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#364: Consultants Can Have Too Much Knowledge and Not Enough Skills

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, August 5, 2010
Updated: Thursday, August 5, 2010
We've noticed over the past few years that a few of the consulting associates we've hired from high-end business schools present an interesting paradox. They have a stellar resume and academic credentials but just don't seem to have the experience foundation to be agile and creative. Is this an issue for business schools, consulting or just today's education system?

The knowing-doing gap is widely apparent in individuals whose preparation for the job market is primarily academic. Real aptitude comes from both pattern recognition and a rich experience base (i.e., "I've seen this type of situation before and I have alternative approaches to a solution"). Consulting competence comes from breadth of experience in business situations that you have actually tackled rather than just reading case studies. Having gone to a graduate school that relied on cases, it was immediately apparent who had "street smarts" and who was doing thought experiments. The intellectual agility and skill base required to be an effective consultant to management comes from serious practice with real situations.

This is why many consulting firms move beyond the traditional interview and require demonstration of practical abilities. They will give you an (often incomplete) example of a client situation to see how you reason and what experiences you summon in its solution (e.g., people who grew up on a farm have an advantage). This practice of requiring candidates to demonstrate skills has been working its way into other occupations who want to see what you can actually do, not just what you know.

Tip: This is relevant for management consultants because this effect exists in organizations as well as people. An excellent discussion of this is in The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting skills  knowledge assets  learning  performance improvement  professional development  teaching/training 

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