Learn About Being a Consultant
What does a consultant do?
Consultants are independent workers who use their expertise to help clients solve problems. Businesses often hire consultants to save on the cost of recruiting and training a full-time employee. Consultants have expertise in a particular field and can bring a fresh perspective to a company. Examples of consultant job duties and responsibilities include:
- Improving a particular component of a client’s business, such as marketing or sales
- Helping businesses improve their processes, increase productivity and generate more revenue
- Offering advice and recommendations on processes and resource allocation
- Developing strategic planning with upper-level management and company executives
- Developing written marketing plans designed to generate sales and improve brand awareness
Salaries for consultants can vary based on the industries they work in and the average salary for the state or region.
Consultants often work for a company on a freelance basis for specific projects. Whether you are looking for a job with a consulting firm or interested in freelance consulting, there are certain skills and knowledge that companies will look for when choosing candidates.
There is typically no educational requirement to become a consultant, but those who do may experience more success. Consultants will often hold a bachelor’s degree in their specialty field and often pursue a master’s in business, marketing or a related field to further develop their expertise.
Besides education, successful consultants will have extensive training in their industry, which may include industry-specific regulation, processes and best practices. Consultants should have training in specialized tools, equipment and software used in the industry.
A variety of certifications can increase consultants’ credibility and establish them as trusted advisors for their clients. Consultants may have certifications specific to consulting, their chosen specialty or their industry. Aspiring consultants can typically earn these certifications with a combination of coursework and examinations.
Consulting certifications: These credentials establish consultants as professionals with a thorough understanding of consulting. The Consulting Skills Certificate, offered through the Association for Talent Development, builds consultants’ credibility by teaching them to help organizations establish goals, achieve outcomes and guide clients through the consultive process.
Specialty certifications: This type of certification focuses on specific areas that can be applied across industries such as management, leadership or project management. For example, the Certified Management Consultant offered through the Institute of Management Consultants establishes consultants as professionals in working with senior leadership to develop and achieve organizational goals. The Project Management Professional certification offered by the Project Management Institute develops consultants’ planning and leadership abilities.
Industry certifications: These certifications show expertise in chosen industries. For instance, the Senior Professional in Human Resources certification verifies human resource competency in all industry specialties. Additionally, the Certified Information Systems Security Professional is a globally recognized credential that shows expertise in information security.
Consultants should have extensive knowledge in their chosen field and the skills to help them understand business needs and establish goals. Some important skills for consultants include:
Logical reasoning: This includes inductive and deductive reasoning abilities. With strong reasoning skills, you can apply existing knowledge to discern new information in a different context. Consultants use these skills to leverage experience to solve new problems and design effective solutions based on new information.
Strong leadership and collaboration: This skill involves the ability to effectively lead others and work toward solutions. Consultants should be comfortable working with upper management and executive-level employees during planning sessions to identify ideal solutions for the organization.
Change and transition management: Consultants use this skill to drive change and lead personnel through a transition as the organization implements new strategies.
Strong written, verbal and presentation skills: This is important to ensure consultants can communicate ideas and objectives. Consultants need to write, speak and communicate to individuals and groups. This may include presenting a high-level overview to a broad audience or facilitating meetings with leadership and project teams to outline specific details.
Knowledge of performance metrics: This skill includes the ability to quantify and measure performance, which is important to track success and ensure the company meets deadlines and budget requirements.
Consultant work environment
The work environment and day-to-day schedule for consultants may vary depending on the industry. Consultants supporting clients in industries such as management, information technology, finance or human resources will frequently work in an office environment. The work may require sitting for long periods of time, but will not require physical activity such as heavy lifting. Consultants for construction or manufacturing industries may work outdoors. Consultants are often required to travel since much of the work happens at the client’s office or work site.
How to become a consultant
You can become a consultant from almost any field or industry by following several steps, including:
Determine an area of expertise. To be a consultant, you will need to choose an area of expertise. This can be a specialty that applies to all industries, such as leadership or project management, or it can be a specific industry such as manufacturing, human resources or information technology.
Choose your career track. Decide if you want to pursue a consulting career by working for a consulting firm or as a freelance consultant. Research organizations in your chosen field to identify their desired education and experience requirements.
Gain relevant experience. Experience relevant to your chosen specialty or industry provides in-depth, real-world knowledge and shows you understand what the work involves. Most times, you may gain this experience by earning professional certifications. Many industry-specific certifications require several years of experience to be eligible for the certification process. Field experience will also help you decide if pursuing a consulting career is right for you.
Pursue education. Getting a bachelor’s degree in your chosen field will show your knowledge and credibility. Depending on your specialty, you may also want to pursue graduate education.
Find your target market. Once you feel confident you have achieved sufficient education and experience, you can start applying with consulting firms. You may also identify businesses and organizations that may benefit from your freelance services.
Market yourself. If you are working as a freelance consultant, you will need to contact businesses and secure consulting contracts. Early in your career, you may want to work with smaller businesses to build a clientele. As you build a reputation offering quality consulting services, you can expand to larger, more complex organizations.
Consultant job description example
Lakeshore Printing, a fast-growing large format printing firm, is looking for a marketing consultant to help us create a brand image, attract a wider target audience and increase revenue growth. We are looking for guidance on advertising, metrics analyses, brand awareness and a strategic marketing plan. The ideal candidate will have a bachelor’s degree or higher in marketing or a related field and documented success in implementing marketing plans in small to medium size companies.
Consultants can work in a variety of fields and industries. Below are several examples of related consulting careers.