• Melanee Swanson

Soft Skills: Forgotten by Students, Demanded by Employers

Everyone interested in consulting has heard about the so-called “Airport Test.” During recruiting season, firms are constantly trying to figure out if you’re the right fit for them. And one of the ways they evaluate that fit is by asking themselves how they would feel being stuck in an airport with you. But does that really happen? The answer is yes, it does happen. And yes, this is a huge factor in the recruiting process. At one point during my summer at Deloitte, I was stuck in the Newark airport with a Consultant on my project for four hours. We had dinner together and talked about anything and everything: our client, Atlanta, his yoga practice, CrossFit, our families, our overall career aspirations, and more. Those four hours flew by, and on my plane ride home I smiled, realizing the importance of passing that real-life version of the Airport Test.

You could be stuck here for hours on end with your team members!

If you haven’t picked up on this yet, the Consulting Club leadership team and I strongly feel that your ability to connect and communicate with firms largely dictates whether you receive an offer. We all know that consulting firms will be testing your analytical and structured problem solving skills in the case portion of interviews, but one of the biggest factors in moving from the closed list to the offer is a candidate’s “soft skills.”

How can you stand apart from other candidates when you have so few interactions with firms? Your ability to connect with them. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article that explained exactly that point: “The ‘Soft Skills’ Employers are Looking For.” According to a LinkedIn survey, nearly 58% of employees who exhibited stellar communication skills were hired over the course of a year. In internal strategy or management consulting roles, an individual’s job is not only to help solve problems, but more importantly to communicate those solutions to a client, making the ability to communicate effectively a non-negotiable.

According to the WSJ article and the LinkedIn survey, employers are searching for candidates that can excel at communication, organization, teamwork, punctuality, critical thinking, social skills, creativity, interpersonal communication, adaptability, and having a friendly personality. All of those soft skills are extremely important in management consulting and internal strategy roles. This summer at Deloitte, I was expected to demonstrate each of those skills on a daily basis. I needed to be adaptable when my client changed the scope of the project in the middle of our meeting, but also connect with them on a personal level at dinner and golf events. More importantly, I only had 10 weeks to become a trusted advisor for them, and the only one way to do that was to connect with them on both a professional and personal level.

So how does one know if they have “soft skills,” or how does one develop soft skills? If you are looking for a quick and dirty fix, it won’t work. Perfecting these skills takes time, and I guarantee none of us are experts on all 10 of the skills LinkedIn lists as important. But there are a few things that I do suggest in order to put yourself in a better position:

  • Target your resume to highlight some of these soft skills, especially if you have a very analytical / technical background

  • Practice behavioral interviews with classmates, BCC, and Career Mentors

  • Put yourself in situations where you can practice small-talk conversations, whether at social events with classmates or networking events with employers

  • Show some personality during interviews: both case and behavioral

  • Take LinkedIn’s online course on mastering the 10 skills through Lynda

  • Be on time to events, phone calls, and interactions with firms and second years

  • Strive to demonstrate these skills in every interaction, whether it be email, phone, virtual, or in-person

If you have more questions or want to discuss these topics further, please reach out to club leadership.

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