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The Important Qualities to Look for in a Consultant

Freelance platforms are growing in popularity, and more organizations are seeing the benefits of working with independent consultants and industry experts. With such valuable resources just a few clicks away, it's understandable that business leaders are increasingly open to outsourced expertise. However, as with most professions, all consultants are not created equal. 

What are the Qualities of a Great Consultant? 

An effective consultant can offer a lot more than what’s on their resume. Although they should have impressive experience in a specific field, great consultants also have a wide range of qualities that make them valuable to their clients. Some of these qualities are learned over time, and some are simply part of their personality. 

Whether you’re a consultant looking to begin your own consulting practice, or an organization looking for the best independent consultant, these are things you should look for: 

  1. Natural ability to influence - The most impactful consultants are those who can persistently move a project forward without doing damage to relationships along the way. They need to be amiable and reasonable, as well as authentic (and being humble doesn’t hurt either). When you’re initially talking to a consultant, do they have a positive attitude, and can they demonstrate energy that matches the clients? Remember that you need this person to be an action-taker, but not through tactics that will disrupt your internal teams. Can they lead through inspiration? These are the professionals that can breathe life into troubled initiatives. 
  2. Quick thinking (and adaptability) - Consultants often state that they were hired to solve one business challenge, only to end up in the middle of totally different projects. Business priorities—and their associated tactics—can change quickly. Flexible businesses are nimble and move at hyper-speed, particularly in fast-moving fields such as technology or digital marketing. The best consultants are able to let go of existing ideas and process new ones. Being able to think quickly and transfer skills to different scenarios is an invaluable asset to business clients. 
  3. Real listening - “Listening” seems like such a simple thing, and yet so few people can do it well. Active listening is a skill that can be learned and practiced. This is important for consultants because they take on huge amounts of new information all the time. They need to be able to get the facts about the latest client, industry, and landscape they’re in, as well as challenges, stakeholder communication styles, and more. All of that information lays the foundation for a job well done. Successful consultants tend to be reflective, thoughtful, and detail-oriented in their listening style—and ask questions when they don’t understand. 
  4. Relationship-building - The current work environment is diverse and multi-faceted. Consultants can end up on all kinds of different teams. The ability to work with people, from all backgrounds, is a factor in how successful a consultant will be. They should exhibit qualities such as trustworthiness and empathy, and apply these to forge and nurture relationships. The truth is that in the business world, so many things really come down to “who you know”. Senior consultants are likely to have built a strong network across their field and adjacent sectors. This is helpful for their own business development and the client's.
  5. Consistent problem-solving - “Problem solver” has become a trendy word on resumes, but not many people have the correct understanding of frameworks that can actually address problems and fix them. Consultants solve problems through scientific processes like APS (Applied Problem Solving), the GROW model, etc. When you hire a consultant, ask them about their methodology for solving problems. Further, ask them how they might go about teaching these processes to your internal team.
  6. A desire for continuous learning - Successful consultants are lifelong learners. In fact, we find that many consultants join the industry because they like learning new things and gain satisfaction from absorbing additional skills in uncharted sectors. These professionals don’t just believe in continuous learning as a management best practice, but they embody the principle in their personal lives. Look for partners who make time in their personal lives for ongoing education, certification, and networking opportunities. An honest curiosity about the world around them can set consultants apart. Taking things a step further, consultants who are genuinely receptive to feedback and can pivot in their approaches for better results are more likely to meet their client’s goals. 
  7. Authentic confidence - They say to “fake it till you make it”, but there’s a big difference between true confidence and projecting confidence that you don’t really have. A truly confident consultant knows that they can deliver what they’re promising because they’ve done it for clients before. Real confidence comes from knowledge, experience, and consistent results. Consultants who display this quality are able to provide recommendations boldly while leaving room for constructive feedback. This is particularly important when things go wrong: you need a consultant that won’t lose their composure and is confident that they can navigate through difficult times. 
  8. Proven depth of experience - This is a quality that should be evident from your very first conversation. Ideally, a consultant’s credibility surfaces naturally as you review their resume or portfolio. That being said, case studies, testimonials, and the names of past clients can all help you to see the bigger picture when it comes to a potential consultant. Quality consultants are able to address questions or problems confidently based on their own first-hand knowledge and experience. This is an area where working with a curated marketplace for independent management consultants and industry experts can be particularly impactful. For example, at COMATCH, we are committed to working with the world’s best consultants and proposing only the most qualified professionals to our clients.
  9. A client-first mindset - Often, people are hesitant about working with outside consultants because they have concerns about a cultural fit or the consultant trying to “upstage” internal staff. However, the best consultants know that they are there to play a supporting role for the star—their client. A valuable consultant will never try to outshine or belittle their client team in any way. Instead, they want to support their goals and do what they can to enable their success. Quality consultants are natural collaborators and relationship-builders (see point number 4). Even though they have experience working within different organizations, you can expect them to be thoroughly engaged when they are working with yours. Furthermore, consultants know that your success is their success. They want to do everything in their power to get the results you’re hoping for, or they’ll soon tarnish their reputation in the industry. Look for individuals who have a well-rounded background, but are eager to integrate into your company’s team for the duration of the initiative. 

Finding Quality Consultants Who Can be Successful 

We’ve answered the question “what are the qualities of a great consultant?” But, how can you go about finding out if the person you’re considering actually possesses these qualities? 

You’ll need to take a few steps back in your process. Top consultants are not likely to just fall into your lap. Think about why you’re hiring a consultant, what you want them to accomplish, and how they’ll need to acclimate with your team. Here are a few steps that you can take to make sure effective consultants are at the top of your shortlist. 

  1. Define your goals - You can’t find the right resource with the right depth of experience if you’re not sure exactly what you need. What are your specific goals for the project? What deliverables should come out of the engagement? What is the project timeline? The insights you’ll gain in these areas point to the tools, technologies, processes, and people that should be included in your project briefing. A crystal clear briefing ensures that any provider you work with will be able to match you with the right consultant or industry expert. 
  2. Identify potential consultants - You can start by reaching out to colleagues, industry associations, or personal contacts to see who might be in your network. Talk about the projects you’re hoping to tackle, and you may come across someone who has the right expertise and is available. On the other hand, a much faster way of doing this is to work with a consultant marketplace that has already vetted candidates and can recommend qualified candidates based on your unique needs. Whether you look for personal recommendations or choose to engage a qualified consultant platform, it’s important to consider what kind of personality would best fit your culture. Skillsets are essential, but the right consultant should also thrive in your work environment. To ensure that clients receive the best possible fit for their projects, COMATCH uses StyleMatch to assess the working styles of our consultants. 
  3. Finalize the briefing and hiring process -  At this time, you’ll not only evaluate written proposals, but you’ll also identify which team members should interview consultants. Make sure that you have a clear channel of communication for coming to a consensus on candidates, whether that’s a meeting schedule or another process. The level of detail is important so that you can ensure you’re comparing apples to apples and evaluating each consultant on the same merits. Again, you can save a lot of time by partnering with a consulting marketplace that manages various aspects of the process. For example, at COMATCH we take care of CV reviews, personal interviews, a StyleMatch working style assessment, and background checks so that clients have a rigorous head start in finding a fit. 

A lot of time and effort goes into discovering consulting candidates who can drive lasting results in your organization. However, there’s a big difference between a good consultant and a great one, and only the latter can transform your organization. COMATCH has built a global marketplace that helps connect companies with the most qualified independent experts. This helps business leaders save resources and get it right the first time.