There’s a definite ring of authority to the job title “consultant.” It sounds both important and potentially lucrative.
But what does it mean to be a consultant?
What do they do?
Consultants can perform a range of duties that may vary considerably depending on the industry. In a nutshell, consultants provide expert opinions, analysis, and recommendations to organizations or individuals, based on their own expertise. They’re essentially fixers, serving as objective troubleshooters, and providing strategies to prevent problems and improve performance.
Consulting jobs often offer employers the opportunity to supplement their existing team members with an outside perspective. Consultants can help organizations streamline operations, increase productivity, build revenue, and make overall functions more efficient across the organization.
A primary reason companies hire consultants is that they may possess in-depth knowledge of a specific industry or issue that the organization has in-house. A seasoned consultant can often devote time and expertise to a project that staff employees just don’t have.
Consultants can also help bring new life to organizations that are stuck, or shift resources to help companies grow or move in a different direction.
Which industries hire consultants?
Given their broad role in identifying issues and streamlining work processes, virtually all industries hire consultants. Consultants who make assessments for their clients often train and teach employees based on their recommendations for how the organization needs to change.
Some of the areas where organizations frequently seek consulting expertise are accounting and finance, human resources and employee training/development, technology, branding and marketing, management, and project management.
Business consultants help solve problems and offer companies unbiased advice and expertise. Business consultants may help improve processes and performance, assist with HR strategy, help with operations support, and more. Common industries that hire business consultants include finance and accounting, advertising, human resources, education, nonprofit and human services, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, information technology, management, and others.
Education consultants work in the education industry to consult on a variety of topics in early childhood, primary, secondary, and higher education, or they can work in a wide range of industries to help organizations with education objectives. Common industries that hire for education consulting jobs include publishing, education, government, sales, healthcare, nonprofit and human services, software and technology, and others.
Healthcare consults work to improve the efficiencies of a medical or healthcare-related organization. Reducing costs, increasing revenue, and recommending new procedures are some of the tasks required of a healthcare consultant. Risk management, nonprofit and human services, health insurance, medical facilities, pharmaceuticals, and wellness and fitness are some common industries that hire for this type of role.
An IT consultant provides technical guidance to clients by finding and analyzing security threats, analyzing code, improving the efficiency of systems, and generally helping a business best use IT to meet its goals. Having an expertise in software, hardware, programming, and other related technology areas can qualify you for an IT consultant job. Common industries hiring include construction and HVAC, healthcare, manufacturing, sales, pharmaceuticals, financial services, and more.
Often, consultants are self-employed contract professionals who provide services to a range of industries or organizations as needed. Consultants often specialize in a specific area, and those who aren’t independent contractors may work for larger consulting firms that hire out their services.
There are also lots of smaller firms that hire for consultants with specialties like operations, finance, IT, business strategy, social media, and sales and marketing.
How do I become a consultant?
Consulting can be a rewarding career that allows professionals to solely focus on their areas of expertise. They can also have a direct impact on the bottom line. Below are some steps to work out before becoming a consultant.
Figure out what you have to offer.
What’s your area of expertise and how can businesses use your knowledge to change, improve, and advance? Consultant jobs typically require an advanced degree, such as a bachelor’s or master’s degree. And having at least a few years of experience will be necessary to show that you are an expert and can provide something of value to your client. Certification is not often required, but can be acquired through the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC USA).
Check out consulting job listings.
Companies fill consulting jobs the same way they hire regular employees—by placing a job ad. You might have to actively approach companies that aren’t directly hiring, but this is a great place to start. Common consulting job titles include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Practice Management Consultant
- Staff Utilization Consultant
- Productivity Consultant
- Project Manager
- Technical Consultant
- Solutions Consultant
- Resource Planning Manager
- Business Consultant
- Marketing Consultant
- Social Media Consultant
- Safety Consultant
Choose your targets.
Which companies and organizations do you want to consult with that don’t have active consulting jobs listed?
Build your professional network.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and reflects your new career as a consultant. Get in touch with people in your network who might be able to point you in the right direction. Furthermore, if you have a portfolio or a personal website that highlights your achievements, send applicable projects and outcomes.
Put yourself out there.
Sharpen your sales pitch and be ready to discuss how you can improve the business. Be ready to talk numbers. Once you’ve got that down, contact companies, use your network, and apply for consulting jobs.
What does it take to be a good consultant?
Here are few questions to weigh if you’re thinking about becoming a professional consultant:
- Do you have the appropriate education, experience, and expertise in the consulting area you’re considering?
- Do you have the communication and people skills needed to work with a range of clients and organizations, and navigate potential politics?
- Do you have proven problem-solving skills and a background giving professional presentations in your area of expertise?
- Would you be happy with assignments that revolve around your client’s time frame—temporary jobs that could last weeks or months, or even years?
If your answers to these questions are in the affirmative, work in the field of consulting could make for a rewarding career for you.