A consultant provides expert advice to clients and can help to guide business practices and directions. Consultants work in many fields within the business world. They may work with multi-million dollar corporations or small independent businesspeople.
The main consulting fields can be separated into operational consulting, strategy and planning consulting, financial advisory, risk and compliance management, and solving human resource problems.
Strategic and planning consultants work with chief executive officers (CEOs) and other C-suite management members affecting all portions of a business. These individuals work with the long-term direction of a company. They must fully understand the business and its place within an industry sector.
Operational consultants help with outsourcing product or labor and securing products for manufacturers. Working with supply chain management, the work on keeping prices down and product flowing. They are extremely important during times of economic downturns.
In finance, they can work with businesses of all sizes to assess risks, arrange loans, and manage other financial transactions. Finance consultants may work with lowering the tax burden of a company. They will also deal with investments and portfolio management to keep the client's income stable.
Human resource consultants help with obtaining the top talent and dealing with internal employee conflicts. They may also assist with finding the best benefits packages for companies. Thes consultants will review or create strong company policies and procedures that follow state and federal laws and the best practices of the industry.
Risk and compliance consultants help companies adhere to the regulations and laws associated with a particular industry. They may work with ethical standards, fraud, and industry-specific risks. Consultants stay informed of current regulations and help with organization-wide compliance.
Requirements for Consultants
Virtually all consultants will earn a college degree prior to entering the field. A broad range of degrees will be acceptable, but common majors include engineering, business, mathematics, economics, information technology, and computer science. Many consultants go on for graduate degrees in business or a discipline related to their area of consulting.
Consultants need strong analytical and problem-solving skills. In quantitative areas of consulting, solid mathematics and computer skills will be required. Consultants must be able to interface smoothly and productively with clients and team members.
Strong writing and verbal communication skills are essential as is the ability to present findings and proposals to groups. Consultants tend to travel frequently and work long hours during crunch periods with projects, so evidence of adaptability and a high energy level are valued.
Aspiring consultants should take project-oriented courses where cases are addressed by groups of students. Student leaders who have a successful track record of influencing their peers and finding creative solutions will be viewed favorably by recruiters.
For seasoned professionals looking to transfer into the field from areas like engineering, IT, management, and human resources, a reputation as an industry leader helps to smooth the transition. Industry awards, leadership positions in professional groups, publications, and strong recommendations on platforms like LinkedIn can help you to project this image.
How to Find a Job as a Consultant
Major consulting firms recruit on many college campuses and hire bachelor-level graduates for an analyst or junior consultant positions. Business, engineering, and technology graduate students are also recruited heavily by consulting firms on campuses. Contact the career office at your college early on to prepare for campus recruiting at your school.
Google "top consulting firms" and apply online to as many as possible. Use LinkedIn and your college's career or alumni offices to identify contacts at your target firms. Approach them for informational interviews and to discuss the best strategies for finding a job.
If you are already working, identify consultants serving your firm and approach them for advice on transitioning into the field.
Network with fellow professionals who have migrated into consulting. You can usually find members from your professional association's directory who have done so with a background similar to yours. Ask them for referrals to any recruiters who may have helped them find a consulting job.
Reach out to Facebook, LinkedIn, family, neighborhood, and alumni contacts regardless of their profession. Ask them to introduce you to anyone whom they may know in the consulting field. Approach those individuals for informational meetings.
Establish a consulting practice as a sideline to your main job if possible. Doing so will test and prove your interest. You will be a more appealing candidate if you can bring a client or two along with you to a major firm.
Cultivate roles with your current employer where you do some internal consulting, perhaps helping struggling or more junior colleagues.
How to Interview
Dress the part. Companies will generally look for a very polished image since consultants interface so frequently with clients. If anything, err on the side of being overdressed when choosing your business attire. Sharpen your PowerPoint and presentation skills since you will likely be required to demonstrate these skills as part of the screening process.
Consulting firms often require candidates to conduct case analyses as part of the process. Review the basics of case interviewing and practice analyzing cases. Group interviews are common, and firms will be evaluating not just your answers but how you interact with others as a group member. They will be looking for potential leaders who can also be team players.
Send a Thank You Note
After each consultant interview, send a thank-you note expressing your appreciation for the interviewer's time and your interest in landing the job.