If you want to be a consultant, what skills should you learn?

Ideally, consulting is about giving firms better strategies, and to some degree consultants have to provide useful information and strategies to companies to stay in business. So you’re going to need a basic level of intelligence and analytical skill. Microeconomics is a useful framework for understanding how people make decisions, thinking about things in terms of cost-benefit analysis, thinking at the margin, etc. Accounting is also important, because you need to be able to look at a firm’s books and get an idea of what’s going on at the firm. Also I’m guessing that being knowledgeable about the world, having some idea of what strategies are good, is helpful.

Additionally, a lot of your job as a consultant is selling your services and acting knowledgeable. Many people are stuck in Dilbert-like situations and will look at you as a knight in shining armor. For this you’re going to need to be friendly, personable, and high status; you’re going to need to sell yourself as an Answer Guy, that will come in when everything else has failed, increase profits and make everyone happy. People don’t really practice these skills very much, but you can learn more about them by filming yourself, reading Dale Carnegie or Neil Strauss’s The Game, practicing conversational skills, or practicing conversation in front of a mirror.

From a hiring perspective, Bain and McKinsey and Deloitte and BCG and the other consulting firms are going to get a lot of applicants that sound exactly the same; you have to have something that lets you stand out from the crowd. You can only do this with your GPA to a limited degree; to score a home run, you should work on your impressiveness; on doing things so unique and cool that other people find it hard to imagine that they could have done the same if only they’d put in enough time. The only person I know who talks about this regularly is Cal Newport, so start there if you’re clueless. Maybe impressiveness predicts how people will eventually do in a job and maybe it doesn’t, but it definitely will help you get through the gate.

Note that it doesn’t take much money to learn most of these skills. There are tons of courses online, and there’s the library, of course. There’s also probably a big gap between the skills you need to have to get in the door and the skills most relevant to consultants on a daily basis.

I’m not a consultant so these are just my best guesses. If you are a consultant, which skills have come in the most handy? Which skills were most important for you to get your foot in the door?

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