How to start a consulting career in time of crisis

As the the labor market continues to stay put, the next generation of young professionals is entering the workforce looking for their first opportunity to start their careers. Instead of choosing the best offer among many, hundreds of applications are sent without getting the aspired position. In addition, this time cannot be bridged with the next travel experience or gap year abroad as most borders are closed or at least harder to cross. What a fuck!

While this is extremely frustrating, there are still options that can be done in order to increase the attractiveness of one’s profile for the consulting market. Here are some thoughts from the other side of the fence which skill sets are being searched for.

Know your MS Office toolset by heart

While this sounds extremely obvious, most young professionals stated after their first project that they had thought to know the toolsets well … and were surprised of how much more there is to learn. (And while they had rated themselves an 8 of 10, they were probably a 2 of 10.) In general, it is quite dangerous to assume that you already know everything as it leads to a place where you don’t ask questions, you don’t get better and – at worst – your project leads won’t want to work with you anymore. Therefore, make use of your gap months to dive into free online tutorials and train your skillset.

Enhance your profile by relevant tools and certificates in your aspired working area

Agile project delivery is key in the market. Get acquainted with the corresponding learning journeys, certificates and tools. A lot of information is available for free and when you can drop a few highlights in your CV and know the key facts during your interview, you are much more relevant in the workplace.

Or if process optimization seems to be of interest: find out more about methodologies and frameworks that are available at the market and that are regularly used in those type of projects.

Same is true for project management in general. The market is full of relevant material – and as you have studied in university, it is worthwhile to buy a book on project management and learn the basics.

Good presentation and moderation skills will always help you

Independent from the topic, people rather like to listen to a good presentation – just think of your bright professor who couldn’t deliver the message well. Learn how to speak your mind and to present content intriguing. This skill is essential in consulting and you will need it right from the start in your job interview. Find yourself places where you can present and moderate – maybe in university, in your student job or at the family party. Train this skill and your whole career will have a positive impact by this strength.

Stay in contact with your colleagues of your intern positions

Connect with people on business social media, drop them a line every once in a while and stay connected. Maybe you don’t even want the job they have to offer now, but you don’t know when they are changing positions and their help might come in handy. These people are also the ones that might know when their company is hiring again – and then, a good timing is essential. While your CV gets turned down in one week, the next week they might invite you as the company politics has changed. You hit these moments either by chance or by network.

Take care of your mindset and self-talk

If you belong to the people who graduate now, the past 10 years you have heard and learned that the labor market is increasing, that you can choose from any job you want and that even a very expensive university will pay off quickly. Somehow those promises did not come true. And in a way that can feel very unfair. These are moments when it is crucial that you keep track of your mindset and self-talk.

The emotions in those times have the power to bring in such a negative narrative in your life that it influences you for years. It might even get harder to walk into job interviews with positive expectations. Therefore, use these times of uncertainty as a training for your character and decide on purpose how you want to feel about it. The skills you learn through this training will be needed when you want to do a career.

Air time: how to get more time from your boss

“My boss hardly talks to me.” “I don’t get any air time.” “It’s almost impossible to get an appointment with my boss.” – these complaints can be heard quite often. The consequences are obvious: little interaction leads to little growth in the relationship and, in consequence, the promotion goes to a colleague – that surprisingly got more time of interaction with the boss.

So what can you do in order to get more time with your boss – and especially one-on-one time in which you can proof your abilities and let him/her see of what you are capable of.

Let’s change perspectives for that matter. Why should your boss talk to you?

Think about this question. If you feel it’s his/her f*** job to listen to you – you might be right, but that doesn’t get you what you want. So again: What is it that your boss hears/sees/experiences when she/he is talking to you?

From what I have experienced in and heard of many of those talks, it goes as follows: a lot of complain… then some mediocre chit-chat… and quite often a demand for more responsibility, a new role or even the promotion. The first will be overheard by your boss because there is too much negativity in life anyways. The second is irrelevant for him/her – and by the time you start demanding something, the mind of your boss spins about ending this talk soon. Therefore, let me ask you – and please be honest: What is in this talk for your boss?

Your boss is a human being as well. He/she is working under constant pressure, too. And when you are one of the many interactions that intensifies the daily pressure… it is only human nature when he/she avoids talking to you.

If you could be one of the positive interactions for your boss during that day – she/he will love to talk to you in the future. If he/she can trust, that there will be fun and laughter involved when talking to you: be assured that they are looking forward to talking to you.

But bringing in a positive atmosphere is only a one part. Even more important is: be relevant! Ideally you belong to the solution of your boss’s problem. If you are the go-to-person for problem-solving, your boss will know your capabilities and worth.

Let’s talk about examples: If your boss knows that team building is important but neither have the time nor the creativity to do anything, be the person organizing the team event. Ask her/him what should be on the agenda, bring in ideas and make sure that he/she looks good when opening the event. For sure, be mindful not to become the event planner forever, but use the event to proof your skill set in project management. In addition, use the time bonding with your boss and let him/her feel important.

