5 Soft Skills That Are Critical In Consulting Interviews

Most consulting firms are wrapping up their recruitment process for this year and offers have been sent out. The hard skills help you do the analysis, but once you’ve got an answer, you need client buy in. To get client buy in, you almost always need exceptional soft skills. As a result, the consulting firms want to see strong soft skills demonstrated in the interviews.

So what skills really matter? Which ones will interviewers be looking for you to demonstrate?

1. Communication

Communication is key. If you can’t communicate, your career as a consultant will unfortunately be dead on arrival. You’ll need to communicate effectively with teammates, managers, client contacts, partners, executives (all the way up to the CEOs). The annals of history are littered with people who had great ideas but couldn’t get them accomplished. Why didn’t they get them accomplished? Because they couldn’t convince others to help them. Why couldn’t they do that? They couldn’t communicate effectively.

Below are three key traits that define successful communication in a case interview:

  1. Don’t ramble
  2. Be clear and structured
  3. Be “client ready”

2. Leadership Ability

This is another key skill that your interviewer is going to be looking for. On the job, you’re going to have to lead yourself through case problems, lead your teams and your clients to the right solutions despite a tight timeline. In the case interview itself, the interviewer will be specifically evaluating your ability to lead yourself through the problem space. That is the best proxy he/she will have for whether you possess those skills. Good leadership is hard to define but “I know it when I see it”.

Likely, your interviewer will feel the same way. But there are subtle signals that will help convey your leadership ability. Are you proactive in picking a direction and exploring it? Or do you wait for the interviewer to tell you what to analyze? Do you take the problem and “go off in the corner” and try to solve it while not taking the interviewer along with you? A key part of leadership is bringing your team along with you – getting them where you need to go. As you’re going through the case, involve the interviewer in the conversation. Take charge of the case at hand but bring them along on your journey to demonstrate how you can do this.

3. Collaboration

Increasingly, this is a skillset that firms have been bumping up in importance. Some firms have even begun to have group case interviews to test your teamwork ability. There are structural reasons for this, which stem from the trends shaping the industry. Specifically, as teams helping clients are becoming bigger and the number of handoffs between teams are going up (e.g., strategy -> implementation), the need for flawless collaboration goes up. In addition, collaboration on implementation cases is critical because unlike a MECE strategy analysis at some point the rubber will hit the road and teams need to cooperate to ship product or launch services or make process changes.

4. Drive

What do we mean by drive? Essentially, the force of nature that enables someone to keep going when everything seems for naught. Given the tough lifestyle, long hours, demanding clients, pressure of moving up the firm ladder, consulting can be an incredibly tough career track to manage. Thus, it’s important that firms find, hire and retain people with an incredible amount of drive. This is what consultants will need to push through barriers: whether it’s getting all the right data from the client, rebuilding a model 27 different ways to get at the right insight or working on upselling a client on new case work for years before finally breaking through.

At the end of the day, drive is what helps push consultants and these firms forward. All the smarts and soft skill polish in the world won’t accomplish anything, if the consultant doesn’t have some drive to go forward and seize the opportunity for him/herself. In a case interview, this often comes up in how the candidate approaches the problem. Do they keep pushing through to get the right information? If they make a small math error, do they give up and get deflated? If their first hypothesis leads to a dead end, do they pack up and go home? The firms want to find someone who no matter how many roadblocks they encounter, keeps on trucking. That’s the drive they’re looking for.

5. The unifying trait: confidence

In everything I’ve discussed above – communication, leadership, collaboration, drive – there is an underlying, unifying trait which ties them all together: confidence. And consultants care deeply about the confidence a candidate can project. This makes good sense too. As a consultant, you’ll be advising top firms, top execs and top leaders on how to solve their most difficult problems when you yourself might only be fresh out of your undergraduate program! At times, that contrast can seem bonkers… but one key trait that will help put everyone at ease is a confident candidate who even if they don’t have the right answer immediately is confident that they can lead and drive toward the right one with their team. Regardless of what type of case interview situation you’re in, that is key.

– Written By Jason Oh

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