Realizing the Consulting Dream: Success Tips from Female Execs

Three female executives talk about how to embark on a consulting career and how to be successful in it.

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Last Wednesday Consultant Lounge hosted their annual networking event for women in consulting at Impact Hub, New York. Once a year this global community brings together female consultants and those with an interest in the profession to discuss industry trends and experiences. It attracts women at all levels and across multiple firms. Co-founders of Consultant Lounge, Martina Segerer and Laura Woodroof explain, “women as a whole are underrepresented in the Management Consulting profession, especially at leadership level. Although our other events are typically mixed from a gender perspective, we want to provide an opportunity for women to listen to fellow women in leadership positions in the profession, and to be able to learn from their collective experience how they can be successful and advance their careers.”

The event featured three guest speakers and sparked some interesting discussion about how women – and men – can succeed in consulting. Among the panel were Gabriella McAleer, Practice Area Director for Delivery Leadership at Slalom Consulting; Barbara Spitzer, Managing Director in the Towers Watson Talent and Rewards practice; and Christina Colby, Vice President with Capgemini’s Financial Services Global Business Unit. Collectively they boasted 59 years experience and here are some of the issues they tackled:

How to get your foot in the door – what do consulting firms look for in a new hire?

Confidence, presence, pro-activeness, and good communication skills were all cited as important. However, it is the soft skills which are considered to be most valuable, particularly adaptability and agility.   A positive outlook and a “roll with it” attitude will get you far.

What are the resume ‘must haves’ and ‘no-nos’?

Keep it succinct, be output/results focused and show some humility. Most people have a wealth of achievements; the trick is conveying some of your character through how you present these. And no spelling mistakes – if you can’t format this one document properly, there will be no confidence in your ability to format PowerPoints!

What is the ‘next big thing’ in consulting?

Barbara Spitzer stressed the impact of digital transformation on business overall and, more specific to her own area of specialism, greater investment in HR infrastructure and the elevation of Talent Management. Gabriella McAleer has seen Agile Project Management become much more prevalent, and Christina Colby is seeing her clients grapple with anticipating and preparing for the threat of new market entrants and business models.

What challenges face women specifically in consulting?

All three speakers agreed that being a woman had not held them back in their career, though they had at times had to fight for salary, promotions and fairness. It is important to recognize the different styles of men and women and adapt your own style to successfully navigate and influence. It’s the same skill required by both women and men in adapting to different clients.

What advice would you give to someone embarking on a career in consulting?

Selling starts on day one – you sell yourself first, internally and then externally. Take your downtime when it comes. Know how to manage your own time. Continually revisit and revise your objectives. Remember that nothing lasts forever in consulting – the good projects and the bad projects all come to an end, it’s about getting experience you can apply to the next challenge.

What does consulting offer over an industry role?

Consulting allows you to be more creative, which can be hard when navigating the politics and approval processes inside an organization. In consulting you are typically working with senior leaders and decision makers. Consulting firms themselves also tend to encourage innovation in business development and client delivery work. However, there are trade-offs to be made, often when it comes to work-life balance and the amount of time that can be required away from home in consulting.

What is considered to be success?

Working with and developing great people, having clients who become friends, and ultimately being proud of what you do.

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I am a Business Consultant, specializing in Talent and People Change, who is passionate about the world and how people are using digital technologies to change it.  When not in New York, I can be found exploring other exciting cities in search of good people, good food and good stories.

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