What Makes a Successful Management Consultant?

You have passed the vigorously competitive recruitment process into management consulting. Behold, you have now stepped on an even more challenging journey to become a successful management consultant?

How to survive? How to do well there? What are some traits of a successful management consultant? In this article, I’ll share with you the five elements you need to succeed in management consulting.

What makes a good management consultant?

A consultant needs 5 attributes to become successful:

  • Strong ambition for success: Maintaining work consistency and achieving the highest results in difficult tasks. 
  • Excellent content skills: Problem structuring, data gathering, and analysis, presentation.
  • Excellent people skills: Leading teammates, working with support staff, influencing clients.
  • Excellent learning capabilities: Quickly adapting to new industries, functions, and locations.
  • Effective, efficient resource management: Producing the best results with the least amount of time and effort.


Ambition for success

If I could pick only 1 characteristic that makes you shine in your days at McKinsey, it would be this one.

The job is extremely challenging, and most people will fall at some point – you need an ridiculous amount of motivation to survive those falls. So, unsurprisingly, only the most ambitious people can succeed in this industry.


Content skills

Some people may use the word “analytical skills” but there is so much more than that. Content skills refer to all aspects of day-to-day work of a standard consultant: From knowing how to structure complicated issues, how to crunch massive data, how to pull insights out of numerous sources, to how to logically and concisely present information on output forms (e.g: slides, reports, etc).

Let’s look at a small example of a very common situation in consulting:

Say the client gave you a wrong piece of data. A successful consultant with good content skills would immediately notice and report back to the client for revisions, saving him a lot of time and effort. On the other hand, a consultant without this skill would not notice the holes until the very end. He eventually has to change the big whole analysis and many related work branches, potentially wasting many days of working in wrong directions.


People skills

Now, assume that both consultants in the example above possess the same level of content skills. They both can tell right away that the clients are giving them the wrong data.

Clearly, what they need to do then is to contact the person-in-charge and ask him/her to revise the data. Yet, the one with better people skills will do this faster … while the other one may face all kinds of procrastination from the client, seriously delaying his workflow.

Right now, you might be wondering “why do consultants need these skills?”. The answer to that question can be found by understanding the nature of the management consulting job – which I explain in detail in this article below.


Learning capabilities

Learning in management consulting is an on-going and never-ending process (even for higher levels like managers and partners). There are always things you do not know: a new industry, geography, functions, and new people to work with, etc. And the other consultants in the firm are just as smart as you are. So, the ones who can learn harder and faster can become successful consultants.

Isn’t it impressive when it’s just the first day of the project and you can put some sharp insights about the industry on the meeting table? Remember, consulting is the business of selling brains, the better the brains perform within a time frame, the more value you can capture. The best way to “train” your brain is to fill it with a bunch of insightful input for your job. Other skills aside, those with the strongest learning capabilities go far in the game.


Resource management

The term “resource” refers to all the “tools” you have to complete your tasks: and time, client’s materials, experts, and supporting teams.

In college, we usually increase output (e.g: grades) by increasing input (i.e: more study hours). However, in consulting, everybody is already maxed out. People have no room left to expand the work hours or the provided materials. So those who know how to plan ahead, communicate effectively with clients, and make the best out of existing resources are the most successful. Resources are also related to your time and health –which is finite, so keeping your workflow smooth will help you save time to maintain your best physical and emotional state.

In the example above, let’s say both consultants notice the holes and both can effectively convince the client to revise the data, one may be stuck with nothing to do in the meantime, especially when this happens at the end of a tight deadline. The other one with better resources management skills would know about this risk way before. He would organize this data-gathering task way ahead in the work plan. He has a number of working branches going on, so even with this one pauses, he and all of his resources can still be running effectively. By the time the right data comes back, he has achieved many other important insights that can enhance how he looks at it. That’s how the gap between a successful consultant and a so-so one is created.

Read next

Scoring in the McKinsey PSG/Digital Assessment

The scoring mechanism in the McKinsey Digital Assessment

Scoring in the McKinsey PSG/Digital Assessment

The scoring mechanism in the McKinsey Digital Assessment

Related product

Thumbnail of Rookie Consultant

Rookie Consultant

Expert's cheat sheet to rock your first few months and get promoted fast in consulting firms - consulting mindset, resource management, client management, and work-life balance.

Practice now