Skills and competencies

12 skills that consulting recruiters want in graduates

8 Nov 2023, 13:20

Discover the top skills you will need to become a management consultant and learn how to demonstrate them in your applications.

Professionals sitting inside an office on laptops, showing the office skills consultants will need

Graduate recruiters look for some specific skills when they’re hiring for management consultant roles. It’s a sought-after career and they have plenty of choice, so they narrow down their options by looking for students who already have the skills that successful consultants have. These are the candidates who are most likely to settle in smoothly, make an impact quickly and ultimately do the best job for clients. That means you’ll need to demonstrate that you have management consulting skills in your application.

That’s not as difficult as it may sound: take a look at our list and you’re likely to see you have many of them already – and we’ve included easy-to-follow tips from recruiters at major consulting firms on how to show your consulting skills in applications and interviews.

What makes a good consultant? The top 12 skills and attributes

We’ve analysed the graduate consulting jobs on for trends in what firms are looking for and spoken to recruiters at key consulting firms about the skills they seek.

1. Tenacity

In our research, this was the top management consultant skill (or rather quality) that recruiters asked for. This isn’t surprising: you may be compensated accordingly, but consultants are expected to pull out all of the stops to deliver for clients – which means that determination and drive are essential.

In your application, demonstrate that you can persist when the going gets tough by outlining long-term projects you’ve been involved in or challenges you’ve mastered. Mention any obstacles you encountered and how you overcame them.

2. Excellent communication skills

Consultants work with a wide range of people, so you need to be able to communicate clearly and effectively.

‘As a consultant, your credibility depends on clear communication, whether you are discussing insights with your team, presenting to a client or drafting a formal report,’ say the recruitment experts at FTI Consulting .

‘It is not enough just to have the technical expertise to solve complex problems – it is also vital that you are able to translate your work into clear, simple insights that can quickly be understood by non-specialists. Written and oral communication skills are tested throughout the recruitment process here, through interviews, group exercises and case studies.’

Discover how to improve your communication skills .

3. Commercial awareness

Commercial awareness is an understanding of how economic factors affect businesses and the sectors they work with. Consultants need this skill to be able to create solutions that take economic issues into account.

Research the firm, the sectors it specialises in, its recent projects and its competitors. Combine this with keeping up to date with what is happening within the wider economy and political world, as these events will affect consultancy clients. You can call upon your commercial awareness when taking part in consulting firms’ case study interviews or when answering typical consulting interview questions such as ‘What do you know about us?’ and ‘What is the biggest challenge facing our firm (or our clients) over the next three years?’

Learn more about what commercial awareness means in practice and how to acquire it .

4. Organisational skills

Our research showed this was another top skill mentioned in graduate consultant job ads. Consulting is fast-paced, so you need to be able to organise your time and that of others effectively.

Show your organisational skills by providing evidence of a time when you juggled work, study and extracurricular activities. Be ready to discuss this in more detail in an interview and practise your answers in advance. What tactics did you use to manage your time? What was effective for you and why?

Get tips on how to find the right time management techniques for you .

5. Critical thinking skills

Critical thinking means the ability to evaluate information objectively and to see connections between ideas. Consultants handle large amounts of information, so being able to spot trends is essential.

‘NERA’s clients value our ability to apply and communicate state-of-the-art approaches clearly and convincingly, our commitment to deliver unbiased findings, and our reputation for quality and independence,’ says Emma Cairns, senior manager, human capital, NERA Economic Consulting.

‘We need critical and independent thinkers who can effectively analyse the data and draw conclusions based on the evidence before them, even if the results are unexpected. You can demonstrate this at interview by breaking down the information based on the data available and drawing logical conclusions based on the facts.’

6. Analytical skills

Analytical skills are very closely aligned to critical thinking: essentially analytical skills are the ability to identify patterns and trends in information and to make sense of them. Data isn’t always quantitative and you don’t need to be studying a STEM subject to develop analytical skills; you’re likely to have gained them through the independent study involved in a degree in any subject.

