Expert Opinion: How to Get Into Consulting (2023)

You want to know how to get into consulting, but you’re unsure where to start. Consulting can be a great career choice, but it’s not always easy to know where to start. 

We’ve got you covered.

In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about getting into consulting. Then, we’ll explore what consultants do, the different types of consultants, and finding part time and freelance consulting work.

What is a consultant

A consultant provides professional consulting to individuals or businesses by providing advice. Most consultants are trained in the relevant field of expertise and provide insights into complex problems difficult for others to solve.

Some consultants are generalists, while some specialize in specific fields. Consulting is not limited to professionals only. Anyone who has deep expertise in something can consult on that subject.

What does a consultant do

Consultants provide advice and insight to individuals or businesses. They come up with solutions to problems and help implement them while staying objective and keeping the best interest of their clients in mind. 

Some consultants work on short-term projects, but others remain with one client for an extended period.

Types of consultants – Generalist consultants

Management consultant – Provides advice and insight on business management strategy, leadership, talent management, and more. 

A management consultant is a professional who provides guidance related to business practices. Activities can include analyzing a client’s existing business structure and processes, developing organizational strategies, and implementing procedures. 

Management consultants may work with various businesses to resolve a wide range of issues.

Strategy consultant – Helps organizations with their growth and long-term plans. Strategy consulting includes helping organizations with growth, change management, and operations. 

In addition, a strategy consultant will work with businesses to help improve their core practices.

Operations consulting – Focuses on improving the effectiveness and efficiency of operations such as production, purchasing, logistics distribution, and more. 

Operations consulting is a specialized form of management consulting that provides expertise and know-how to improve the functions and processes within an organization. 

Operations consultants are required in any industry where business operations are in place, including manufacturing, retailing, and public service.

Technology consulting – Provides specialized knowledge in engineering, analytics, software, and other areas of information technology. 

Technology consultants help businesses improve productivity and profitability by using technology. In addition, they provide insight on the best way to implement new in a company. 

Most technology consultants have an advanced degree in information sciences or a related discipline, but degrees in computer science are becoming more common.

Human resources consultant – Offers expertise on human resources best practices. Human resources consulting is a specialized field of management consulting that provides clients advice on organizational design, talent management, and employee retention. 

The types of HR consultants you’ll find include everything from the person who helps businesses craft policies and procedures to those who specialize in issues like recruitment or benefits negotiation.

Types of consultants – Specialty/Niche consultants

If you have deep expertise in a specific area, you can provide consulting services on almost anything. A few examples of consulting niches include:

  • Search engine optimization consultant – Helps businesses improve their search engine rankings.
  • Recruiting consultant – Helps clients hire the best talent for their business needs.
  • Social media consultant – Provides expertise and advice on using social media platforms to reach your target audience more effectively/efficiently.
  • Environmental consultant – Helps businesses reduce their environmental impact, green their operations, clean up pollution, or comply with environmental regulations.
  • Project management consulting – Provides advice and guidance on project implementation, implementation assessment, and cost optimization.
  • Marketing consulting – Provides expertise and helps with the design and delivery of marketing campaigns for various departments within a company.

Extra Reading: Here’s an article I wrote on 39 types of consultants.

What is a consulting firm

A consulting firm is an organization that provides professional consulting services to businesses, governments, and individuals. However, the name of “consulting firm” can often be misleading because the various business entities often engage in different activities with differing scopes.

Consulting firms hire many types of consultants who usually specialize in a particular industry or field.

What are the top consulting firms

A few firms are consistently on “top consulting firm” lists.

Bain & Company – One of the largest and most well-established management consulting firms globally. It has been consistently ranked one of the top three consulting companies on Vault’s list for several years, thanks to a very strong corporate culture and high median starting salaries.

Boston Consulting Group – A global management consulting firm with deep expertise in various industry sectors like consumer goods, energy & utilities, financial services. BCG has consistently ranked as a top consulting firm for several years across multiple sources.

McKinsey & Company – One of the oldest and most well-known consulting companies globally. McKinsey ranks as a top consulting due to excellence in firm culture and value.

Accenture – A “Big Four” consulting firm. It offers advice on strategy, operations, technology. Accenture is known for its excellent work and culture and is consistently ranked as one of the top consulting firms.

PwC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) – One of the largest professional services networks in the world. PwC has ranked high among the top firms by many sources for several years now. The firm provides a wide range of consulting services, ranging from advice on mergers and acquisitions to delivering audit and assurance services.

Deloitte Consulting LLP – Competing neck-and-neck with McKinsey on many rankings, it has consistently held on to the number two spot for consulting firms for its alumni network, prestige, student experience, diversity opportunities. Deloitte is one of the Big Four professional services firms in the world.

What skills do I need to get into consulting

The most important skills for consultants are business acumen, strong communication skills (written and verbal), problem-solving/analytical ability, teamwork/collaboration skills, and leadership/facilitation ability.

However, most consultants develop deep expertise in an industry and function. Therefore, one of the most critical parts of being a consultant is having unique knowledge that you can bring to the table.

