Acoustic problem-solver: Soft skills for consultancy

Ben Saunders - August 2016

For the uninitiated, the job title of acoustic consultant implies an expert advisor, a fountain of knowledge or some kind of walking library. From personal experience, this can seem very daunting to those looking to start their career. While a working knowledge of acoustics and academic proficiency is important, there are many skills that underpin the role that are equally as important.

One of my first experiences of acoustic consultancy was the memorable IOA event ‘The Art of being a consultant’, which helped to describe the qualities needed and provided a well-rounded introduction to the role. Many aspects of the work were covered: technical, business and communication skills, writing reports, working within a team, the quality of the work, professional accreditation and many more. However I felt as though much of the event was treading familiar ground: I had recently changed career from a role requiring many of these attributes.

After my undergraduate degree I worked for a few years as a warranty engineer for a large consumer electronics retailer. While the initial perception may be that the work is completely different (it involves repairing faulty electronics), the soft skills I acquired were incredibly transferable, far more so than I would have thought.  

Soft skills describe general skills that relate to all types of work, as opposed to hard skills that are job-specific. There are many kinds of soft skills, for example:

Communication

Technical writing

Computer literacy

Critical thinking

Interpersonal skills

Project management

Leadership

Time-management

A very large amount of working time can be spent using these types of skills. Understanding how to resolve a computer problem, communicating an idea effectively, or having the emotional intelligence required to resolve an interpersonal issue are vital, and often under-represented in the hiring process. While some soft skills such as communication, leadership and team working are easily transferred, others are less obvious, and far more difficult to recognise.

I found it particularly surprising that the lessons of problem-solving I learned while repairing electronic devices crossed the career divide so easily. Being presented with a problem and identifying, evaluating and implementing a reasonable solution follows the same logical process. Lateral thinking, or just stopping for pause to take stock of some evaluated parameters, can be useful lessons in any technical career (and has saved me on a number of surveys!).

The IOA event highlighted to me personally the importance of identifying and using the skills I had already developed; and that being a consultant did not mean being a walking library, but that providing expert advice came from the problem solving mind-set I had previously developed. Since then, I have found that my new career has provided more opportunities to challenge and develop myself and instilled confidence in my existing soft skills and recently acquired hard skills. The lesson to those daunted by a new career is that the skills you already possess are your most valuable asset.