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7 Characteristics of a Successful Consultant

As college graduation season has come to an end, there are a ton of recent grads entering the job market unsure of their future career path. With variety in day-to-day responsibilities and projects, attractive salaries, and continuous learning, a career in consulting can certainly be appealing. But, what does it take? First, consider what the definition of a consultant is. According to Merion Webster's online dictionary a consultant is A person who gives professional advice or services to companies for a fee. Sounds like a fairly simple definition. However, taking this definition to look at job searches can make the simple definition a much more complicated task. 

To start, there are multiple types of Consultancies, including, but not limited to, Management Consulting, IT Consulting, and Finance and Procurement Consulting. In addition to the numerous types of consulting, there is also the need to consider the size of the consulting firm to join. They range significantly from small niche firms of less than 50 people up to the Big 4 that employ thousands. Again, the choice here stems from what the applicant deems as the best fit for them. However, no matter what type of consulting area a person would like to enter or what firm they would want to work for, there are several key characteristics that every successful consultant should possess: Having self-confidence, be a good listener, be a team player, easily cultivate and gain client trust, exhibit humility, have good communication skills, and be able to showcase expert knowledge.

Have Self-Confidence When meeting with clients, be sure to not show or sound uncertain in the responses to their questions. Speak with authority. Specifically, when discussing client sensitive matters, present yourself as confidently as possible and avoid sounding unclear or unsure in your response.

Exhibit Humility Humility is not thinking you are better than other people. Do not be boastful or arrogant when working with stakeholders. Remember, the individuals you are working with may have been doing the job you are now tasked to remedy or improve. Always keep in mind the client is the star in this equation and your job as the consultant is to help the client shine.

Be a Good Listener Listening to what the client is stating their needs and problems are is the most helpful way to ensure you are going to be able to solve their problem as easily or quickly as possible. Do not assume you know everything about their challenges or business even after doing research or if you had tackled this same problem before. In addition to being a good listener, ask relevant, open-ended questions. This allows the client to realize you are listening to them and are understanding their current situation.

Be a Team Player Development of a collaborative relationship with peers and clients is imperative to being a great consultant. Working well with others not only strengthens your skills, but it also can allow for growth of your consultancy.

Have Good Communication Skills Communication skills are both oral and written. The ability to be a good speaker is just as important as having the ability to write clear, concise emails and presentations. Since consultants are often viewed as Subject Matter Experts, the ability to deliver a message either written or aloud is critical to being a successful consultant.

Be Able to Showcase Expert Knowledge  Again the idea of a Subject Matter Expert (SME) arises. Your client has hired you (or your firm) because they expect you to have more expertise than their company's internal teams or because they do not have the bandwidth of resources or time to solve the problems at hand. In all interactions with your client ensure to exhibit the knowledge you have for this particular area of expertise.Continuous education is also imperative to remain competitive and at the top of the game. You should always be reading articles, blogs, whitepapers, etc. and networking with other industry professionals to learn and maintain the knowledge that is expected from the client. Additionally, consultants should be able to take a solution from theory to realization and show their clients how to complete and maintain that solution in their environment.

Easily Cultivate and Gain Client Trust  All these skills ultimately lead to this final characteristic of gaining your clients trust. Your engagement will not be successful if the client does not feel a sense of trust from you as the consultant. The ability to calm the concerns and show value for the money being paid by the client is imperative to the success of the engagement and the ability to earn future business from this client or by their recommendation to their network. If consulting is an area that you are interested in, keep in mind, no matter the discipline, it is a people driven business and having and developing key characteristics you can have a long, rewarding, successful career.

Author: Tracey Horrocks is a Project Manager at Source One Management Services, LLC with years of experience in procurement and strategic sourcing in an array of categories including Professional Services, Marketing, and Facilities Maintenance. In her role, Tracey serves as a pundit for developing RFPs and executing strategic sourcing strategies. Her detailed approach to supplier identification and vendor management helps clients achieve sustainable costs savings and operating efficiency.