Are you T enough to be a consultant?

By James. October 1st, 2010. Posted in Your career 2 Comments »

Working as a Management Consultant can be challenging and unpredictable.

Clients expect you to have all the answers, to all of their questions. You are the expensive consultant sent to solve their problems, and they want solutions now.

Coping with the challenges that this kind of working environment present takes a particular type of person. It doesn’t matter what your area of expertise is; IT management, Program Management, Business Transformation, etc, to successfully consult you need to be one of these types of people.

Broadly speaking these type of people always share two traits:

  1. Deep analytical skills
  2. Broad empathy toward the other skills and disciplines encountered in business

The “T-shaped” consultant

McKinsey and Company called people with this skills mix “T-shaped”. The deep analytical skills being the vertical stroke of the T and the broader business empathy skills being the horizontal bar across the T.

These T-shaped individuals are rapid learners who can bring their own experience and understanding from previous projects and adapt their knowledge and expertise and problem solving skills to new clients and situations.

With that in mind if you are, or are thinking of becoming, a consultant can you map your skill set to the T shape? Do you have enough depth of experience, understanding and analytical ability in your chosen field? Do you also have a broad enough awareness of other business skills and disciplines to be a good consultant?

Few people have a perfectly balanced T profile, most will either end up with a very deep, not too wide profile, or a wide but shallow profile.

Getting the balance right can be tricky, especially if you’re just starting out in your career. I would argue that to be a useful consultant you need to focus on the depth over the width when you first start out, gaining an expertise and deep understanding of the process of problem solving in one specific area before worrying too much about the other wider business skills. Obviously, no awareness of these other skills will not help in your consulting career in the long term (being an I shape consultant is limiting) but these extra skills can be provided for by working in multidisciplinary teams that consist of people with complementary skills. If you only have width to offer you become a bit of a “Jack of all trades, master of none” which can work on some consulting assignments, but makes it hard to sell yourself as an expert and makes it hard for you to demonstrate how you are adding value to your team or your client.

This article was written by: James

James is a freelance web consultant and designer living and working in London. He specialises in User Experience and interface design for web sites and applications. Before going freelance James worked for 5 years for a large consultancy firm in London where he helped numerous start ups and large organisations improve their product's design.

James's website

Comments (2)

[…] skill or sector or would you rather remain a generalist across both sectors and skill areas? (See: Are you T enough to be a consultant for more on […]


Fully agreed on the I vs T shape. I have been working as a (junior) consultant for 4 years now and acquired quite a breadth of experience, but not much depths. Hence, I am being seen as a jack of all trades – which makes it difficult for seniors to place me on a specific role when they resource their projects. At the moment I have not much of an idea how to get myself out of this position… Tried project management as a specific skill but that is not enough… Would be grateful for any tips!


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