Entry level consulting jobs

College graduates can find entry level consulting jobs as an analyst. At top-tier consulting firms, analysts generally receive a compensation of $80,000 to $110,000 per year.

Typically new hires will start with an orientation program that lasts several weeks or longer. You’ll be trained on the firm’s best practices, tools, and methodologies during this time. The training includes both on-the-job work and training sessions in consulting skills.

Recent graduates will be assigned to a specific industry or type of project at some consulting firms. At others, you’ll have more choice in your area of specialization, but the downside is that you may receive less mentoring and opportunities for advancement.

Part time consulting jobs

If you want to work for a big firm, like the ones discussed above, you likely won’t find part time consulting jobs. Those firms employ consultants on a full-time basis.

If there are part time consultants at those firms, they are usually established consultants, partially retired, or were associates who had to leave for family reasons and chose to return on a part-time basis.

However, if you’re looking for part time consulting jobs, you should consider freelance consulting.

Freelance consulting

While many consultants work full-time at one or more companies, some choose to freelance. Freelance consultants tend to make up their hours and enjoy many freedoms, such as selecting clients they want to work with.

If you want to go freelance as a consultant, you must demonstrate both industry expertise and business acumen. Many freelance consultants have the same education and expertise as traditional consultants, but not all.

You can gain expertise by working as an independent contractor for a few months or years at a company before going out on your own. Or become certified through an industry-recognized certification program.

Why do consultants choose to freelance

Consulting is a very demanding job since you are working with clients to develop strategies and build relationships most of the time.

In a recent study by COMATCH, they surveyed consultants on why they chose to leave the corporate world and start freelance consulting.

Why they chose to freelance:

  • 91% decide which topics I work on
  • 85 % have more flexibility in my schedule
  • 79% decide which clients I work for
  • 73% give more purpose to my professional life
  • 67% have more free time
  • 61% be able to work remotely
  • 54% gain more responsibility
  • 52% make more money

Results they were able to achieve:

  • 72% decide which topics I work on
  • 90% have more flexibility
  • 70% decide which clients I work for
  • 62% found more purpose in my professional life
  • 73% have more free time
  • 55% work remotely more often
  • 51% gained more responsibility
  • 60% made more money

Also, 89% of respondents said that they would recommend freelance consulting to a friend or former colleague.

how to get into consulting

Do you need a degree to be a consultant

Yes, but no. If you want to work for one of the larger consulting firms, 99% of the time, you’ll need a degree to be a consultant. You’ll likely need a postgraduate education from a top-tier school.

If you want to be a freelance consultant, no. All you need is deep expertise. So, if you’re an expert and have knowledge far beyond your customer’s knowledge, then you can start consulting.

Now, you might consider gaining a certification. Gaining an industry-recognized certification is how to get into consulting without a traditional degree.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you gain a two-year degree, plus an industry certification in Salesforce or Hubspot. With that certification and your technical knowledge, you might be far ahead of the technical team (or lack thereof) at any small to medium-sized business.

Many SMB’s don’t have extensive technical teams. They likely won’t have an expert in Salesforce or Hubspot already on staff.

Bingo. There’s your opportunity to fill that technical knowledge gap without a “traditional degree.”

The same goes for many other areas like SEO, Social Media Marketing, any widely used software program, project management, and much more. You can be a very successful freelance consultant if you have the expertise and hands-on skills.

If you wanted to work for a big firm, they’d likely want you to have a four-year or master’s degree. 

On the other hand, you don’t necessarily need a traditional degree if you want to be a freelance consultant.

How to get into consulting

Here’s my advice.

If you want to know how to get into consulting, pick one thing and become an expert. Remember this quote, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

When you’re the expert, you have every ability in the world to start consulting. So, find that one system, process, software, challenge, or opportunity to become an expert. Then, you can expand to more areas of expertise later.

Then, consider going through training to gain industry certification. With a certificate, you’ll put yourself ahead of the competition and be considered “credentialed.”

After that, go through the process of formally starting a business, even if it’s a side hustle.

Next, create a website, establish your online presence, and build your personal brand by sharing thought leadership.

While you’re doing all of this, reach out to your network offering your consulting services. And join a few freelance platforms where companies post opportunities for freelancers with your expertise.

People buy from those they know, like, and trust. Your network already knows, likes, and trusts you.

Companies know, like, and trust those platforms. So a little of the trust in the platform is transferred to you.

Last, create an inbound marketing funnel to build your email list, nurture prospects, and convert them into new clients.

I hope this article helps you understand how to get into consulting from multiple paths. I wish you the best of luck. And if this article helped you feel free to share it with your friends on social media.

Stewart Swayze
Stewart Swayze
Stewart Swayze is the Founder and Chief Editor of The Weekly Consult. He's a B2B Marketing Consultant that supports large companies and private equity firms. He conducts market research, collects VOC, and creates go-to-market strategies. Stewart also conducts commercial due diligence projects for private equity firms. He's lived, traveled, and worked all over the world. In his spare time, he enjoys trail running, walking his dog, dinners with his family, and woodworking.

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