When I was doing interviews with new graduates and experienced hires for management consultant positions, we used to have something called ‘the airport test’.

The airport test is simply – if you were stuck with the person that you were interviewing at the airport, how long would you want to spend stuck at the airport with them? (In this case, the longer the better). If you could talk to that person about a wide variety of subjects, and there was a lot of back and forth, this person would pass the airport test. The reasoning is that if they can talk to someone else like a normal human being, they would also be able to talk to clients. And a lot of what management consultants do is communicate with clients, set expectations, take them out for social events, build relationships and much more.

I’m sure that it has been talked about enough that everybody knows what the airport test is, but even knowing that a test like that exists does not mean that you can pass it easily – a lot of it depends on what you know, what you are interested in and how well you can communicate what you know into something interesting for the other person. Just because you are interested in snails from Australia does not mean that someone else has that same interest.

The other day, my friend Shawn called me. I always enjoy conversations with Shawn – he has this energy and excitement that is incredibly contagious and I think this is what made him such a great consultant. No matter who he was talking to, he would be excited to listen to them speak, hear their stories, find out what they were interested in and generally have great conversations with others. And the one skill that Shawn has, that I believe is the one key skill for ambitious people is:


Enthusiasm is key. Enthusiasm can get you through the airport test. The great thing about being super enthusiastic about all the things that you do at work or in life is that it is super contagious. Other people, who may not have been that enthusiastic, or motivated, or excited about doing something, can sense your energy and in turn, you can rub off on them.

  • Have a late night working on a deliverable for a crappy boss with unrealistic deadlines? It sucks but having an excited colleague can help.
  • Not interested in working that outside farm job? Having a passionate friend will help motivate you
  • Always getting the crappy assignments from your supervisor? Hey, your friend gets the same assignments but never complains or gets frustrated.

Out of all the skills that you could have (and here of course, I assume that you are smart, hard working, sociable and have the ‘foundational’ skills), enthusiasm is the killer skill that will help differentiate you from others, especially when times get tough (and times will get tough at some point).

What do you think? How can you be more enthusiastic about things that don’t excite you? How do enthusiastic coworkers rub off on you?