The Skillsets You'll Need As A Consulting Analyst
This chapter is a free excerpt from The Best Book on Getting Consulting Jobs In India.
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Here's some advice on choosing and acquiring important skill sets.
The ability to conduct effective primary research is critical for any entry level analyst. People often underestimate the difficulty of directly talking with people and gathering insights from their comments.
During my school years at Duke, I had to conduct primary research for a professor. I talked with multiple industry veterans, including technical officers at IBM and Cisco, gathering information on recent outsourcing trends in the semiconductor industry. The research I conducted was part of a larger research project at Harvard Law School, headed by Professor Vivek Wadhwa, a research project that they eventually presented to the United States Congress.
As a consultant, you'll be conducting similar research. You'll talk with people directly and pull information and analysis directly from what they tell you. Important consulting insights often come from talking to the right experts and asking the right questions. You have to be able to sift through colored opinions and see the objective facts behind a situation.
When I'm recruiting people for consulting work, I choose students who are competent at gathering primary research. If the student has experience with talking to people and gathering insight from those combined narratives, I'm more likely to recommend them for the role of an entry-level analyst.
If you have prior work experience or coursework that demonstrates your primary research abilities, you'll have a lot less difficulty with courting consulting firms.
Consulting firms also prefer hiring students who have already mastered the basic analytical toolkit.
Most of the fresh graduates that we hire for entry-level roles aren't proficient in Excel or Powerpoint. If you already possess an advanced knowledge of these programs, consulting firms see it as a big plus. If you already know how to use these tools, we won't have to figure out who's done complex financial modeling or created valuation tables, and we won't have to spend as much time teaching these skills. If you've made a Discounted Cash Flow Valuation model during a valuation class, include that accomplishment on your resume. It shows us that you have some exposure to financial concepts and a certain level of proficiency with Excel.
I obtained an advanced proficiency in financial analysis during business school. I took a course called Information Management. This course taught only 2 things: advanced Excel and Access. We received a lot of instruction on complex macro-modeling in Excel. A lot of my peers questioned my decision to take this course. My friends didn't understand why I'd take a class on something I could learn through any ebook on MS Excel.
A lot of things are easier said than done. When you're in a classroom and your Excel skills are actually being graded, you're more motivated to work hard on learning concepts outside your comfort zone. Whether you're running a pivot table in a particular form to maximize its effectiveness, or you're running certain macros to create a user friendly form, advanced Excel skills are extremely useful.
Those skills have been extremely valuable to my current success. Taking that class was one of the best decisions I've ever made. My proficiency in Excel has improved my performance as a consultant. So even though learning Excel might not sound particularly interesting, it'll set you apart from other job applicants and improve your job performance.
Your Coursework Can Help You Improve Your Consulting Skill Set
There are courses that build your resume and courses that don't. Courses that fill gaps in your analytical toolkit and courses that extend your understanding of finance and business are great for building your resume. Especially if you're coming from a non-business undergraduate program like liberal arts or engineering, you'll need to bridge the business knowledge gap by learning the fundamentals of the business world. Adjusting to consulting work is so much easier when you know the jargon. (What does EBITDA mean?)
Take courses that help you think like a consultant. Gain exposure to courses in marketing, financial accounting, and decision modeling. If possible, look for opportunities to work on real-life cases in a business practicum.
At Fuqua, we had "consulting practicums." For one of these practicums, I joined up with a team and helped a small business in my neighborhood by recommending a 180-day business strategy. We had a mentor who played the role of team leader for the case. My grades were based on the quality of my work, my ability to meet deadlines, and how much our efforts added value to the client. Getting real work experience from a business practicum is as close to real-life consulting as you can get.
Remember to keep your career goals in mind when you're selecting courses. Also, never select courses based on peer pressure. Not everyone in the program wants to be a consultant, and people tend to have different skill sets. What seems like a bad course choice to your friends might be the perfect fit for your own goals. While you're in school, you should leverage your education at every opportunity to fill the gaps in your knowledge. With the right skill sets and experience, you'll have no trouble finding work with top tier consulting firms.
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