Recommended Reading to Advance Career Skills
Case in Point: Crafting Your Consulting Career is now available! This book covers topics like these to help you craft a successful consulting career. The book captures insights from hundreds of hours of informational interviews and lessons learned from targeted interviews with nearly twenty consultants.
As a professional problem-solver and lifelong learner, you should prioritize and dedicate time to reading, writing or presenting, and honing your craft. Each of these books is carefully curated from my own library and comes highly recommended by many other consultants.
As someone who has committed to reading 50-plus business, management, and professional development books a year, I’ve seen my library grow substantially over time. My reading list also continues to grow as I continue to ask my personal board of advisors, consultants, and network for reading recommendations. The tailored list I’ve presented here comprises the 25+ books that have been the most influential in my career, broken into my top five recommended books across five core categories: (1) Consulting Preparation, (2) Communications, (3) Customer Service, (4) Essential Consulting, and (5) Management/Leadership. Each section is prioritized to help you focus your time on crafting your consulting career.
Commit to reading these books over the next six months (a book a week) or as your schedule allows to help the seeds of knowledge gained from this book to germinate. You may opt to start with the top pick in each category before moving onto the rest, or you may opt to focus on a critical development area and read all of the books in that category before moving on to another. Either way, make that investment in lifelong learning and share, recommend, and add your own books to these lists (and feel free to reach out to me with your suggestions).
These books will probably apply most to readers who are in the stage of learning about consulting and planning or launching their consulting careers. That being said, it never hurts for more seasoned consultants to brush up on their skills, learn what aspiring consultants are reading, and reflect on the takeaways from these books. Doing this could help those more seasoned consultants to become better recruiters and mentors, and to reflect on their consulting preparation.
1. Case In Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation,11th edition, by Marc Cosentino (Burgee Press, 2020)
The “MBA Bible” — this book provides interview tips, case interview preparation, and insights from case interview guru Marc Cosentino.
1a. Case In Point: Government and Nonprofit, by Marc Cosentino and Evan Piekara (Burgee Press, 2019)
OK — I know that I cheated a little bit by opening this section with a 1a. This book is a letter to my younger self of what I wish I knew about social sector consulting. If you are interested in government, nonprofit, corporate social responsibility, or the social sector, then this book provides more focused industry insights.
2. The MECE Muse: 100+ Selected Practices, Unwritten Rules, and Habits of Great Consultants, by Christie Lindor (SDP Publishing, 2018)
This book is packed with insider tips, best practices, and teachings from a seasoned consultant and provides takeaways from interviews with many successful consultants.
3. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … And Others Don’t, by Jim Collins, (HarperCollins, 2001)
A classic, and one of the most influential business books of all time. This book concisely shares key takeaways and principles from a comprehensive study on business success. Its central theme is that organizations make conscious and disciplined decisions that lead to greatness (or lose focus and discipline, leading to their decline). The principles in this book provide understanding that can be leveraged across projects, teams, and organizations.
4. The McKinsey Way: Using the Techniques of Top Strategic Consultants to Help You and Your Business, by Ethan Rasiel (McGraw-Hill, 1999)
This book provides perspective on how top consultants solve problems and shares methodologies and frameworks for tackling complex challenges.
5. Strategy Maps: Converting Intangible Assets into Tangible Outcomes, by Robert Kaplan and David Norton (Harvard Business school Publishing, 2004)
This book provides a blueprint for organizations to build strategy that aligns processes, people, and information technology for superior performance.
Successful consultants are effective communicators. I’ve found that while technical skill and competencies may help you advance in the earlier stages of your consulting career, those who progress and are promoted faster and who are more successful in the later stages of their careers are strong communicators. As you advance, your ability to persuade, influence and motivate, present, coach and provide feedback, and sell become more important. These books have been the most influential books in helping me to develop communications skills.
1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini (Harper Business, 2006)
A groundbreaking book that provides a wealth of knowledge on emotional intelligence and human behavior. Better understanding Cialdini’s six principles — (1) reciprocity, (2) scarcity, (3) authority, (4) consistency, (5) liking, and (6) consensus — will make you a much more effective consultant.
2. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck, by Chip and Dan Heath (Random House, 2008)
This is undoubtedly one of the books that most influenced career. It provides case studies and tools to guide communications practices you can use to make an idea stand out. I use their SUCCESS (simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, stories) model as a checklist whenever presenting an idea and try to infuse concepts into those presentations.
3. Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher and William Ury (Penguin, 2011)
This book shares best practices for approaching negotiations and aligning communications to reach an agreement.
4. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It, by Chris Voss (HarperCollins, 2016)
This book provides nine effective tactics and strategies to improve persuasion and communication from a former hostage negotiator.
