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IT Consultant: Definition and Overview

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Information technology is a vast and growing field full of career opportunities — one of which is working as an IT consultant. This person often plays an integral role in helping a company manage its IT infrastructure and advises leaders on how technology can influence the business’s success. 

This guide will help you learn more about the ins and outs of being an IT consultant:

What Is an IT Consultant?

An IT consultant helps companies achieve their business goals or solve a business problem. They advise companies on using their existing technology to the fullest or help them decide what new technologies to invest in.

As Robert Douglas, president of PlanetMagpie Consulting, an IT consulting firm, says, “All consulting is based around a business need. You talk with a CEO, CFO, or CIO and ask what the long-term plan is. How does IT meet the plan without it falling apart or being behind schedule?”

He offers this example. “Say it’s a merger and acquisition. You have to move the company from one system to the other overnight and report it to the stock exchange. At 12:01 a.m., the merger has to be fully engaged inside the new IT infrastructure.” The consultant creates the migration plan and makes sure it executes on time.

How Much Does an IT Consultant Make?

Whether you work for yourself or a consulting firm, there’s a wide range of salaries. According to Payscale, the average IT consultant base salary is approximately $81,000 per year. However, most new IT consultants earn an average of roughly $66,000 annually.

As you gain more experience, your salary will likely rise. Payscale also reports that mid-level consultants (someone with five to nine years of experience) have an average salary of $89,000 per year, while a senior-level IT consultant with 20 years of experience will earn approximately $117,000 per year.

IT consultants may also earn a bonus, profit sharing, and commission which could increase their overall compensation.

What Does an IT Consultant Do?

IT consultants help companies identify technology problems and implement solutions. They often coordinate their efforts with internal IT staff on a wide range of projects, including:

  • Assessing cybersecurity threats
  • Maintaining and repairing existing infrastructure
  • Designing and implementing new systems
  • Analyzing the current IT system to identify problems
  • Creating a technology budget

Depending on the nature and scope of the project, the consultant may work with the company on short-term single projects or long-term, multi-phase projects.

For example, a company may hire an IT consultant to design a network or migrate an existing system to a new platform. Other times, the company may ask the consultant to advise the CEO on a long-term technology plan and oversee its implementation over a year or even several years.

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How to Become an IT Consultant

Douglas says it’s unlikely you’ll graduate from school and be hired right away as an IT consultant. “A lot of what is learned is learned on the job. You need to be exposed to a lot of different problems and come up with a lot of different solutions as there’s generally no one size fits all solution to many IT problems. A lot of it is trial and error.”

It’s more likely you’ll land a role as a software engineer or cybersecurity analyst. During that time, you’ll build the necessary foundation to move into a consulting role. Douglas suggests anyone interested in pursuing this career should make time to talk to as many end users as possible. This will help you build your experience and get a better understanding of how customers think about and use technology.

While a bachelor’s degree is helpful, it’s not necessarily required. Douglas notes that most people already possess many of the necessary skills they need to become an IT consultant. It’s not uncommon for people to troubleshoot hardware or software issues on their own, and they’ve likely picked up some of the skills they’ll need in the role.

Because much of an IT consultant’s education happens on the job, ultimately, “what’s on your resume will eventually be more important than your degree,” says Douglas. As an example, he explains how someone might start as a software engineer, then develop their collaboration skills working with other teams. From there, they could take on some small projects, then bigger ones, until they’re able to run a project on their own. 

What matters to customers is that they can trust the consultant to implement the correct solution based on their prior IT experience and exposure to different situations.

What Skills Does an IT Consultant Need?

While a strong foundation in information technology is essential, Douglas says an IT consultant also needs excellent interpersonal skills. “The client needs to trust the consultant and get along with them,” he notes. 

Consultants often need to think creatively and approach problems from a different angle. And, in addition to creating an IT plan that works, you’ll need to sell your plan to the appropriate stakeholders. Douglas suggests aspiring IT consultants work on their communication and public speaking skills since you’ll need to be comfortable hearing your own voice and a pro at coming up with and delivering messages.

Successful IT consultants also need to be persistent, says Douglas. They can’t give up easily and need to chase down the issue until it’s solved. They also have top-notch organizational skills. Much of an IT consultant’s job is organizing information, “like customer records, bios, login archives, and ensuring communications stay steady.”

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Image credit: CandyBoxImages / Depositphotos.com

Rachel Pelta is the Head Writer at Forage. Previously, she was a Content Specialist at FlexJobs, writing articles for job seekers and employers. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, The Ladders, MSN, and Money Talks News.