Have you ever wondered whether being a consultant is the right move for you? Having led two consultancy firms and worked as a consultant at various times in my career I think there are some key traits shared by all good consultants. I’ve come up with eight, but fellow consultants out there might have more to add.
1. You love change and thrive in new situations
You can probably split any set of employees along a scale according to their comfort with change. At one end you will have those who resist change at all costs, and at the other there’ll be those who change things for change’s sake. Good consultants sit towards the change-loving end. They thrive in new situations which test their knowledge and skills, they are comfortable with being outside their comfort zone, and they look forward to the next project.
Consultancy involves digging into situations, finding out what is going on, finding out where strengths and weaknesses lie. It involves challenging assumptions – your own and the client’s. Good consultants thrive in new situations and seek to bring about change.
2. You ask smart questions and listen beautifully
Consultants must seek to build rapport with their clients, listen respectfully, ask (sometimes challenging) questions and listen very carefully to the answers. This isn’t a job for those who like to be centre stage, dominating the proceedings. It isn’t for those who need to do most of the talking. It’s for those who can pop their own ego in their pocket and focus on those in front of them.
3. You are a chameleon and yet are always yourself
Are you the sort of person who could work or has worked in a wide variety of workplace cultures? Someone who can be as comfortable in a laid-back office where people wear jeans as in a highly traditional formal office where suit and tie is de rigeur? Some of the best consultants have worked in more than one sector in their career – our team includes those who have worked in the charity, corporate and education sectors in the UK and overseas. Consultants need to flex in style and tone to have impact with their clients but they must always be themselves – because it needs to be truthful and rooted in their experience.
4. You can see the wood from the trees
Can you read a report or review a set of data and quickly understand the story it tells? Would you know what questions you wanted to ask quite quickly? Would you be able to pick out the pertinent points from the mass of information? Those kinds of skills are invaluable in consultancy.
5. You know your limits and take care of yourself
How do you respond to stress? Can you spot the signs that you have done too much before you burn out? Do you know when to stop and reflect? Can you cope with not knowing where you might be next month? Consultants need to able to take care of themselves and have inner resilience to deal with travelling, ups and downs in volume of work, time alone, time with clients and simple things like having to find wifi in a café in a town you have never been to…in the rain….
6. You can work alone or with a team
This is an important question to ask yourself, as it might determine whether you work as a sole trader consultant or join a firm. How much do you like working alone and how much do you thrive in a team? All consultants have to work alone a lot, so you need to know you are comfortable with that. However, if you join a firm you will also have the camaraderie of a team, colleagues to share ideas with, seek advice from or just moan about being in a café in a town you’ve never been to, in the rain, without good enough wifi to email that important report.
7. You are hopeful and helpful
Now I think this is crucial. As a consultant you must have hope that you can help your clients, that things can always be better, that problems can always be solved. You need to be the sort of person who rolls up their sleeves and digs in, not just someone who watches and comments. That doesn’t mean you ‘go native’ and lose objectivity, it simply means that you play your part with all your heart in bringing about change.
8. You are a go-to person
There are some people in any industry who are go-to people. They are well-liked, respected, asked to speak, to chair things, to join committees or boards. They stimulate others and want to do their bit to help (see 7). They collect knowledge and ideas and share them generously. IF this is you, then consultancy may be for you.
If these things ring true to you then consider consultancy – it may give you what you need to thrive and have impact in your work. It’s the best move I ever made and it might be that way for you too.
I hope some of you are reading this because you are interested in what it might be like to work for Halpin. If that’s the case I would add three more points to my list. To be happy and successful as a consultant with the Halpin team the following three points would be true…
9. You are passionate about higher education
Halpin are the experts in HE. To be happy working with us you must be passionate about HE, about the importance and impact of HE to the UK, and to the world! You have probably worked in HE, and if you haven’t then you have very strongly related experience or skills which you can swiftly transfer to our HE clients.
10. You are an expert
We offer services in strategy, governance, marketing, student experience and fundraising. If you have expertise in one (or more) of these areas, we might be a good home for your talents. You are undoubtably an expert in what you do, but you should be the sort of person who is keen to learn more, further develop or widen their expertise and who generously shares their knowledge and experience.
11. You are kind
We like working with kind people. The sort of people who really care when you have a bad day. The sort who offer help naturally. The sort of people who, when their name appears on your phone you want to answer it! We look for people whose values are clear in their work – who have respect for others and for their clients. We don’t have a set of values on our website – we simply act with kindness as we go about our work. If you are kind and kindness matters to you, then working with us might be a good fit for you.
Susie Hills is Joint CEO of Halpin Partnership – the experts in management consultancy for higher education.
To express an interest in working for Halpin, please send your CV and a short cover note via out Contact Page.