Hiring a strategic planning consultant or business strategy consultant can seem daunting at first, especially if you've never hired for this role before. You might be wondering: what makes a great strategy consultant, and how can I make sure I onboard the right one for my business?
According to Anna Coffey, an associate of PWC’s strategy team, drive, adaptability, and good humor are the three traits of a successful strategy consultant. And it makes sense. Strategy consultants are helping businesses like yours solve complex challenges.
It can take time to find the right solution, and having the drive to look at every angle of a problem to devise the best strategy to move forward requires drive and adaptability. But more important is having the right mindset. That means meeting unexpected hurdles head-on and handling them with grace.
So now for the hard part. Knowing what to look for in a business strategy consultant is one thing, but knowing what question to ask to suss those insights out is another.
At Graphite, we help companies hire pre-vetted and top-tier strategy and management consultants, so we now have extensive experience under our belt on how to hire and onboard the right person for the role. Here are some questions we ask that can help you find the best possible candidate.
9 Questions to Ask Business Strategy Candidates
1. Do you specialize in any particular areas of business strategy?
Generally, each management and strategy consultant will have areas of specialization or comparative strengths.
Some consultants specialize in particular industries, markets, or strategic issues. If you already know the business challenges and opportunities you need to address, make sure your candidate has the expertise and proven experience in those areas.
Hiring a strategist with recent experience is preferable to ensure you're getting the latest insights and recommendations. Taking this approach can expedite the onboarding period, helping you accelerate speed to market.
Likewise, you can also prioritize looking for candidates with prior management consulting experience at an MBB or Big Four firm.
2. How well do you know our industry and market, and what relevant experience do you bring?
No business planning or strategy consultant can cover every market and industry equally. But it is best to work with someone who has proven, relevant experience in your sector.
Someone who has been working in your industry and is current on the latest trends and developments can offer work more efficiently and offer specific analysis and guidance on a shorter timeline.
3. What do you know about our company and our competitors?
Strategy consultants will often make recommendations based on the complete context of your business, including its value proposition, resources, and place among competitors.
While you can’t expect an independent strategy consultant to be intimately familiar with your company and competitors before an engagement even begins, a good candidate will do some homework before your interview.
Things you want to look for is whether or not your candidate cared enough to do some homework in advance. If so, this demonstrates interest and due diligence. If not, this could be a clue to look elsewhere.
After all, it can provide insights into how the consultant will research and propose solutions to your business challenge.
4. Can you give me some examples of your strategic consulting projects and specific results?
Ideally, you want to hire a management and strategy consultant who has tackled similar projects successfully and helped other companies make sound decisions and achieve measurable results.
Due to confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, your candidate may be unable to reveal company names, financial data, or other sensitive information.
However, a good consultant should be able to provide some examples of recent work, recommendations, and specific indicators of successful results.
5. Do you have a background in finance or an ability to perform financial analysis, modeling, and projections?
A strong background in finance is hugely valuable in a business strategy consultant. Many projects require the ability to analyze financial data, build models and forecasts, and develop financial projections.
This work is critical to analyzing and prioritizing your company's issues and opportunities. Thus, it's often best to hire a consultant with a solid finance background or extensive experience in performing financial analysis.
At the very least, a strong capacity to work with numbers and an interest in using data to answer questions is crucial.
One way to test for financial acumen is to assign a paid assignment as part of your onboarding/hiring process, similar to the work they're expected to do on the project. This can go a long way in helping you narrow down the number of candidates.
6. Can you describe how you’ve successfully tackled strategic issues that were outside your experience and expertise?
Strategic and management consulting requires learning. Even if a candidate is familiar with your industry and the challenges and opportunities you’re facing, there’s still a learning process.
Any consultant worth their salt will need to take the time to understand and analyze your organization, its people, and its unique concerns.
As part of advising your company, it's also likely that a strategist will encounter issues, challenges, and opportunities outside their expertise. In these cases, a good strategy consultant can learn quickly, think critically, and call upon reliable research, data, and outside experts to provide informed guidance and make recommendations.
Hearing some examples of how a strategist has done this successfully will give you confidence in their qualifications. It also provides insights into their thought process.
7. If you were presented with multiple strategic challenges and opportunities, how would you start evaluating and prioritizing them?
Your company may face multiple competing concerns or prospects, and your strategist may need to help you evaluate and prioritize them. This requires strong analytical and organizational skills and an ability to simplify and structure complex problems while staying goal-oriented and fact-based.
Asking how your candidate would start evaluating and prioritizing multiple issues or opportunities can give you a sense of a strategist’s process and how effective that person will be.
To make this question more fruitful, ask scenario-based questions that can help you get an inside look at how the business strategy's problem-solving capabilities. These scenario-based questions can be around the challenges you're trying to solve, which can give you an idea of whether or not they would be a good fit.
8. How do you approach different personalities, opinions, and priorities when consulting? How do you bring teams together and secure buy-in?
Inevitably, in learning and analyzing your business and recommending strategic decisions, a consultant will need to work with various team members. This will include top-level executives and possibly middle managers and front-line team members.
As a result, it's not uncommon to encounter clashing egos, priorities, and opinions within the organization. There’s also the potential for disagreement or pushback from employees who don’t trust your consultant’s expertise or believe they know better.
Thus, it’s critical for a management and strategy consultant to have outstanding people skills. It takes proactive communication and outreach to build trust, build a good business case, find common ground, and achieve buy-in from key stakeholders with differing views and agendas.
Make sure your candidate demonstrates these skills and explains how they have used them successfully.
9. What would you bring to this role that no other consultant could provide?
Thanks to the growing number of strategy consultants working independently these days, you may find yourself choosing between multiple candidates with strong qualifications. Asking them to describe their unique qualities, qualifications or capabilities can help you differentiate between candidates and make an otherwise tough decision.
Two Bonus Questions to Ask Yourself
As you vet candidates and compare skill sets and expertise to identify the right fit for your business, asking yourself level-setting questions can keep you on task. You want to make sure you’re also looking for attributes outside of skill sets that will best benefit your business.
1. Is your candidate inquisitive?
A great strategy consultant will ask questions during the interview and seek to learn more about your business and your needs. Does your candidate ask questions, and are they precise, targeted, and strategic? Do they reflect a highly analytical and organized approach?
If so, those are signs that your candidate will take the same approach to your business consulting needs, which will generally lead to better results.
2. How well does your candidate listen?
During your interview, does your candidate listen intently and take notes? Does the consultant ask follow-up questions or probe for more details?
Listening is a crucial part of being a good strategy consultant. It’s critical to gathering internal insights and understanding all the perspectives, issues, challenges, and opportunities confronting your business. A good, attentive listener will ultimately make for a better strategy consultant for your company.
Ready to Find the Right Strategy Consultant?
Finding the right candidate can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. But with the right questions, identifying your project's business strategy consultant becomes easier.
We know this because we have successfully completed over 3,000 engagements on our platform by connecting businesses to independent consultants on demand. This has been possible due to our thorough vetting process, which removes the hassle for hiring managers to find, vet, and onboard business planning or strategic consultants for their projects.
Interested in learning more how to find, onboard, and manage on-demand talent like an independent business strategy consultant? Then download our guide Closing The Talent Gap: On-Demand Talent Acquisition 101.