Consulting offers flexibility and good pay, but also hard work and erratic hours. Is it right for your next career move?
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Consulting can be a very rewarding profession. It offers exposure to diverse and often leading-edge issues, the opportunity to work with a wide variety of clients and an accelerated career path paralleled by few other professions.
Consulting attracts both graduates who tend to look towards the larger consulting firms, and seasoned professionals who have worked in industry for some time and aim to leverage their knowledge in making a logical career change.
At the same time consulting is not for everybody and some factors should be considered before taking the plunge. The most fundamental relate to your proposition as a consultant, your ability to engage effectively, the lifestyle associated with consulting and the profile of the firm that you intend to work for.
Define your proposition
What makes you qualified to consult, and how would you explain this to others?
As a consultant you will need a proposition. This is what will get you hired by a consulting firm and will ultimately be the main reason that clients want to work with you. Your proposition will be based upon two elements: expertise and experience.
"Consultants are expected to engage with confidence, communicate in a structured way"
For younger people the driving element tends to be expertise quantified by educational achievements. Good grades indicate the capacity to learn quickly, an important asset. Those who have worked for some years are likely to offer a mixed proposition leaning on the experience that they have gained in their field.
Do you have the interpersonal skills to consult with confidence?
Whether your proposition is expertise or experience weighted you will need a set of skills to put it into action. This is something that consulting firms pay a lot of attention to when recruiting.
Experience and communication skills are key
Consultants are expected to engage with confidence, communicate in a structured way, solve problems analytically, resolve interpersonal conflicts and formulate recommendations creatively.
Those who are new to consulting are not necessarily expected to have fully mastered these skills, some of which are personality-related, but should be able to demonstrate clear evidence of them.
A distinctive lifestyle
Think about the lifestyle associated with consulting upfront. This will help to avoid obstacles as your career unfolds.
Day-to-day life as a consultant will depend the type of work that you are doing. Having said that, consulting is an industrious profession for industrious people. There will be ups and downs in your workload, but often more ups than downs.
From time to time you may need to work long hours and crunch to tight deadlines. An element of travel may also be required for client-facing engagements. This type of lifestyle calls for a degree of flexibility but it is certainly not dull, and savoured by those who thrive on challenge yet are able to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Long hours are part of the job for a consultant
Finding the right match
Consider the type of consulting firm that best suits your profile, personality and career goals. A good match will put you in an environment where you can excel.
Larger consulting firms address a broad range of activity domains, offer extensive internal development resources and the opportunity to work in large teams. However, during their first years consultants may often be placed in behind-the-scenes consulting roles performing analysis or development tasks.
Smaller, firms on the other hand are more inclined to place consultants in a client facing role early in their careers. In the absence of a broad library of training resources they assimilate their staff through mentorship schemes.
This approach requires a high level of independence from the individual but can result in an accelerated career path with fewer barriers. These are very different career and consulting experiences, both bearing their own pros and cons.