This type of working with your boss can be done in any change situation in your team or company. Classically, people will resist change – and your boss needs to implement the changed processes and procedures. If you act as a change agent, you can solve some of your boss’s problems without much effort and get the recognition you are thriving for.

Once you are known to your boss, become relevant for a certain topic or skill. Be the one, your boss asks when it is about… tax, regulatory questions, IT functions in your new system – you name it. Either you are already an expert – so leverage on your existing knowledge. Or you are an expert in the making – then find relevant topics around you, get skilled and support your boss.

Most likely, inwardly you sense some unrighteousness: your boss should be the one taking time for you. People development is part of the job description (and salary) of most leading positions in business – therefore, it feels fair if more effort is done on the leadership side. Yet, reality is that most bosses neither take the time nor have the awareness what they could do differently. And that shouldn’t stop you in working with your boss in a way that builds the relationship in a positive way.

My bonus shows I am undervalued

If you handle failure the right way, you win nonetheless.

There are these times – the promotion has been denied, the deal has been lost, the project failed. The bonus is lower than expected and the pay raise had been higher once. Despite all the time and personal invest, you are confronted with failure. What usually worked, all of a sudden doesn’t.

Although everyone knows that the paycheck doesn’t reflect a person’s worth, very often people feel tremendously undervalued when not achieving their aspired goals. High performing business people invest so much time and energy into their professional success that the reward gets mentally linked to their identity and self-esteem. As long as win follows win this connection feels awesome. It is not only a professional win – it is also a validation of the person, to some even their personality. Sometimes the feeling of invincibility is visible from the outside by posture and gesture.

This grown connection between success and personality or even identity becomes dangerous when success is being delayed. Or worse: if failure is settling in. One bad situation might be handled. But if failure after failure is hitting, the impact cannot be ignored. All of a sudden the business flop feels like being a failure as a person. Bad comments of colleagues on top and the self-esteem crumbles. Depending on the person, the downward slide can take pretty long and is quite devastating.

Crack the causal connection of success and identity

When in a downward spiral it is quite easy to spot the unhealthy connections between success and self-esteem. It can be felt deep inside. Thoughts of failure keep nagging. So, if you currently feel like you are a total loser check on this connection in your brain. Yes, you might have failed in business issues. And no, that doesn’t define who you are as a person. Use this awareness to crack the causal connection of success and identity within you and explore who you are as a person. Thereby you win as a person although you are walking through failure.

But even when there is no failure trend in sight, it is helpful to disconnect personal success from the feeling of self-worth. Only because you are successful, e.g. got the promotion or won the big deal, doesn’t mean that you are more worth than anybody else. Step away from entitlement and be thankful for what you have. This way you can enjoy your success and you are prepared for times of failure.

Am I a leader?

Leadership starts with self-leadership.

Being known for values, having a vision for one’s life, being self-confident and caring about others are a good foundation to build on.

A leader is someone whom people follow.

Many years ago I heard this statement in a leadership coaching. And it hit me. I was troubled. If this was true, it wasn’t so much about me and my qualifications but rather about other people to see something in me worthy to be copied and followed.

It put me to thinking. Whom do I follow? And why?

Leader display values

People I follow have clear values and they express their values in every moment – especially when it is getting tough.

Lets take honesty. Everyone can be honest when it doesn’t cost anything – but what about being honest when it actually costs you time/money/privileges and no one would notice if you lied!?

What about friendliness and value people. Monday, 10 o’clock in the morning, sunny skies and clients meeting – easy to smile and be friendly. But what happens on Wednesday night, damn tired and stressed out!? How do you act towards your team after an exhausting day!?

Leaders have a vision for their own life/career

Leaders can communicate effectively what their vision is. They know why they are doing their job, share their rationale for their decisions and inspire others with their life.

Leaders are fun to be with

Usually, it so much fun to be with them. From what I have been seeing in people around me, leaders tend to like themselves. They are comfortable who they are. They are aware of their strengths, weaknesses, flaws and genius ideas. And this self confidence creates an atmosphere that is just compelling.

Leaders see the life/career of their followers

It’s not the most important part but if a leader wants to win my heart, he/she must see my stake in the whole endeavor as well. If this part isn’t given, the person might be a strong inspiration for me – but not a leader I am following.

Coming back to the question of the beginning: How can I determine whether I am leader? First of all you probably have followers that somehow let you know that you display certain trademarks that identify you as a leader.

If you are yet too young to have people following you or you are not sure whether there are people seeing leadership potential within you, start working on the named characteristics.

Start by answering these questions for yourself: Which values do you live? Which value could be added? How would you know that you have lived the value? Do you have a vision for your job? Why are you doing what you are doing? Do you like yourself? And last but not least: in whom do you see leadership potential that you can help to unfold?