Thinking Like a Consultant – Communicating Core Values

Welcome to the next installment of our “Thinking Like a Consultant” series, where we are exploring thoughts, behaviors and mindsets of successful consultants. If you have’t read Part 1 or Part 2 yet, make sure you catch yourself up before reading on.

As a consultant, or as any skilled professional for that matter, you should be aware of the the environment you are creating for yourself, both internally and externally. If your internal and external environments are healthy, you’re going to pave a road of success for yourself. If you’re toxic internally, creating a toxic environment around you or even both, the chances are your days are numbered.

In this last installment, we’re going to be looking at 3 more things that are sure to help you along the way – especially focused on how you define and share your core values.

1 – Think and speak highly of yourself

It’s been said time and time again:

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression”

While this saying may seem eye-rollingly obvious, it is nonetheless still very important. Why, as a consulting candidate, should you care – and when does the first impression really happen? In the interview? In the lobby? When you’re networking? When you hang out your freshman year with someone who, as a junior, gets an offer at a top firm? We’re going to spend a bit of time unpacking this issue here.

A 2006 study at Princeton found that it takes just one tenth of a second for people to make judgements about you based on first impressions. Among the many things people are likely to judge you on are your trustworthiness and your competence. Needless to say, these two factors alone can be very important both in terms of how you are received within the firm you work for, but it also affects how you’re received by your clients.

In terms of important introductions, of which there will be many, the firmness of your handshake, the sound of your voice and the clothes you are wearing are some of the many things that will have an effect on the impression you make. A limp lettuce leaf of a handshake can give the impression you’re passive. Unsuitable attire can make you look unprofessional and incompetent. And so on, and so on.

This isn’t to say that you can never make up for a bad first impression. If you read our publication, 3 Month Mastery, you’ll get the inside scoop on the not ideal impression Jenny Rae made as she started her career at Bain. Including the time she showed up at the Ritz-Carlton for the sell weekend in a pair of grimy jeans, wearing the same backpack she’d taken with her as traveled the world. All this, while the other prospects were smartly dressed and gliding along with roller cases. She was able to recover from this and have a successful career at Bain. If she could do it all again though, she would have made a better first impression – it would have been a lot less work!

Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy was recently interviewed by Wired Magazine. In the course of the interview, she gave a quote about establishing trust that was too good not to include here;

“There are a lot of things that you can do. One is to let the other person speak first or have the floor first. You can do this by simply asking them a question. I think people make the mistake, especially in business settings, of thinking that everything is negotiation. They think, ‘I better get the floor first so that I can be in charge of what happens.’ The problem with this is that you don’t make the other person feel warmth toward you. Warmth is really about making the other person feel understood. They want to know that you understand them. And doing that is incredibly disarming.”

The overall point here is to be aware of the fact that you’re always communicating with the people and the environment around you, even when you aren’t saying anything – and for consulting, the process of establishing first impressions honestly starts when you set foot on campus. Having special regard for the first impressions that you make, you should always be presenting a confident opinion of yourself.

As you communicate (verbally and non-verbally) that you value who you are and what you bring to the table, you will foster, among other things, a sense of trust and competence in the eyes of those around you. Both of these things will take you very far in the world of consulting.

Please note here; it’s never appropriate, verbally or otherwise, to view yourself as more important than other people. Arrogance is actually disguised insecurity and overconfidence. You can, and should, say, “I’m amazing” without saying “I’m better than you.”

2 – Speak Highly of Others

It’s been said that we live in a dog-eat-dog world. When you think about that for a second, it’s actually a chillingly grim piece of imagery. Thankfully, this is not a worldview we adhere to. Backbiting, gossip, slander, and other nasty talk are big no-nos in the world of consulting.

Going back to the image of the cannibalistic dogs for a second, it would be easy to think that you have to conduct yourself in a way that ensures one person wins while another person loses, or that you have to pit yourself against those who are most like you in order to survive. If you’re out there to make others look bad, or to wrestle your way to the top, you’re actually just piling weight on a sinking ship.

Here’s the thing about consultants: we do things others wouldn’t think possible. While the world says, “I win, you lose”, consultants look for ways to make everyone win. Your clients, your colleagues, everyone. If you’re worried about not getting recognized for the value you bring, don’t be. The cream always rises to the top, and talent will always reveal itself. 

Spend time talking about how well others do, and you’ll quickly watch people flock to work with you. Flattery isn’t necessary – just sincere, thoughtful notice of other people’s good work and solid effort go a long way.

3 – Integrity

Preparing to work for MBB, Deloitte or Accenture means you are preparing to work for some of the most influential business minds on the planet. The input you give into these businesses could relate to the loss or gain of millions, even billions of dollars. Because of this, working with integrity is an absolute no brainer.

If you take even a quick look at the MBB websites’ “About” sections, you can see they all attach a high value to acting honestly. Culturally, it’s important for a firm to have integrity because trust is pretty much currency in this line of work. If you aren’t trusted, clients will not pay for the services your firm offers.

In one instance, it may be adhering to client confidentially. In another, it may be telling an important CEO the whole truth, even when you know it is not going to be popular. In another still, it may be resisting the urge to make promises you can’t keep just so you can secure some business or make a good impression.

You may be a math whiz, with the strategic business mind of JD Rockefeller, communication skills that would make MLK sound boring with the leadership potential of Joan of Arc. All of it will count for nothing if you can’t work honestly, transparently and without a hidden agenda.

If you are willing to put the client first, saying what you mean and meaning what you say, nothing will get in your way. If you are not willing to act with integrity, not only will you be committing career suicide, you may also be jeopardizing the reputation of your whole firm.

We hope that this series is helpful for you as you start on the road to management consulting. In the last post, we shared about how management consultants are opportunists. It seems only fitting to close this series out with a quote from a like-minded individual, who was probably a management consultant.

“To the Pessimist and the Optimist: While you were arguing about whether the glass was half empty or half full, I drank it all. And it was delicious. Yours, The Opportunist”

Over the course of this series, we have been giving some of our insights into mindsets that are sure to set you up for success, both in your management consulting interview and the career that follows. We’ve chosen to include some of the things that seem most vital to us, but if you’re an aspiring/current/ex-consultant who feels as though we’ve missed something that’s been really helpful to you, let us know. We love hearing feedback and dialoguing with you guys about our content.

Filed Under: management consulting