Your analytical skills are most likely to be assessed via a case study interview or through a situational judgement test , in which you will need to make decisions based on the information you are given – and the best way to approach both these recruitment exercises is through practising them. However, if you are asked a question at interview along the lines of ‘How many tennis balls can you fit in a Mini Cooper?’ or ‘What would you recommend a client does in X situation?’ make sure you explain your thinking when you give your answer.

Learn more about analytical skills and get inspiration for interview answers.

7. The ability to listen and persuade

Consultants need to be able to listen to clients’ carefully to establish what they need, then being able to inspire confidence in clients that the solutions they suggest are the right ones. The role also involves working with others to get things done – a situation where getting people on side is essential.

‘Retail strategy consulting is about delivering evidence-led insights for clients,’ say the recruiters at Javelin Group.

‘To demonstrate these skills at interview, candidates should show that they can listen carefully to information and opinions and critically assess their validity. Candidates also need to have the confidence to offer the team their own insights and persuade them, in a constructive way, of their logic. Case study interviews, particularly those that involve working as a group, offer an opportunity for candidates to display a persuasive, logical approach, taking others’ arguments and any new information into account throughout.

These abilities are also known as influencing – discover how to influence and inspire confidence in others .

8. Teamworking skills

As a junior consultant, you will work within a team. But good teamwork is about more than working with others – it’s about working effectively with them. There are plenty of ways to demonstrate you have this skill: as well as group projects, think about sports you’ve played, or arts activities or committees you’ve been involved in. Think about the role you played and how this contributed to the final result.

Find out how to answer teamwork interview questions and how to you can develop teamworking skills at university.

9. Enthusiasm

’The role of a consultant is largely client facing,’ says Catriona Dickson, senior HR generalist at Alfa .

‘As such, a client’s perception of and investment into the company you work for can be largely influenced by their interaction with you and by the manner in which you come across. You can demonstrate enthusiasm throughout the interview process by: exhibiting a willingness to learn and an interest in the area to which you are applying; talking about one of your passions; maintaining good body language and a positive tone; and asking the interviewer interesting questions .’

The best way to show enthusiasm earlier in the process is to ensure that your covering letter or application form answers are tailored and well researched, explicitly explaining why you want to be a consultant at their firm.

10. Attention to detail

A mistake in a client document could end up costing a lot, so management consultants need to be able to see details as well as the bigger picture. Demonstrate you can do this by ensuring your application is error free. Don’t rely on spellchecks or your own ability spot typos (they’re extra tricky to spot in your own work): allow time to ask a friend or family member to proofread the documents you’re submitting. If you know you struggle with writing, allow a bit more time to make sure your application is word perfect.

11. Problem-solving skills

Consulting is all about solving problems, so it’s not a surprise that recruiters look for students and graduates who can do this. As with many of the requirements for a consulting job, you’re likely to have built problem-solving skills through your studies and through taking part in extracurricular activities. That does mean that many of those applying for consulting roles alongside you will also have these skills, so take time to think of a good example to include in your application and to discuss at interview.

When you outline the problem and how you solved it, remember to focus on your contribution, not that of others.

You should also run through as many practice case studies as you can find on your careers service and employer websites to hone your approach to solving problems.

Discover problem-solving interview questions and a key problem-solving approach .

12. Adaptability

Management consultants work in a world of constant change. They need to be able to adapt to new situations and information quickly to meet deadlines and clients’ expectations. Look for strong examples from your studies, travel, work experience or extracurricular activities that show how you can not only adapt but also thrive on change, for example: times when you have had to change your plans.

Find out more about what employers mean when they ask for adaptability in candidate.

How important are soft skills for a consultant?

As you’ll see from the above list, many of the skills and qualities required are soft skills – that is, ones that enable a person to connect effectively with others and can be applied to many different situations. These are essential because they ensure that you are regarded as a reliable colleague and trusted by clients. They’re also skills you can build through study, work experience and extracurricular activities. Use our list to spot any gaps in your skills. You can then make a plan for building them – whether through internships, part-time jobs, your degree or extracurricular activities.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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