There are many kinds of consulting jobs, across many industries and dealing with many areas of expertise. Consulting is great in that way because it gives you flexibility and choice. If you are an experienced professional in some way, consulting can be as busy and lucrative as it can be flexible and help you maintain a work-life balance on your own terms. It can also be beneficial for those who are looking to work part-time with a steady income while they start their own business, begin to retire, or who want to switch career paths but have a safety net woven from their own expertise.
I will not sugar coat this, becoming a consultant and being successful requires senior-level experience and knowledge. You cannot (as a general rule) jump out of grad school and into consulting on your own. However, it doesn’t mean you need to have C-Suite executive titles on your resume either. In consulting, skill sets, knowledge and experience are what matter most, not paychecks or prestigious titles. If you have the skill set and the knowledge, almost anyone can consult authoritatively and eventually be successful.
Businesses will be relying on you for a sort of specialized expertise that they do not currently have in the staff. This can be for many reasons, such as a new key project, a branding initiative, a new business model, streamlining finances, staff augmentation in a growth spurt for the company, interim management from an experienced professional in a change of high-level staff, and much more. These can range from part-time short term projects to long-term semi permanent staffing, depending on the project and the company.
There are almost as many types of consultants as there are type of business, from restaurant design to IT auditors, so if you have an expertise, there is most likely a place for you to consult. There are industry consultants, who have large amounts of experience in a field and who aid large companies in advisory services, decision making and business practices. Career consultants help develop the finer skills of professional life and utilize their expertise to help others build resumes, choose career paths, develop analytical skills, and more.
The three most populous areas of consulting are those with the highest demands, and tend to boil down to management/strategy consulting, economic/analytics consulting, and IT consulting. Obviously there are wide ranges of skill sets and strong suits that people need to do well in these various areas, as well as many much smaller groups that can still be in demand areas of consulting.
Consulting is an exciting, ever-changing industry, and one that is wonderful to be a part of. But caveat emptor: I will also point out is that in order to be a successful consultant, you will need to prove your worth, constantly and continuously. It is not for the faint of heart. You need to be able to break down the analytics of not just your field to show measurable results, but you will also need to show the evidence that those said results would be more difficult to achieve without you. If you do not like spreadsheets, PowerPoint, tables, and graphs, this might not be the best field for you. If you do not like ending a job without having another job lined up, this may be a rough industry for you to join, as there can always be dry spells. You will be conducting interviews of new hires, doing endless market research, breaking down the pros and cons of every computer system a company might employ, or auditing the same financial reports over and over again. If those sound like ideas you are able to stomach, then you just might be on your way to a successful career in consulting.
At the end of the day, my encouragement is for you to pursue your passions while you are looking for longer term gain. Start with what you know best and become excellent at it. And whatever you do, don’t go into consulting because you don’t like your current boss or to just work for yourself. You will always have a boss…they are your customers.