University fills students with knowledge and expertise and going into the workforce doesn’t mean that you need to drain your brain of everything you learned. After convocation, working in consulting is a viable career path for new grads looking to showcase their talents and enter an excitingly diverse field of work.
It seems like every third person I ask says that they’re a consultant or they want to be a consultant, but no one ever bothers to explain what that really means.
A consultant is defined as someone who gives expert or professional advice. In practice, this can be anyone who provides research, ideas for improvement, completes specialized projects or advice to hired clients. The vague dictionary definition simply means that a consultant can be anyone in any field.
Here are some must-haves when you’re considering a career in consulting:
A potential area of expertise
As a student or recent grad, you may wonder how you can be considered an “expert” in any field. Depending on your career aspirations, you may or may not need an area of expertise right away.
Many consulting employers hire students from a broad range of backgrounds and help you develop you skills as a Management Consultant or Technology Consultant. You don’t need an area of expertise right off the bat, but eventually you’ll likely be able to develop an area of expertise that you specialize in, such as certain types of projects or specific industries that you typically work on.
Meanwhile, students who have gained specialized experience either in or out of school can market those services as independent consultants. Identify what you’re good at and what knowledge you have to share. Did you do a degree in economics? Consider becoming an economics consultant. Majored in computer science? Think about business process consulting.
During my undergraduate degree, I realized that I spent just as much time exploring Facebook, Twitter, and whatever new social media had popped up that day as I did on my school work. Combining my social media experience, creativity, research abilities and communications degree, I applied for a position as a social media consultant with a small firm. There I was able to not only put my prior knowledge to use, but I was also given the opportunity to expand my skills and network with media clients.
As my economics teacher loved to say, “it’s all about supply and demand.” What you are supplying is advice, the ability to take on specialized projects, and potential ideas for improvement. But is anyone listening? In order to get into the business of consulting, make sure there is a demand for the skills that you propose to offer.
Whether you’re going into a consulting firm or pursuing independent consulting, be confident in your abilities and be able to communicate your skill set effectively. The core of consulting is being able to relay advice and research to clients, so effective communication is key.
Market your skills through a polished consulting resume. If you choose to enter the market as an independent consultant, register your business and start advertising it to build your clientele. Building up a network of clients and a portfolio is essential to generating some credibility.
Additionally, even if you’re consulting on babysitting techniques, for example, you’ll need to have some sort of business model and be able to do basic accounting (e.g., billing invoices) in order to run your business.
A flexible work schedule
Independent consulting does not follow your typical calendar. It’s actually more like the school year with periods of high stress and intense work followed by a few slow weeks. Working contract to contract can require long hours and, like school, the workload will vary from project to project. If you’re planning to carve out your consulting niche, be sure to sharpen up your time management skills.
Similarly, a career as a Management Consultant may require you to travel during the week or spend long hours at a client location. It’s not always your typical 9 to 5 job.