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What Is a Consultant?

A picture of a consultant talking to the team

Consultants provide expert advice and guidance. While this could technically mean providing suggestions and strategies on where to go for dinner, consultants usually work on business and financial matters. 

Though it can take years to gain enough experience to truly feel like an expert, anyone can become a consultant if they’re open to new experiences and willing to learn. This guide will help you understand the ins and outs of being a consultant:

Definition of Consultant

Ryan Duitch, founder and CEO at Arro, says a consultant is “an individual (or company) who’s hired to provide insight or guidance on anything. They illuminate and look at lots of layers in the company — anything from financial to cost-cutting measures and ways to improve the business operationally.”

How Much Does a Consultant Make?

The salary can vary based on several factors, including how long you’ve been working in the field, your area of expertise, and additional compensation like bonuses or profit sharing.

According to PayScale, consultant salaries have the following ranges:

TitleSalary RangeAverage Salary
Management consultant$66,000 to $143,000$89,920
IT consultant$61,000 to $127,000$82,824
Healthcare consultant$61,000 to $121,000$82,163
Business consultant$55,000 to $114,000$75,914
Strategy consultant$64,000 to $139,000$87,847
Analytics consultant$63,000 to $120,000$84,574
Human resources consultant$61,000 to $120,000$80,329
Software consultant$67,000 to $126,000$86,129
Consulting associate$48,000 to $92,000$71,689
Managing consultant$90,000 to $161,000$123,263
Financial consultant$56,000 to $116,000$76,949
Senior business consultant$72,000 to $131,000$100,294

What Does a Consultant Do?

Duitch explains that businesses hire consultants to solve the problems they’ve been unable to solve. Even though the company may already have internal experts in the area the consultant is working on, the company wants a group of outside experts to share their insights.

It’s not uncommon for employees to be too close to the issues or too focused on their projects to come up with strategies and solutions. It can be difficult for them to step back and be impartial. A consultant, though, has broad expertise and skills and isn’t as invested as internal staff. This allows them to look at the situation objectively.

What Industries Do Consultants Work In?

Consultants work in any and every industry. This can include:

  • Healthcare
  • Human resources
  • Media
  • Technology
  • Construction
  • Entertainment
  • Theater
  • Politics
  • Education

How to Become a Consultant

While you can be hired as a consultant right out of school, some argue that you aren’t a true consultant until you gain some work experience. This school of thought contends that you need more work experience and time on the job before you can really be a consultant.

Duitch agrees that becoming an expert takes time, experience, and learning. However, he also notes that even those with relatively little work experience are consultants. He suggests looking at it like this: “Are you a consultant with expertise and the knowledge base to know what to do with the information you have?”

Your answer to the question will depend on your background and experience, but most entry-level consultants work in a supportive function as part of a larger consulting team. “You’ll conduct analyses, run models, and provide research, but you don’t create the path,” says Duitch.

So, how do you become a consultant?

Many people major in business or finance, but that’s not a requirement. Experience often trumps a specific major or even your education.

Consultants are hired for their practical experience and skills, not what they majored in. “Other majors give you the skills to turn what is practical into something a consultant would need,” says Duitch, and most consulting firms value people who have the skills to become an expert in a specific area.

That said, if you aren’t pursuing a degree in business or finance but want to become a consultant, consider taking some math and analytics classes. A strong foundation in these areas will help you compete with the more “traditional” majors.

What Skills Does a Consultant Need?

You’ll likely lean on your soft skills more often than not. However, you’ll also need some solid hard skills to be successful in the field.

Creative Thinking

As noted above, a company hires a consultant because it’s facing a problem it’s been unable to solve. So, while a consultant provides an outside, objective opinion, the answer may not always be obvious and will require you to think creatively. “A lot of the time, you’re tasked with a problem that there isn’t a clear solution for,” says Duitch. It’s up to you to approach the problem from a different angle and provide a solution that no one thought of.

Collaboration 

A large part of the job is collaborating with internal partners. You may need assistance from other consultants. Being able to partner successfully with them and leverage their knowledge is crucial. 

Interpersonal 

Likewise, you’ll be collaborating with external partners. And while the people who hired you may be willing to cooperate, other stakeholders may not be as thrilled with an outsider offering suggestions. You’ll need superior interpersonal skills to get their buy-in and cooperation.

Curiosity

A large part of consulting is digging into the multiple layers of a problem. Successful consultants don’t dig into the first layer of a problem and stop. They remain curious about the why and how of the problem and the company, continually digging into additional layers to get a deep understanding of what needs to happen.

Presentation Skills

One thing a consultant does is “build decks, and decks, and decks,” says Duitch. Everything you suggest needs to be presented to the client, and that’s often done with decks (like PowerPoint), so you’ll need some stellar presentation skills.

The ability to succinctly communicate the message (whatever it is ) during your presentations is also a critical skill. This includes written communications, public speaking, and the ability to turn complex information into easily understood charts and graphs.

Curious what some of a consultant’s tasks are like? Enroll in a Forage consulting virtual experience program and see what it’s like to analyze and solve real-world problems.

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