Key Characteristics of a Consulting Mindset
After five years in commercial technology consulting, and two-and-a-half years pursuing master’s degrees, I am working as a consultant in Deloitte’s GPS practice serving government and public service clients. Moving from commercial to government consulting represents an opportunity to do work with a tangible public benefit. Days are still spent in conference rooms, presenting PowerPoints, and sketching ideas on whiteboards—but the impact of my work is greater. My client is benefitting millions of Americans that rely on them for essential services, and my work helps my client achieve their mission.
For many, consulting is a job—one that combines flashy suits, sharp insights, and lots of travel. In reality, the suits are okay, the insights are sometimes good, and depending on your role, there can be lots of travel. The skills required to succeed in consulting are a mindset: you do not need to work at a “consulting firm” to bring this consulting mindset to your work. Three skills I developed at Hamilton have been particularly helpful throughout my career, especially as I shifted to consulting for government clients.
First, continuous learning is critical to your success. The government has a reputation for being slow, but progress is constant: software is updated, laws are changed, and policies are implemented. Reading widely across a range of topics is essential, as is leaning on the expertise of others. The experienced program manager or the long-time civil servant have experience and perspective that will prove critical to the project’s success. Developing a network of these experts will allow you to engage with new ideas constantly. At the same time, you can bring fresh eyes and a new mindset that will encourage creative problem-solving in your clients.
Another key asset in consulting is communication. The thrill of a good insight evaporates when you realize that you cannot effectively convey it to your team. Talking through an argument quickly and persuasively is critical. Writing is equally important. Summarizing an idea to the boss in an email is sometimes the only way to capture their attention, so you must be able to connect with what they care about. One of the biggest surprises to me in entering the workforce was how challenging writing an effective email is—putting down four or five lines that make clear to your manager what matters, what needs to be done, and why they should care is far harder than an essay like this which has room to roam.
Asking effective questions is another mark of the consulting mindset. Often, people are afraid of asking questions for fear of being the only person in the room “uninformed” enough to not know the answer. If you are sitting in those rooms, though, the odds are that you are well qualified and well informed—and not the only one in the room with a question. So speak up and ask questions with an open mind. I have often realized by asking questions, you can identify unspoken assumptions that clients make, helping them along to insights they could not have realized on their own. If everyone stays silent, though, these breakthroughs never happen.
Consulting is a great career path to explore—it provides an opportunity for continuous personal growth and the ability to stay in the consulting world or branch out to many other careers at any time of your choosing. Whether your work takes you into a consulting firm or another role that captures your interest, you can develop skills in a consulting mindset and keep learning, communicating effectively, and asking insightful questions.