5. Case In Point: Case Competitions: Creating Winning Strategy Presentations for Case Competitions and Job Offers, by Marc Cosentino, Kara Cupoli, and Jason Rife (Burgee Press, 2017)
This book shares how to build teamwork, presentation, and analytical skills in diagnosing a problem and providing recommendations. While the focus is case competitions, the practices are beneficial well beyond them.
Consulting is a customer-centric business where you win work, retain clients, and build a portfolio through your ability to sell, deliver, and exceed the expectations of your client. Each of these books provides insights on how you gain trust, build relationships, and deliver exceptional client service.
1. The Trusted Advisor, by David Maister, Charles Green, and Robert Galford (Touchstone, 2001)
A classic on how to build trust, position yourself as an advisor, and provide essential services to the client.
2. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie (Pocket Books, 1998)
Another classic on building relationships, gaining influence, and persuading others.
3. It Starts with Clients: Your 100 Day Plan to Build Lasting Relationships, Andrew Sobel (Wiley, 2020)
Building lasting relationships is about building connections, understanding needs, and adding value. This book provides anecdotes, guiding questions, and insights to help you provide better service.
4. Ask Powerful Questions: Create Conversations That Matter, by Will Wise (CreateSpace, 2017)
This book provides tools and a framework to ask questions unlock insights, enhance understanding, and create stronger connections.
5. Your Customer Rules Delivering the Me2B Experiences That Today’s Customers Demand, by Bill Price and David Jaffe (Jossey-Bass, 2014)
Every interaction with the customer is critical and with customers increasingly having access to more information, the balance of power has shifted. This book provides insights to improve those customer interactions.
Project management, creative thinking, learning and drawing analogies, molding and modifying frameworks, analyzing, and interpreting and evaluating data all are core skills of consultants. Each of these books provide frameworks, tools, and understanding that can drive you to become a greater consultant.
1. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen (Penguin, 2015)
Managing your projects and life with ease and elegance will increase productivity, make you a more desirable teammate, and enable you to more successfully contribute to projects. This book provides tools, frameworks, and guidance for prioritizing and managing your time.
2. Six Thinking Hats, by Edward de Bono (Back Bay Books, 1999)
A unique and practical guide on thinking and how to leverage six viewpoints to improve decision-making. The ideas in this book can be particularly effective in helping teams compromise, see blind spots, or plan and prepare for critical issues.
3. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck (Penguin Random House, 2007)
This book provides insights into establishing a growth mindset and enhancing your abilities. Being a constant learner and instilling these principles will help make you more effective in whichever career that you choose.
4. The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action, by Robert Kaplan and David Norton (Harvard Business Review Press, 1996)
This book provides guidance on how to translate a company’s vision and strategy into action using a focused format and framework for increasing performance.
5. Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning, by Thomas Davenport and Jeanne Harris (Harvard Business Review Press, 2017)
Organizations are building competitive advantages around data, and this book provides tools and studies to show how organizations are using data to drive performance.
Consultants need to apply effective management and leadership skills to accomplish tasks and address challenges and opportunities. Management often revolves around controlling a group and helping them execute to accomplish a goal. Leadership is often associated with the individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and empower people to contribute to organizational success. Together, the two are a powerful combination. These books provide critical insights into how to build influence, lead, and manage a group toward changes or a goal.
1. Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail, by John Kotter (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012)
In essence, every project that you encounter will have some element of change management and will be fundamentally about helping a client change. John Kotter’s timeless book provides an eight-step framework for managing change as well as stories, case studies, and best practices — and why transformation efforts don’t always work.
2. ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government, and Our Community, by Jeffrey Hiatt (Prosci, Inc., 2006)
This book provides a holistic, scalable, and customizable model for observing and influencing change.
3. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey (Free Press, 2004)
A classic and principled approach for developing leadership skills that enable you to address and solve problems.
4. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth (Scribner, 2016)
This book explores the psychology behind developing perseverance that enables you to succeed and perform at a higher level. Undoubtedly, you will need to grow, learn, and will face challenges as a consultant and this book will help you and your teams overcome those obstacles.
5. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, by Kim Scott (St. Martin’s Press, 2019)
This book shares tools and a framework for creating a culture of compassion, a cohesive team, and collaboratively achieving results.
Lifelong learning is not just a best practice for consulting, it is a practice for your personal and professional life. Make learning and continuous improvement part of what distinguishes you, enables you to evolve and adapt, and be part of your individual competitive advantage. The wisdom stored in the approximately 7,500 pages listed above will provide you with the tools, acumen, and knowledge to unlock higher performance and potential in your career. Happy learning!