The Aspiring Advisor – Strategies & Tools for a Successful Consulting Career
Moritz Dressel is management consultant with broad experience in all aspects of post-merger integration, joint ventures and strategic alliances. He is the author of the no. 1 survival guide for consulting career starters, “The Aspiring Advisor – Strategies & Tools for a Successful Consulting Career”. We have conducted an interview with him.
What was your key motivation to write your book,"The Aspiring Advisor - Strategies & Tools for a Successful Consulting Career"?
In many organizations, lots of best practices are passed on by word-of-mouth. It was the same in my firm. My colleagues and I continued to pass on our pieces of wisdom whenever someone new joined the team.
Unfortunately, we could not simply hand over a 200-page document and tell him or her to come back if he or she had any questions. That type of manual didn’t exist!
At some point, I was really frustrated with this state of affairs and so I started compiling the guide my colleagues and I would have liked to have read when we started our careers. And in contrast to other consulting literature, this book has been written exclusively with young aspiring consultants in mind.
So I focused on questions such as: What would I have liked to know when I started? What were the questions I asked my senior colleagues? Which questions were repeatedly raised by other new hires?
Because ultimately, people should try to leverage the lessons learnt of those who have done it before. There is no need to make the same mistakes again. Instead, one should try to avoid the mistakes others have already made, and implement strategies and tools that others have taken years to develop. This is where I feel this book can be really beneficial to young consultants.
Which are the challenges for career starters? What is your recommendation to overcome these challenges?
The life of a consultant bears a number of challenges. However, the two most important ones for those starting out are probably time management, including the ability to decline certain tasks, and, related to that, expectation management.
Being able to work efficiently is taken as a given today. Most graduates have the right attitude to excel in a challenging work environment and get things done in a short period of time. However, being efficient is not enough in coping with the demands in consulting, whether self-imposed or not.
Most young consultants want to progress their career quickly. This ambition however can easily backfire if it is not channeled appropriately. You have to know your limits and learn to say no at times.
Mind you, it sounds easier than it is when you are an ambitious career starter.
Related to that, many struggle with expectation management. What this ultimately boils down to is reducing surprises.
Experienced consultants as well as clients do not like surprises – at least not at work. It is therefore crucial to keep one’s stakeholders in the loop at all times. What is the progress? What is still missing? What are the next steps? This is particularly important when deadlines might be missed.
Because let’s be clear: not every deadline can be met at all times. Occasionally, extensions need to be granted. However, this should be communicated as early as possible and not when the deliverable is due.
Which is one of the most unexpected strategies you have used for your career?
Somewhat in contrast to what most business books postulate, young consultants actually should consider selling themselves short at times. Being ambitious is great. But early in your career, you should also understand your own limitations.
For example, you do not and should not jump on every opportunity at work. Let the quality of your work speak first, and seek additional opportunities step by step. Because not being able to submit agreed deliverables in time will be a major blow to your reputation. Therefore it is important to have a realistic view on what you can accomplish.
Similarly, young consultants should carefully consider when to take a stand. It took me some time to understand that not all people are equal in hierarchical organizations. For example, if you have two equally senior figures requesting your support, do not try to mediate here unless you know the in’s and out’s of your organization. You are already between a rock and a hard place – don’t make it worse. Leave it to them to come to terms by kindly requesting their guidance.
Do you think everyone can be consultant?
Obviously, there are some conditions. I believe anyone can become a successful consultant if he or she has some type of expertise, which can be developed over time, the ability to emphatize with different people, flexibilty in working arrangements, and endurance particularly in times of stress.
I believe many more people could be consultants. However, the question is rather if they want to become consultants. Because to some extent working in consulting is a lifestyle decision. There is simply no 9-to-5. Work is generally more volatile, and it takes time to develop a proper work-life balance in this industry.
But at the same time, the consulting profession can also be very rewarding. Knowing you actually help your clients solve urgent problems is what gets many practitioners up in the morning.
And I also tell everyone who has only the slightest interest in joining the consulting industry to give it a try. I do not know any other career path offering a similar breadth of opportunities for personal and professional growth.
We have spoken about the challenges for career starters in consulting. Finally, what would you recommend to those who are seeking to join the industry?
My number one advice is to be authentic. I have seen it in many hiring interviews myself: a lot of applicants try to make a professional impression. But all it does is make them less attractive and distinguishable from other candidates.
Keep in mind, consulting is a people business. Clients want results, but ideally they get those by working collaboratively with true personalities they value. And consultants want to work with colleagues that are not only good at what they do, but also great to be around. It is therefore important to be true to yourself and project yourself in the best light possible without covering up your unique personal characteristics. This is key when you are already working in consulting, but it is just as important during the recruiting process.
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