So, you’re thinking about a career in consulting? Whether you’re looking to make a mid-career transition out of industry or just finishing business school, consulting appeals to a lot of talented people and spans a wide range of experience. But what are the pros and cons of pursuing a consulting career? And how do you know if you’ll be successful once you get there?
One of the key advantages of a consulting career is the opportunity it affords to engage with a variety of clients, including industry leaders who need to balance day-to-day operations with strategic initiatives. To remain competitive, these business leaders must either reprioritize their current teams’ core job responsibilities or navigate the process of hiring and training additional staff. In many instances, it’s more effective to bring in an outside consultant. That’s where you come in.
Many consultants welcome the opportunity to work on a variety of projects throughout the year, sometimes for different clients, but that degree of diversity can be challenging for others. Consultants are expected to ramp up quickly, meet shifting deadlines, and achieve ambitious client goals on schedule. Initial deliverables may be due just a week after onboarding with a new client.
While consulting can be a rewarding long-term career, it’s not for everyone.
Determining your aptitude for consulting
If you thrive in a continually evolving environment and love to solve problems, consulting may be your calling. This is particularly so if you have exceptional interpersonal and communication skills and can collaborate with all levels of stakeholders.
Successful consultants, beyond their expertise in specific functional areas like marketing, sales, analytics, or change management or in specific industry verticals like technology, telecom, or retail, share common characteristics and can usually be described in these terms:
Self-directed: Consultants will often work primarily off-premises, sometimes visiting clients in person only once or twice a month. For this reason, essential skills include the ability to work independently with little oversight and to consistently deliver high-quality and timely work.
Proactive: Because consulting projects are, by definition, time-bound, it’s important to have strong project management skills, including the ability to proactively recognize and respond to issues. Consultants must also ensure that projects are on track for milestone achievement and within scope and budget.
Complementing project management skills is the capacity to step back and consider whether the direction of a project is correct as documented and, if it is not, to clearly articulate options and plans to redirect efforts.
Adaptable: With companies in a constant state of flux due to technological advances and shifting market dynamics, agility is a must, and a consultant must be able to adjust to new circumstances, such as a sudden assignment to a new project or the need to prepare and deliver an executive stakeholder report on a day’s notice.
In addition, the ability to be tactfully influential and to articulate your point of view in a collaborative manner is crucial to building trust and rapport with clients.
Persistent: Successful consultants have the ability to forge ahead despite obstacles. Strong consultants possess the fortitude to see hurdles as opportunities, the confidence to seek assistance when necessary, the creativity to design unique solutions, and the determination to remain focused until they achieve the desired outcomes.
Inquisitive: Consultants are often hired to solve perplexing problems. Essential qualities include an insatiable curiosity, the ability to conduct in-depth analysis and research, and the confidence to ask questions. Complementing these is a willingness to continually learn and to stay current with industry trends and technologies.
Taking the first step
Finding success as a consultant starts with your proven experience, knowledge, and interpersonal and communication skills. It continues with a commitment to delivering more than expected. Clients are motivated not by what you’ve previously achieved but by what you can do today to help them reach their goals and drive their success.
If consulting sounds like your next opportunity, check out our current job listings and connect with our talent team today.