On several occasions, I have been asked by candidates with a lack of top tier consulting background why companies, looking to fill interim strategy roles, are only interested in hiring a former top tier strategy consultant.
Many candidates with industry experience would argue that they have strong analytical skills, can build complex financial models and have acquired strong stakeholder management skills that make them as credible as traditional top tier consultants.
The strategic skillset
There are certainly capable industry consultants who should be considered for strategic roles. However, there is a reason why top tier strategy consultants are in such a high demand: their analytical skills, business acumen and academic qualifications are second to none. In fact, consultants that leave strategy firms have consolidated a rigorous analytical approach, which means they are able to identify the key drivers of a problem by designing a comprehensive work plan which includes all the issues and sub issues that frame their hypothesis.
In addition to their robust analytical skills, top tier consultants can also demonstrate a great market instinct. As Ethan Rasiel and Paul Friga mention in their book The McKinsey Mind: "Forget about absolute precision. Because we stress the importance of fact-based analyses in making business decisions, you might think we are contradicting ourselves to say that you don't need precise answers from your analyses. The truth is, however, that business, for the most part, is not an exact discipline like physics or math".
Therefore, when companies appoint strategy consultants, what do they rely on them for? First of all, they expect top tier strategy consultants to provide them with innovative solutions that will improve and consolidate their business models. However, strategy is not only about creating and improving business models. Capable strategy consultants will also successfully tackle their clients' competitors as they have got a unified vision of the market in which their clients operate. That is the job of strategy and that is why building a career within top tier strategy firms is so highly competitive.