The consultancy assignment is an important part of the assessment for analytical functions. You get a large amount of information and you should give advice based on this. This advice must be based on the facts contained in the document and the information you receive verbally from your conversation partner (an actor). The judging criteria are how you handle this large amount of information and the steps you take to arrive at your recommendation. Most consultancy assignments consist of a number of phases:
- The analytical part. Going through the information, getting a clear idea of the problem and looking for missing information. Try to read the case as if you find it really interesting. For example, imagine that this takes place in your own town or city.
- The question phase. This is a conversation with an actor. Within a certain time, frame, you can ask the actor as many questions as you want to get closer to the heart of the matter. Start the conversation more generally and then ask more detailed questions. It is also good to write down some key words during the conversation: entire sentences take a lot of time and not writing leads to too many thoughts. Stay objective during the conversation.
- The conclusion. After the interview, you will have time to combine all your information and form a recommendation based on it. Apply structure to your final recommendation. It is good to start a little more generally and then discuss the details.
- The presentation. Here you will present your recommendation to two people. This is often the actor that you saw earlier in the interview and the consultant who writes your report. Start the presentation: preferably with your recommendation followed by your supporting facts and ideas.
- The Q&A In the last part, the actor and consultant are given time to ask about your recommendation. How did you arrive at this recommendation? Why did you come to this conclusion and not to another? Realize that the actor and consultant will not make it easy for you. Stay calm and do not get defensive. Of course, there will be things that you have overlooked, but hold your ground about what you’ve seen so far, which in your opinion is reason enough to support your recommendation.
The analytical part
You will be presented with a rather vague situation. A client is dissatisfied, but your employee says it is all right. What exactly is going on here? In the exercise, you have the opportunity to ask the client some questions. In this phase, you have to get a clear of idea of what you need to make a good recommendation. Find the important information that is missing. Create a list of priorities during this phase, because you have a limited time to work. What information do you really need to be able to arrive at a recommendation?
Tips for the analytical part
- Take an inquisitive approach to the case study and view it as a problem that you are really working on. Questions will come naturally this way. Remember that it’s better to have too many questions than too few.
- That’s good advice for the mind mappers among us. Sometimes it helps to draw out different parts of a problem, so you can think of a number of questions for each part.
The question phase
In this phase, you will be given the opportunity to ask your questions. The actor/consultant across from you knows the case inside and out. If you ask the right questions, you’ll obtain valuable information. The best approach to this phase is concrete and rational. Forget about similar problem situations from your own life; this usually leads to snap judgments that are incorrect. Accepting something as true too quickly does not work in your favor: asking detailed questions is to your benefit.
Start off in a general way and progressively become more specific. As a result, you are less likely to miss important information or head down the wrong track. When you notice that the essence of the problem becomes clear, you can then dive in with more detailed questions.
Tips for the question phase
- Start off in a general way and progressively become more specific. By asking questions in the right way, your internal database already gives you cues about the heart of the problem.
- Work with keywords. This leaves room in your head for the questions and you do not have to remember everything.
- Try to remain as objective and factual as possible; the information that you gain from this phase is key. This is all ammunition to base your recommendation on. If you assume that you know everything too quickly, chances are that you will be confronted with new important information during the final phase.
You have a very short time to prepare your solution or recommendation for the problem. It is important to do this in a general way. You often do not have time to go into many details. Working systematically and taking notes helps you construct your recommendation in a structured way. For example, you can use a pro and con design for your recommendations. This allows you to provide a recommendation that is unilaterally defensible: it also enables you to outline negative consequences. You will be most successful if you have considered points for criticism (because they will inevitably come your way).
Tips for the conclusion
- Apply structure to how you work. This helps in this phase because you can see the big picture quickly. After all, you have the most important information (obtained from the question phase) and you have written it down. Use those keywords!
- Build your recommendation like a house. The foundation contains the most important points and then you work upwards until you reach the roof.
You will be given the opportunity to present your recommendation. Since this is a fact-finding component, much attention will be paid to the factual correctness of your advice. However, remember that how you present is more important than you might think, so take a careful approach to the presentation portion. It is all about presenting your recommendation in a structured fashion.
Be clear and to the point. Spending too much time on details dilutes your message. Present your recommendation with conviction. After all, you have obtained the right information. Don’t be too unsure of yourself while presenting, because that attitude will carry over into the presentation itself.
Tips for the presentation
- It is best to start with your recommendation and follow it with supporting facts and ideas.
- Don’t expect your recommendation to be perfect: have confidence, but don’t convey your message with arrogance. There will always be information that you did not ask about.
Unfortunately, your solution and recommendation will be met with criticism. Why? They want to know how well you can defend your solution and handle opposition. Remember that it is almost like a game: don’t get insulted or offended. Handle the resistance constructively and use your creativity to turn the situation in your favor. Will you buckle when challenged or stick to your guns? Don’t forget that how you arrived at your solution is actually what is most important. If you’re the type to doubt yourself in a new situation, bear in mind that being challenged is part of the assignment. Immediately giving in to the criticisms presented to you and distancing yourself from your own recommendation won’t score you any points for firmness, resolve, etc.
Tips for the Q&A
- Stay calm under pressure. You knew this was coming. Responding defensively or offensively does not look good. Stay professional and stick to the facts that you know.
- Calmly repeat the basis that supports your recommendation. Your supporting arguments still apply, even if you are being made to feel that that is not true.