Ace Your Consulting Interview

Our topic for today is focused on what it takes to face a consulting interview and ace it. We will split the topic into areas of generic interview and preparation and at a bird’s-eye view touch upon specifics of understanding what technology related interview versus process related interview.

So do you have what it takes to ace a consulting interview?

While you spend time analyzing whether you are ready for a consulting interview, let us look at what it takes to prepare for the interview.While a consulting interview in many ways may be similar to a regular job interview, there are areas of the interview that grossly differs from any other job interviews.

As is the case with every other interview, this interview would start with the interviewer asking you to explain something about yourself, your experience in the consulting industry. If you do not have any experience in consulting, there is a high probability that the you would be expected to map your current experience to consulting experience requirements. But if you do not have any experience at all, there is a high likelihood you are not shortlisted for an interview in a consulting firm.

For experience consulting professionals this part becomes easy as all you do is explain your current role and how it maps to the new role you are seeking. For newbies, it becomes a bit more challenging to face a consulting interview. So it would help newbies to connect with consulting professionals as a part of the networking exercise prior to presenting themselves for a consulting interview. This will help you get familiarized with the consulting industry and specifically the role of a consultant. You could best leverage networking sites and informal communications for this purpose.

Ensure you research enough about the consulting firm you are taking the consulting interview with. Typically consulting organizations showcase case studies of their client problems and the solution they provided as a part of their case studies. They may be available in brief on their website. Take the time to read and understand these case studies. It may help you during your consulting interview.

Indeed, it may not be wise to assume that these cases would be presented to you during your consulting interview. But reviewing these cases may help provide you with insight on what the organization is looking for.

It is also advisable for you to review their service offerings and align your experience to one of the service offerings. While it is great that you may carry some experience, it is vital that the experience maps to what the consulting firm offers to its clients. This would definitely be tested in your consulting interview. Ensure that you take the time to understand their service offerings and convince the firm of your value add to the offering.

Be well prepared to solve for a case study. If you are an experienced and a seasoned consultant attending a consulting interview, there is a very high likelihood that you are not presented with a case study to solve.

But if you are a newbie, there is no skipping this step. Please note that during your consulting interview, the firm will not look for you to solve the case study. It is more vital and probable that the firm will be examining your ability to think outside the box, structured thinking, your analytical skills, your problem solving abilities and your communication skills though the case study. Prepare for multiple case studies is vital for your consulting interview success. Check to see if you can get insights for consulting case studies from HBR magazine or others of similar nature for your consulting interview.

So how does this impact my consulting interview?

The answer is quite simple if you think about it. Consulting spans in different forms. As always, given the boom in IT and ITES outsourcing, the demand for management consultants in the process and the technology space has been on the rise. If you are aware of the outsoucing industry, you would know that the most common processes that any organization would look to outsource are its finance and accounting operations. Interesting isn’t it?

On one hand some of us think Finance and Accounting are one of the safest jobs in the world, on the other they are the easiest to be outsourced.

So when it comes to consulting, you could be either a process consultant or a technology impacted management consultant. If you are a process consultant, the expectation is that you shoulder in-depth expertise and process knowledge in your area of expertise. I’m sorry to disappoint all new graduates out there. But process consulting essentially requires prior experiences in the area/ domain you wish to consult in. So you will need to work your way up the ladder from being a newbie to someone with experience in specific processes and domain to become a process consultant. This will definitely be tested without doubt during your consulting interview. If you are from a finance background with a consulting touch, process terms like Quote to Cash, Order to Cash also called O2C. Procure to Pay (P2P) and Record to Report (R2R) should not be new to you.

Also, if you think gaining some knowledge and jargon from the consulting industry will help you get through your consulting interview, you are highly mistaken. This will only get you a bad repute in the industry making you unsuitable for consulting jobs.

The other consulting arena I was hoping to touch upon through this blog is Technology related consulting – When I state technology related consulting I’m certainly not referring to IT consulting here. I’m referring to management consulting in which firms leverage technology extensively to solve for business problems (not IT problems but business problems). For example – leveraging business objects solution to reduce the time to report or using a tax bolt on software to perform tax accrual better and releasing cash flow for better investment and reduce litigation fees.

Irrespective of your consulting area, there are few things you can be assured of being tested in your consulting interview.

a) A common question in your consulting interview would be on domain and area of expertise

b) During your consulting interview also expect questions on definition of your client’s problem statement and the solution delivered and your role as a consultant in delivering the solution.

I believe in today’s world, it is extremely challenging for one to be an exclusive process consultant. Technology touches our lives every day. So even if you are a core process consultant, in my opinion, you would be forced to brush with technology at some point in time making you a technology related management consultant.

