While many choose to work within the management, scientific or technical consultancy industries, the role has much in common with entrepreneurship — especially as many more opt to build their own consultancy firms while acting as independent contractors.
Over the following guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about what’s required and what you’ll need to do to get started on the right path.
What Consultants Are Expected to Do
Consulting is a broad area of interest where practitioners are engaged in the business of giving expert advice to others within a specialist or technical field.
They examine the needs of important projects, identify areas of improvement and work to implement a range of positive, lasting and profitable solutions. In this way, the responsibilities of consultants as a catalyst for change will vary not only by field, but also by the scope of the project being handled.
That said, the opportunity is there to specialize in management, information technology, marketing research and environmental or political sciences, or your choice of virtually any other degree.
Is Consulting the Career for You?
There are many advantages to becoming a consultant and when you do so, you’re saying goodbye to the normalcy, predictability, routine and some would argue the safety of a more traditional job.
However, consultants are in high demand. The complexity of conducting business in today’s fast-paced and interconnected digital world create a consistent need for keyed-in advisers.
As one of the most rewarding experiences, consulting allows you to set your own schedule and rates, accept or reject projects based as you like and best of all, lets you choose the industry or industries you’d like to work in.
Important Questions to Ask Yourself
With all of this in mind, here are a few of the questions you should start asking before reading further and determining whether this is the right career for you.
- Are you able to commit to long hours and unconventional schedules?
- Do you enjoy working with new people and on new projects?
- Does the idea of controlling who you work for and when appeal to you?
- Do you have strong interpersonal skills and are you capable of leading a team?
Answering these questions should help you to make a decision regarding this exciting career endeavour. If you’re still unsure, perhaps a more in-depth look at what you’d be getting yourself into will help to put things in perspective.
Career Outlook for Consulting Professionals
Choosing a specialization is often just as important as choosing a particular occupation – if not more so – and as the Bureau of Labor Statistics points out, the best advice anyone can give to a future student is to “enter into an industry that sells advice,” such as consulting.
Moreover, recent projections from the Bureau puts the estimated growth of the sector at 83 percent, or a gain of more than 80,000 jobs over the 10-year period from 2008 to 2018 – a figure that is expected to continue its upward trend.
In 2009, the average wage for selected occupations across the management, scientific and technical consulting services was estimated to be $66,943, with the top 10 percent earning in excess of $108,000 per year.
That, coupled with a much faster-than-average growth rate when compared to other industries and the job’s penchant for attracting a diverse group of people from all walks of life, makes it an area of interest for many.
Earnings by Specialization and Potential Pathways
Students who choose to pursue consultancy often do so because of the flexibility the career can offer and they like the idea of starting their own business. By contrast, those who find themselves in the employ of a company or firm can expect to earn a salary based on specialization.
Below are some of the more common job titles and their respective earning potentials:
- Business Consultant. Those choosing to work with businesses and within nonprofit or commercial organizations are typically hired to advise on matters of efficiency and provide solutions to a variety of business matters. They are great for locating and solving specific and potential problems.
Average salary: $44,358 – $108,328
Median pay: $67,930
- Management Analyst. Often called management consultants, theirs is a role similar to that of business consultants. They can opt to specialize in the public or private sector and are tasked with developing and recommending business improvements to company management.
Average salary: $54,965 – $139,888
Median pay: $85,971
- Market Research Analyst. These consultants are required to gather data – consumer demographics, preferences, buying habits – and may conduct such analysis through surveys, opinion polls, focus groups and other means to help a company promote its products and services.
Average salary: $36,334 – $68,920
Median pay: $49,121
- Environmental Scientist. Specialists in this area use their expertise and knowledge of the natural sciences to protect it and people’s health. They may clean up polluted areas, work with industry to reduce waste or advise policymakers of more effective, environmentally conscious solutions.
Average salary: $35,674 – $73,253
Median pay: $48,928
- Computer Systems Analyst. Consulting professionals working in information technology study an organization’s computer systems and procedures and design solutions to help them operate more efficiently. This specialization was ranked eighth out of the 200 best jobs in 2014 and requires an intimate knowledge of computers.
Average salary: $40,266 – $91,452
Median pay: $64,102
- Political Scientist. This particular branch of consultancy can be divided into four primary fields – American politics, international relations, comparative politics or political theory. In all cases, political scientists conduct, analyze and present research and advise political leaders on policy.
Average salary: $35,000 – $107,500
Median pay: $54,256
College Degrees and Popular Majors
Whether you’re an independent contractor or an employee working for a commercial body, chances are that a bachelor’s degree will form the entry-level requirement.
That said, many of the country’s top employers are looking to recruit from a pool of MBA graduates who are in possession of extremely refined communication skills, according to the 2014 corporate recruiters survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council.
Degrees in business administration and/or management are often held in high regard, but an education in other areas like political or environmental science, IT, marketing, accounting, finance or even psychology can also help the current or prospective student.
Certification and Training
While there is no real substitute for experience, there are some industry-recognized certification courses available to designate a consultant’s commitment to the field.
In general, the two programs that offer the most value are:
- CertBC: Available from the Institute of Certified Business Consultants, this qualification denotes the highest level of ethical standards within the specialization and is held in high esteem by managers across the country looking to handle innovation and change.
- CMC: The Certified Management Consultant designation from the Institute of Management Consultants USA has been awarded to less than 1 percent of consultants. It is only open to those who have obtained a four-year college degree, have spent three years in practice as a full-time consultant and pass the exams.
All in all, if you’re looking for a career that is varied enough to suit your ever-evolving needs in terms of flexibility, adaptability and responsibility, a career in consulting could be just the thing for you.
Exploring careers in business? Be sure to check out the entire series of career exploration posts!
A Career in Real Estate
A Career in Marketing
A Career in Business Law
A Career in Finance
A Career in Accounting
A Career in Insurance
A Career in Supply Chain
A Career in Human Resources
A Career in Management
A Career in Sales
A Career in Consulting