Consultants sell their expertise to businesses who need the additional counsel of a distinguished pro. These sages and trouble shooters help businesses by bringing in the perspective of an outside expert.
Consultants advise their clients on an array of subjects: finance, IT, human resources, education, fundraising, business, sales, healthcare and marketing, are just some examples. Consultants assist companies in a range of ways. They may offer ongoing coaching, training or advice to management. Other consultants work on a project basis, providing solutions that, once implemented, end the relationship.
This challenging role requires equal parts subject matter expertise and charism. If that sounds like your skillset, read on to learn how to find a job as a consultant.
How to Get Hired as a Consultant
Consultants enact their work in a variety of ways. Some are employed by a firm; generally these larger organizations employ a host of consultants who specialize in various fields. Others belong to smaller consulting groups bound together by their shared expertise-fundraising or politics, for example. Some consultants are solo practitioners.
However they are positioned, all successful consultants need to have the expertise and the track record to demonstrate that they can implement solutions. They also need to possess the communication skills to walk into an unfamiliar professional culture and win their clients’ confidence.
How to Gain Skills, Knowledge, and Experience
Skills for consultants
Consultants earn their work in a variety of ways. For those employed by a firm, the required qualifications and background are stipulated by their employers. Consultants who are solo practitioners or who work with a group, generate business by inspiring confidence among their clients and circulating that success narrative.
In the case of the latter, their required qualifications are more about demonstrating results and inspiring client confidence than about adhering to a standard paradigm. In this way, the work of many consultants is truly entrepreneurial in its nature.
No matter what type of consulting a professional undertakes, it requires a blend of skills to succeed in this role. Consultants have to be comfortable routinely earning client buy-in by radiating poise and a deep mastery of the issues they were hired to address.
In some cases, this means having difficult conversations; for example, management consultants may advise on issues like how to streamline operations and eliminate costs by revising the staffing structure. Facilitating the conversation requires a polished set of communication skills in addition to business prowess.
Career paths plug: Degrees needed
Different consulting roles require different backgrounds. In most cases, a consultant needs at least a bachelor’s degree. Often, a master’s degree further inspires client confidence. Interestingly, in some tech fields, experience may suffice in leu of a degree. While holding a college degree seems generally preferred, technical experience and proven results carries a lot of weight when it comes to inspiring client confidence.
Consultants can also earn certifications to bolster their credentials and skills in an area of focus. The Institute of Management Consultants offer a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) training process, for example. In the same way, the Project Management Institute certifies consultants who specialize in project management. Another example is a Lean Principles Certificate, which certifies consultants who’ve honed their skills in streamlining business operations.
Technical consultants may also opt to earn certifications related to the specific work they undertake for their clients; some examples include: Information Security Manager Certification, Risk and Information Systems Control Certification, Information Systems Security Professional Certification.
Earning certifications helps consultants further their development goals and refresh their institutional knowledge and expertise. This enables consults to continue refining their professional brands and building credibility with their clients.
Consultant Hiring Process
For consultants employed by a consulting firm or a company with a consulting division, the hiring process follows the traditional paradigm. Applicants submit their credentials, and fitting applicants are generally screened via one or two phone interviews before being invited to the first of, usually, two face-to-face interviews. It’s a good strategy to review questions submitted by Glassdoor users who interviewed for consultant jobs, as part of your interview prep.
In other cases, companies interview consultants and hire them for the lifecycle of a project. Depending on what the project demands, that may mean the consultant is working fulltime for that client throughout the duration of the project. These interviews may be traditional, or they may be less formal, depending on the relationship the consultant has with the client.
Well-positioned consultants develop a reputation for excellence in their area of focus. Word of mouth within their industry is a powerful endorsement, as is the consultant’s experience and track record of success. Consultants earn jobs by developing a reputation for excellence and by being savvy networkers. In some cases, they may belong to a professional association, which can help them to make profitable connections.
Many consultants build up a portfolio of clients over the course of their work. Generating a solid bank of satisfied clients is important for these professionals. It helps provide leads and references.
How Much Does a Consultant Make?
Glassdoor data reveals that the average base pay for consults is $80,000. The average for business consultants’ salaries is $76,000, while average base pay for management consultants is $105,000. Security consultants earn, on average, $85,000, while healthcare consultants’ base pay averages $79,000. Glassdoor data reveals that education consultants earn an average base pay of $63,000.
By checking out Glassdoor salaries, you can filter by location to see consultant salaries in your area. Salary estimates are based on salaries submitted anonymously to Glassdoor by employees who work as consultants.
Consultant Job Market
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a strong demand for consults in the near term, with a 14 percent growth for management consultants by 2026. The BLS explains: “Demand for consulting services is expected to grow as organizations seek ways to improve efficiency and control costs. As markets become more competitive, firms will need to use resources more efficiently.”
The BLS notes where to expect strong markets for consultants: “Growth will be particularly strong in smaller consulting companies that specialize in specific industries or types of business function, such as information technology or human resources. Government agencies will also seek the services of management analysts as they look for ways to reduce spending and improve efficiency.”
Consultant Interview Tips
For solo practitioners or for consultants who represent a small shop, their interviews are often conversations with decision-making professionals at the companies seeking their advice and counsel. Citing past experience and samples of successful work tends to be convincing.
It’s also important to have a stellar website and LinkedIn profile that is rich with endorsements and recommendations from satisfied clients. The challenge is that you want to cite your accomplishments without infringing on past clients’ confidentiality.
To that end, it’s meaningful to have prepared talking points that reference success in categorical terms: I’ve increased fundraising by 20 percentage at non-profits that have hired me as a consultant. I’ve helped clients reduce their costs by 10 percent. This way you can highlight your role and accomplishments while respecting client privacy. Also, if you’d like to highlight a particularly successful project, make sure to refer to it in general terms, guarding your client’s privacy. If you want to use it as is, make sure to clear it with the clients first.
As you talk with potential clients, develop standard talking points around your basic offerings and expectations so they know what to expect from you - what problem are they trying to solve and what output means a solution for them? You also need to clarify any expectations they have about your time, availability and pay.
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If becoming a consultant is your next career move, here are some additional resources to help you on your way.