Manager, Director or VP: What level of consultant should I hire?

by Jody Bischoff
Senior Practice Leader at Charles Aris Inc.

One question we find ourselves answering time and time again is: “What level of consultant should I hire?”

This can be a tough question for many to answer. Depending on where a job candidate is in her consulting career, she will excel in different areas of the consulting toolkit.

To help you answer this question for yourself, let’s first define the key skills which comprise the consulting toolkit and explain how consultants develop these skills over their time in consulting. Then you can determine the level of consultant you should hire based on your organization’s needs.

The four key skills in the consulting toolkit are:

  1. Analytics & Slide Building
  2. Project Management
  3. Case Cracking
  4. Selling / Influencing / Leading

All consultants have varying degrees of experience in these key skills, depending on the stage of their consulting careers. Let’s break them down one by one to understand the skill set and how they develop over time:

Analytics & Slide Building

These are two skills at the core of almost every consulting engagement – and they are largely developed in the first few years in consulting:

(a) Analytics: This is the ability to conduct quantitative analyses in a defect-free manner, in combination with a mastery of Microsoft Excel.

(b) Slide Building: This is the ability to communicate your findings and insights effectively. It includes both the ability to leverage Microsoft PowerPoint to create impactful, concise and defect-free presentations and, as one progresses into more senior roles, the ability to effectively tell a story that will influence the client to act (what is often referred to as “storyboarding”).

Project Management

After consultants master their individual contributor roles, they begin to take on more project management responsibilities. As project managers, consultants understand the strategic direction as set by the hypothesis-driven approach; set milestones; conduct scope analysis; assign resources; manage execution; and report findings. They also serve as a quality-control lead on the project, responsible for pressure-testing the team’s work. This also includes managing the team, which is typically comprised of two to five junior-level consultants depending on the complexity of the assignment.

Case Cracking

As consultants continue to progress in their development, they are effectively responsible for solving the problem or “case cracking.” In this role, consultants seek to understand the problem at a more granular level and establish a hypothesis-driven approach through which a solution can be derived. They are also responsible for crafting the overall story that is driven by the hypothesis and supported by the analysis.

Selling / Influencing / Leading

Lastly, consultants progress into the final big step in their development: the ability to generate revenue by selling consulting services. They are adept at establishing a vision, framing key issues and setting high-level strategy. They also serve as thought partners to their senior clients. In that capacity, they are responsible for influencing key executives and stakeholders to support significant organizational change.

Now that we’ve defined the key skills developed in consulting, let’s focus on understanding how that overall skillset changes over time – which will help us determine the level of consultant you should aim to hire based on the needs of your organization.

As you can see in the illustration above, the percentages of time spent on each of the four skills evolves as a consultant develops from Analyst to Partner. For instance, an Analyst will spend close to 75 percent of his time on Analytics & Slide Building while the remaining 25 percent is split between Project Management and Case Cracking. On the flip side, a Partner will spend 70 percent of her time Selling / Influencing / Leading, with 20 percent spent on Case Cracking and 10 percent on Project Management (and effectively zero time on Analytics & Slide Building!).

Consequently, if you want someone who will primarily focus on building analytical models and presentations and can assist in project management and problem solving, then an Analyst should do the trick. If you need someone to manage a team and be responsible for problem solving and project management while incorporating core analytics and PowerPoint skills, you’ll probably want to focus on Managers.

Now that you have a clear understanding of how the consulting skill set evolves over time and you have defined what you need in a candidate, you can more accurately determine the level of consultant you should target in your recruiting efforts. Hopefully this has been helpful in decoding the consulting toolkit and assisting you in the development of your own recruiting strategy.

Gain more executive recruiting insights from our Strategy & Corporate Development search team.