How To Become a Consultant

Updated July 21, 2022

Learning how to become a consultant involves educating yourself on the business side of the industry, as well as the sales and customer service aspects. Whether you're looking to start your own management consulting business, or you're interested in working with a consulting firm, you need a thorough understanding of the field before you get started.

In this article, we discuss the duties of a consultant, what kind of salary to expect, steps to becoming a consultant, and answers to frequently asked questions.

What does a consultant do?

Consultants examine the organization and focus on specific areas for improvement to help make the company more profitable or competitive. They help the organization increase efficiency, reduce costs and increase revenue by recommending changes in certain aspects of the company's operations, such as human resources, electronic systems or workflow.

Consultants usually work on assigned project teams and each person on the team has a role related to an area of expertise. Consultants may work with a variety of clients or they may specialize in a particular field, such as healthcare or manufacturing. Their duties include:

  • Preparing for projects by reviewing documents, reading reports, interviewing employees and observing daily processes and procedures

  • Putting together a plan and timelines for the project, including schedules, outcome measures and goals

  • Designing the final product to deliver to the client when work is complete

  • Communicating with the client's management team and employees in writing and verbally

  • Assisting clients with implementing recommendations

  • Following up with clients periodically to see how the new processes are working

Average salary for a consultant

Since consultants work in many different fields, some requiring specialized knowledge, salaries are often driven by the client's industry. Most consultants work for consulting firms. Others are self-employed. Rarely do consultants work for the organizations they are evaluating.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $74,617 per year as of November 2019

  • Salaries range from $14,000 to $186,000 per year.

How to become a consultant: 4 steps to credibility

The requirements to become a consultant vary by industry, and there is no standard consultant job description. Some fields require more specialization than others. In general, you need a combination of experience and education that establishes you as an authority in the client's industry. Here are some steps to help you develop your career as a credible consultant:

  1. Finish your undergraduate degree.

  2. Earn practical knowledge through work experience.

  3. Get certified in your industry.

  4. Complete a master's degree or higher in your chosen field.

  5. Build your network.

1. Finish your undergraduate degree

Entry-level positions in most industries require a bachelor's degree. Consultants usually hold degrees in business administration, finance or economics. However, degrees in psychology, marketing and computer science are common as well among business consultants. To work in a particular industry, consider a minor in that field in addition to a business degree. For example, to work as a consultant in a technology field, a minor in computer science might be helpful.

2. Earn practical knowledge through work experience

To work as a consultant in a specialized field, consider employment in that industry for a few years to build your experience. Knowledge of how companies operate in the industry may make you more attractive to potential employers.

Consider joining a professional association, such as the Association for Professional Consultants, to learn more about how to become a business consultant. Most associations offer student membership at a reduced rate and provide valuable learning opportunities.

3. Get certified in your industry

Depending on the industry in which you are working, certification may or may not be necessary. Business consultant requirements vary widely by company and industry. However, if you want to improve your chances of finding a position with a consulting firm, consider completing the Certified Management Consultant or CMC certification. Acquiring the CMC means completing the required courses and passing a test administered by the Institute of Management Consultants USA.

4. Complete a master's degree or higher in your chosen field

Completing a Master's of Business Administration (MBA) can make more opportunities available to those interested in becoming a business consultant, as many firms prefer an advanced degree.

When choosing a school, consider a program that offers an MBA combined with classes from a field in which you want to specialize. For example, many universities offer an MBA with an emphasis in healthcare management for those who would like to work as a consultant to hospitals and other medical facilities.

5. Build your network

It’s important to start building a network in any industry, but especially so in consultancy, where your client base typically comes from direct contacts. It also can be beneficial to connect with other business consultants so you have a network to reach out to with questions about how to run your company—from the services you provide to pricing and how to resolve a problem with a customer.

FAQs about being a consultant

Here are answers to some common questions about how to become a consultant:

Do consultants travel to other countries to work?

Many large consulting firms do conduct business in more than one country, so you could be assigned to international projects. Some firms send their most senior consultants to do this work, while others see overseas projects as a good learning experience for new graduates to help them learn how to be a business consultant.

If you choose to work for yourself as an independent consultant, you are free to seek international clients as appropriate to your industry.

Does my grade point average in my undergraduate and graduate work matter if I am applying to work for a consulting firm?

Firms do not usually consider your grade point average or GPA as a deciding factor in whether or not to hire you. Consulting organizations are seeking a strong combination of academics, work experience and interpersonal skills. If you have all of those things, a low GPA probably won't keep you from getting the job.

What is a consultant internship program?

Many large consulting firms offer internships for students who are nearing completion of an undergraduate or graduate degree. Designed to teach students more about how to be a consultant, the experiences are usually two to three months long and may be paid or unpaid.

Experienced consultants serve as mentors to the interns. The students get a realistic idea of what it's like to work as a consultant. If you're interested in an internship, check the website of your desired firm to find the application process and deadlines.

What skills do I need to be successful as a consultant?

Here are a few personal skills that can help you become a successful consultant:

  • Discipline: Consultants often work without immediate supervision, so they must be self-disciplined enough to meet deadlines and adhere to project plans independently.

  • Organization: Consulting firms usually bill clients by the hour, so consultants need strong organizational and time management skills to make every minute on the job productive.

  • Critical thinking: Clients seek out consultants to help them solve problems. Therefore, the most successful consultants are those who can think analytically and apply critical thinking skills to get answers quickly and efficiently.

  • Communication: Consultants need excellent communication skills and that includes good listening abilities. They often interact with everyone from the CEO of a company to the entry-level team members, both in person and in writing.

Now that you know more about what it takes to become a consultant, you can decide if this career path is a good match for you. Indeed is here to help you prepare, and you can start with this Guide: How To Choose a Career.

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