Soft skills are often overlooked by candidates vying to enter the consulting industry. It makes sense as so much emphasis is placed on the case interview during the consulting recruiting process. In any field, despite the importance of basic data analysis ability, soft skills are increasingly more significant to success. You may be asking – what are soft skills anyway? How are they important? How are soft skills used in management? What are soft skills vs hard skills, and what are some soft skills examples? Keep on reading.
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are interpersonal qualities and traits that you bring to a team that allow you to interact with people effectively and harmoniously. They differ from hard or technical skills in that they can’t be easily quantified or directly tested. Soft skills are important because, at the end of the day, a company is an organization built and run by people.
Why Are Soft Skills Important in Consulting?
In consulting, though a powerful deliverable and thorough analysis are important to a project, all of the work is a moot point if the client can’t be convinced to take the consulting firm’s recommendations. Because humans are emotional creatures, raw logic and data isn’t always enough to earn the respect of your clients. The best consultants have the ability to build internal and external trust, navigate conflict peaceably, and collaborate closely with clients and colleagues.
Furthermore, the soft skills various members of the team possess impact the dynamic within a consulting team. If you’ve ever had a bad boss or difficult teammate, then you know how important team dynamics are to the well-being of everyone involved and to the team’s ultimate success. Having good soft skills will increase the efficiency of a team and decrease any potential drama, which can be emotionally draining.
The Soft Skills Important in Consulting
Though almost every soft skill imaginable has use in its own way, there are certain soft skills that are especially important in the consulting industry. Our take on the top 5 most important soft skills for consulting.
Consulting projects require constant coordination and discussion amongst consultants, clients, and any other third parties (i.e. customers or suppliers). As you might expect, concise and effective communication is essential in the consulting world.
How to Practice: Speak up in the first 5 minutes of any meeting to build credibility. During your first 90 days on the job, prepare a daily update email for your supervisor – even if you don’t send it, this will help you concisely capture the progress you’re making, next steps, and areas where you need support. To practice, start within a safe environment with your friends and family. Then start participating in discussions if you are still in school or speaking up when you’re working on team projects. The more experience you have voicing your opinions, the better.
Consulting firms are always looking for future leaders – either you are a future partner or potential future client. Regardless of where you start as a consultant, you will need to lead almost immediately. Typical consulting projects consist of 1 analyst/consultant owning their own work stream.
How to Practice: Take on leadership positions wherever you can. Whether it’s on the basketball court or running for a position in a community organization, any experience where you are making decisions, responsible for a budget, and managing teams will be helpful in consulting (and is why leadership experience is so prized by firms on consulting resumes!)
Consulting projects are expensive, and for good reason. Clients are paying top dollar for you to help them solve their most pressing issues. As a result, they expect their advisors to be both knowledgeable and confident in their analysis, and ultimately, recommendations.
How to Practice: There are many ways to practice confidence, including looking people in the eye, having good posture, and even exercising. Most importantly, push yourself to get out of your comfort zone. Having a breadth of experiences can often help you learn how to navigate through tough obstacles that will build your confidence in other situations.
You don’t need to have the desire to be the next Steve Jobs. But the best consultants are usually go-getters who have an incredible drive to achieve. This usually translates into an excellent work product and consultants who go above and beyond their responsibilities.
How to Practice: Much of this is innate. However, consistency and resiliency are the keys to great success. If you can consistently work on your craft, don’t get discouraged by setbacks, and are willing to put in the extra work to see your clients succeed, you are well on your way to standing out in a consulting firm.
Soft skills are all about people-to-people interactions, and without charisma, consultants have a harder time convincing their teams or clients on what they perceive to be the best course of action.
How to Practice: Being charismatic often has a lot to do with authenticity. Being true to yourself and being confident in who you are as a person will make it easier for you to get along with others. In addition to that, being fully present in the moment and giving others your full attention will also make you more likable.