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Consulting Your Competency – Part

This article talks about consulting competencies and where they fit / will be used in the consulting world. There is so much that a consultant is expected to know and have as attributes, that I fear at times that I may miss something. I anticipate that the competency of consulting professionals cannot be documented in one short blog post. So I’m splitting this into multiple articles. This indeed would be the first part followed by many more

Consulting involves many things. But if we need to prioritize and put a structure to it, I would think consulting could boil today few things that logically center around the client -

a) Understand consulting client’s situation, challenges and issues

b) Identify consulting opportunities

c) Propose a recommendation to solve for a problem

d) Once consulting assignment is sold, deliver the solution to perfection

I would think in a larger context consulting revolves around these 4 broad areas. Needless to say each of these broad areas of consulting work, would constitute smaller areas of activities with measurable results. The conglomerate of these activities becomes a consulting assignment requiring project management efforts.

As I mentioned earlier it is practically impossible to consolidate the expected competencies of a consultant for each of these areas in a single article. So the competency under each of this broad area of work would potentially flow as multiple articles with this being the first of the lot. In this article, we could focus on the competency required from a consultant to be able to understand client situation, issues and challenges.

Given that we have the context now, let us look at some of the sub activities under each of these areas.

Understanding client’s challenges and issues

Now depending on the type of consulting you are in, there could be multiple variants to this phase. For example – If you are:

A financial consultant, you make be making observations on the client’s financial planning and analysis process or their working capital management process or their benchmarking competency amongst others.

A strategy consultant, you may be making observations on the client’s strategic plan, the strategy implementation process, effectivness and evaluation of the strategy, go to market strategy for new markets or products etc.

An operations consultant, you may be making observations on process involved in product development or in facility planning, overall operational effectiveness and methodology, production planning etc

I’m sure you get the idea. In essence, irrespective of your area of expertise, as a consultant, you would be working with the client and making useful observations on their current processes, challenges and issues. It is important to note that organization’s prefer people with industry experience for consulting roles for a simple reason. To be able to identify the client challenges quickly, adapt and come up with a recommendation. No graduation or field of study could make up for this.

Would it suffice if I make an observation as a consultant?

It would suffice if you do not wish to win the consulting deal. But if you really do wish to get engaged in a consulting assignment, mere observations would not help. Observations could potentially be considered as a viable tool to interest the client in your expertise. Identifying with a client involves tremendous effort and work.It involves understanding the environment in which the client operates, the industry challenges, understanding critical issues of the client, understanding how these issues impact the ability of the client to deliver to the customer, understanding the impact of these issues on the overall strategic objective and plan of the organization and so on.

A simple yet very effective tool to better understand your client issues is “Diagnosis”. We would have more often heard this in a hospital or a medical facility but the term is applicable across the industries though the process might differ. Diagnosis in a management consulting set up involves multiphase process of performing GAP analysis (be it functional or system), identifying issues of the client, prioritizing issues of the client based on importance and impact, arriving at a hypothesis (in some cases, the facts stare right at us on our face not warranting the need for hypothesis), performing analysis and arriving at potential conclusions (based on the hypothesis or facts). Though I have summarized all of it in a single sentence, performing diagnosis is not a simple exercise. A consultant is required to wear multiple hats and have multiple traits to be able to go through this diagnosis process and understand client issues.

Does the process stop there? Not at all. Now all we have done is to identify issues. We need to communicate this to the client without which you aren’t going to get paid.

So what attributes should a consultant have to swim through the first phase?

Some of the core attributes required for a core consulting professional includes but is not limited to -

a) Problem Solving abilities – While you may be good at identifying issues, the client needs to get the confidence that you can solve for their business problem. This does not mean you jump the gun and propose a solution ahead of time. It merely involves developing problem solving mind-set to deliver consulting capabilities.

b) Active listening and researching skills – You would note that being a great listener is imperative to being a god consultant. Listening and researching are keys to ensuring you are on top of your game and understanding exactly what the client needs.

c) Ability to pass judgements and take ownership – While you are working on understanding your client’s problems you would be put in a position to make assumptions and form hypothesis. Based on these, you would need to come up with conclusions. If you fear going wrong or lack the ability to make quick judgements, it is possible that the consulting deal would slip through your butter fingers. So develop the ability to make sensible yet informed decisions. It is always wise to ask for more information prior to making a decision.

Developing these few little attributes might take time. So keep in mind this fact and work to develop these attributes to be successful in consulting. Good luck.

As mentioned already, this is first of the many posts to come on the consulting competencies for budding consultants. Do look forward to my next post – Part 2 where we will dwell further into consulting competencies required for communication to clients and help develop strategies for the client. Have a great day ahead!!

Hello – Detailed post with graphics and more information can be found in my blog. If you would like to share your comments or questions, please do share them through the blog.

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