The good news for job seekers: Consulting firms are looking for all kinds of technical and industry experience. As of mid-January, 2016, for instance, Capgemini had more than 3,700 open positions, 687 of them in management consulting. It's looking for experience in horizontal capabilities such as security, change management and IT strategy, and vertical industries such as oil and gas and retail.
"If candidates have enough technical depth in an industry," says Meyer, "we can probably train them" in how to interact with clients.
Required: Organization and communications skills
Technical savvy and business acumen aren't enough, hiring managers say, if candidates aren't good communicators and superior problem-solvers.
"As a consultant, you're there to solve a problem. Clients might think it's one problem, but it always ties into something else," says Capgemini's Savage. "You have to absorb large amounts of information and data, synthesize it, and then tailor your message to a variety of stakeholders."
Kate Savage, vice president and North America people supply chain leader for Capgemini, says communications skills are vital to successful consulting.
Robert Half's Reed points out that consultants attend a lot of meetings, interact with clients constantly and are expected to document every aspect of their process. Consultants need to "understand what's happening, ask the right questions, document their findings and provide recommendations."
Consultants walking into an environment where a deployment has gone wrong need to be able to understand the real story of what happened and propose solutions. Reed says, "The ability to assess what's happening [with a project] may be even more important than technical skills. I hear this a lot: 'I can teach the technology, but I can't teach the soft skills.' "
As a consultant, you may find yourself working alone on a project one week, and then part of a group of 200 on another project the next week — or working on both at the same time. That means employees have to be organized, self-motivated and highly collaborative. As Savage notes, "We need people that will be successful in a change-agent environment. In a consulting firm, things change on a daily basis." They also change over time, so you have to be adaptable. "We want someone fungible, who can move across industries and technologies as the market changes."
In it for the long haul
Though the sources for this story were on the hiring side of the business, almost all of them had spent more than a dozen years as consultants themselves at their same firms. They stressed the potential for others to have — as they'd had — an extended career at the same company.
"It's a myth that you can't build a stable career, because you can, especially if you stick with it, says Capgemini's Savage. "We want consultants to stay a long time and grow their skills. The more we can train people in technology and our delivery methodology, the more predictable our service is."
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