Earlier in Michaelmas Term, we were joined by three US-based alumni with a breadth of experience across consultancy roles – but what advice did they have to share with those currently studying at LSE?
1) Mentors are important
You can find a mentor from a range of sources, but all the panellists said their mentor had influenced their career. One found a mentor by asking a more senior colleague a few questions as they walked past his office door, whilst another found somebody to be a career ‘sounding board’ whilst they studied at LSE. Line management, sponsorship, coaching and mentoring all require different skillsets – so anyone, including peers in your current network, could become good mentors.
2) Changing careers? Understand the needs of the ‘consultant’ role
Our panellists entered consultancy careers from a range of degree programmes, but what was their top tip? First and foremost, you need to understand the needs of the modern-day consultant role – and therefore how to translate your experience into relevant examples that make sense and show utility.
For example, if you’d worked as part of a student society committee to plan Welcome activities, you might’ve looked at what happened in the previous year and made some changes. Framing this in language more relevant to consultancy, you might say you ‘evaluated previous data’, ‘devised a strategy to address the needs of your target audience’, and ‘implemented the project plan to a critical deadline’.
3) Develop ‘expertise’ rather than ‘specialism’
This was a key point, making the distinction between two similar terms…
Business is cyclical, and so a specialism may be on-trend in the present but may not be in the longer term.
On the other hand, developing expertise includes building a skillset, methodology, and approach which can be adaptable to economic changes – and therefore the changing briefs clients bring to consultants.
4) Research has a place in consulting – but it isn’t the same
Our panellists agreed that research can be used in consulting to affect or move people. Advancements in analytics and data visualisation mean that data is nowadays more available to create information and content for a client, to influence them or to provide insight.
However, the role of the consultant is to create this value or change for the client. As such, it’s good to be familiar with working with data (but by no means an expert) and some tools – as well as being able to effectively communicate with those who are technically-minded to ensure the right questions are being asked of them, and that clients’ questions can be effectively answered.
5) Got limited experience? Really do your research
During discussions, lots of our audience were keen to better understand how to get into consultancy with limited experience – here’s the advice from our panel:
- Translate your experience from extra-curriculars, other work experience, and academic course into something that matches the skillset required of a consultant.
- Really do your research and identify the top five firms you want to target and work from there – and have good reasons for doing so. Browse company websites, explore the organisation’s social media, read their reports, and investigate external sources to understand what drives the business and economy (e.g. The Economist and Investopedia).
- Speak to people working in those organisations and roles to build both your network and understanding of what a consultant role really is at the time you’re applying – What’s currently in their workload? Who are they collaborating with? What’s the outlook for the next year or so? Getting a sense of this will help you pitch yourself effectively in the application and interview process.
6) Learn what the ideal candidate might look like
Following nicely from the previous point, our panellists highlight various skills and attributes that an ideal candidate would have from the first day on the job. These included:
- Being comfortable working with a range of stakeholders (‘client readiness’)
- Intellectual curiosity and critical thinking
- Being energetic and motivated (to work hard and on a range of challenging projects)
- Demonstrating the ability to learn and adapt (this could relate to sector-based knowledge relevant to a client, or technical skills like Excel or PowerBI)
- Interpersonal skills with a range of people
- Navigating difficult situations and working in a changing environment
- Showing experience of achieving results
- Ability to tell stories with data or information
- Being a positive team player
7) Frame university experience as a consultancy project
Finally, the panellists were asked how they’d plan and use a strategy to approach university and the career journey. In addition to all of the advice above, one panellist came up with a four-point framework in true consultant style!
- Ask ‘what is success about for me?’ It may not be consulting, but defining this at the outset is important – perhaps what you would find fulfilling in a career could be met through a range of means.
- Create value For consulting firms, a key question is what creates value for the customer or client. Similarly, when looking for a job or opportunity, learn how you can create value for the organisation (and how they can for you and your development). This also extends to how you can create value to your university experience.
- Understand your motivations/contributions Always having intention and interest in the consulting project is important, so you could ask yourself ‘what do want to get from your time at university, and what do you want to contribute to the university, too?’
- Create shared experiences Bringing different things together can create new and unique ideas – and these outputs are essentially the fruits of your labour during your time at LSE! Don’t underestimate the importance of creating shared experiences and learning from new people, new places and new sources of information.
With many thanks to Lauren Payne (graduate of MSc International Political Economy at LSE), David Clark (MSc Human Resources Management and Services), Christopher McQueen (BSc Economics).