If you’ve ever had a friend come to you and say, “Janice (providing, of course, that your name is Janice), which dress do you think goes better with these shoes, the red or the black?” If your friend decides on the black dress at your suggestion and gets rave reviews at a party for her fashion sense, you may get heartfelt thanks. That’s what friends are for. But if she decides to slip you a couple of bucks for your ability to color coordinate, you’ve suddenly become a consultant. There are all types of consultants in the business world, individuals working as hired guns to analyze and propose ways to improve an organization’s structure, efficiency, or profits. Most consultants are self-employed, while some join consulting firms that specialize in providing large corporations temporary management. Some consultants specialize in a specific industry while others are skilled in a type of business function, such as human resources or financial auditing. The workload of a consultant varies with each job and each project. Some projects require a team of consultants; others require an independent consultant working with the company’s managers. No matter the job, consultants collect, review, analyze information, and make recommendations to management. Consultants report their findings in writing, but oral presentations are also common. Therefore, consultants must have strong communication skills. Consultants need to be self-motivated and disciplined with strong analytical skills, the ability to get along with a wide range of people, good judgment, time management skills, and creativity. For some projects, consultants are retained to help implement their suggestions. Most consultants work at the client’s offices; however, self-employed consultants may divide their time between home and a client’s site. Most jobs are based on regular business hours, although consultants may be required to work long hours as deadlines approach. Stress is a common occurrence in the life of a consultant as they deal with trying to meet client’s demands in a short amount of time. Consultants travel frequently, sometimes criss-crossing the country to work on projects for various clients.
In order to get to the point in your career when you can become a consultant, you have to have a lot of education and a lot of experience in your chosen field. Most clients look for consultants with a master’s degree and above. You have to have at least 5-year experience in a particular field. However, some government agencies will hire consultants with a bachelor’s degree and little experience for entry-level analyst positions. This is great experience to have when looking to go off on your own, or hire on to a consulting firm. Consultants frequently attend conferences to keep up with current developments in their industry. Some organizations, like the Institute of Management Consultants, offer the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation to those who pass an examination and meet minimum levels of education and experience. This certification is not required for consultants, but it may give you the competitive advantage you need to survive.
Consultants collect, review, analyze, make recommendations, and implement their ideas. Other professionals who use similar skills include managers, computer systems analysts, operations research analysts, economists, and financial analysts. Because most consultants have strong organizational and communication skills, many become project managers.