked me a question I’d never been asked before. After six years of teaching and eight of coaching, that’s pretty rare at this point. The question was:

“What skills are necessary to go beyond a post-MBA analyst role – to Manager or even Partner? And who doesn’t make the cut?”

The question got me thinking – which aspects of professional development are most important, and how can you intentionally push yourself to improve in these areas when you’re on the job (consulting, or really any job)?

In my response to the student, I gave her three skills she would need to implement to move to a Manager and ultimately Partner role at a consulting firm. Here they are:

  1. Initiation – You must identify the most important things to focus on inside a project/workstream, and let your supervisors know which direction you’re headed in and what your plan is before getting started. Once you’ve received feedback and insight into any blind spots, then you must be able to execute without supervision. This is imperative to grow beyond the Analyst role – you have to get to a place where you don’t need to be managed anymore.
  2. Delegation – After initiating progress on the most important things, communicate with team members (and supervisors) by setting clear goals, expectations, and timelines. This is what separates Managers from Analysts – they realize that their hard work alone is not sufficient to solve the bigger, faster problems they face. Learn how to communicate clearly, train your team/colleagues, and trust them to execute.
  3. Persuasion – Knowing what to do and assigning workstreams is one thing – but this work only comes after the sales work (the Partner’s responsibility inside firms). So, before you can do the work, the first step is being able to persuade clients of its value. And before you get the privilege of selling a big honking piece of multi-million dollar work, you have to persuade senior people in the firm of your credibility, your process, and your value.

In my experience, Skill #2 (Delegation) ends up being toughest for top analysts to master. They are better and faster than anyone else at solving the problem, and have a tendency to not exhibit the patience needed to delegate. This is one of the reasons the top analysts at many firms eventually end up being managed out.

In addition, and in an often overlooked insight, asking someone else to do something for you that you can do yourself is almost always at most 70% as efficient as knocking it out – at the start. They are at 0%, and you’re spending a third of your 100% valuable time managing them. But when they get up to 90%, and you can work at 90% again, that’s where the effects multiply – times an X factor if you have 3 people under you. This is one of the reasons the top analysts at many firms eventually end up being managed out – they are unwilling to become short-term less productive in service of long-term growth.

But, if you are able to thoughtfully bring the future you into the present you, and show that you’re more than just an analytical machine, you’ll set yourself up for promotion. These are the intangible skills and qualities that get you promoted over other top performers. Learn them, adopt them, and execute them with precision to give yourself the best chance possible to not only #Gettheoffer, but move up the ranks once you do.

The skills and qualities we’ve mentioned here don’t come naturally to many, but can be developed. Check out these resources to help you develop these crucial skills: