Many of my students have gone on to be consultants. I’m happy when that happens, especially if they are able to have some interaction with the client, and influence on the client and the direction of a project.
If they are crunching data all day, they might be better off working in a bank where they can see the results of their work more readily. [Crunching data is a place where a lot of consultants start. That’s where I started. Just don’t stay there.]
When people starting out in consulting ask for my advice, I tell them to work with the best people in their company, push for customer contact and also learn how to sell consulting services. In every consulting firm, people need to know how to sell. And the best way to sell is not to sell but to understand the client.
If you can’t get a job in a consulting firm, I recommend going for a marketing or sales position with a world class company like L’Oreal, Coke, Unilever or P & G. You’ll learn more about the consumer and you’ll learn more about the clients. If you’re in sales, you’ll spend a lot of time in clients offices and stores learning about what their needs and challenges are. That’s what consultants do all the time, plus offer solutions.
I don’t think of dentists as consultants but the dentist I go to now not only has good dentistry skills–as far as I can tell. He has one of the most important skills for consultants. He listens. When I told him my “bite was off”. He didn’t rush to my mouth and start poking around. He asked me questions to find out how it felt, where I felt it was off. He sat there patiently and focused on what I was saying, rather than telling me to “open wide”. This made all the difference in my treatment. I felt like he was really paying attention and wanted to help-and he did. He’s older, more experienced, and it shows. There’s another dentist in the same office that I don’t like. He rushes into my mouth-like he knows what’s wrong, even before I tell him.
Whatever job we do, we are consultants. Professors—consultants. make up artists-consultants, Baristas in Starbucks–consultants [ in coffee]. In our art gallery, clients come in and I try to get them to open up, to talk about what they like, what they want. Some say they are “just looking”, but once we start talking, they say, “I saw something on your website I liked very much. Do you have the work by this artist?”
As they are talking, I’m tempted to run to the back room and get the work for them, but I remember the lesson from my dentist and I stop and listen more to what they want and what they have to say. I then get the works and perhaps a few others that I think they might like. It’s often an internal struggle for me. I want to find the work and show it to them and hear [hopefully] “great”, but I tell myself to listen first and then bring the works out to show.
Our own internal monitor helps a lot. If you find yourself interrupting or not listening, slow down, and listen. Imagine you are a consultant to the customer. You are.