What is a Consultant and What Does a Consultant Do? Consider a Career in Consulting

Dayton Uttinger  | 

A career in consulting can sound appealing for a variety of reasons. Whether you’re thinking of starting your own consulting business or going the freelance route, there are many perks to consider. It’s one of the most autonomous and flexible careers out there. But before you really commit to the idea, you’ve got to wonder: what do consultants really even do?

What is Consulting, and What is a Consultant?

On its face, consulting seems like an achingly simple profession: you give advice and get paid for it. That is generally the gist of the job, but unfortunately it’s not that simple.

A consultant is an expert in a particular field who charges for their advice. However, you typically have to acquire some sort of accreditation before anyone will take you seriously. You can’t just expect that complete strangers will trust you without cause; people have to believe that you could actually benefit their business.

Consultants typically specialize in niche fields that companies have little reason to hire a full-time employee for. You’re often someone they turn to in an emergency, not someone expected to come in every day — although there are consulting gigs like that too.

Consultancy is what you make it. Some clients might want you to work alongside them, others will prefer you to advise them from afar. You can choose to cater to either preference, depending on how you want to work.

What Does a Consultant Do?

Preferences aside, what do consultants actually do? While you might work at home or on site, what will you actually be doing?

You will examine a problem that a client has. It is usually an atypical problem, otherwise they wouldn’t need outside help. An IT consultant might provide training with a new computer program, a management consultant will advise how to roll out a new employee policy, and financial consultants will review a company’s account and recommend profitable ventures.

You’ll collect data to support your recommendation, argue your point, and you might even get a say in implementation. If a client encounters another problem that they’re uncomfortable with, they’ll hopefully come back to you.

This might sound easy, but be aware that that perception is deceptive. First of all, your recommendations usually need to be in-depth and well-informed. Secondly, you’ll probably have to have more than one client to support yourself, so be prepared to juggle several different clients’ problems at one time.

Why Consulting? Reasons to Pursue a Career as a Consultant

Besides the autonomy, there are quite a few reasons to pursue a career in consulting. Your word is generally respected, you get to solve problems that require your dedicated knowledge, and no day is the same. Beyond that, however, the benefits will depend where you’re coming from.

Consider a Career in Consulting

If you’re considering making consulting your life’s career, then you should keep in mind a couple of things. When people are hiring consultants, they are looking for experts. If you don’t have a strong clientele base, future clients might be skeptical. Your best chance at overcoming this hurdle is to make sure you have every accreditation and reference available.

Additionally, make sure that you have the required expertise in your chosen field, and you don’t have to limit your prospects to just tech related industries. If you are an expert in another area (like management), then consultancy could be the career for you. It’s a growing field that could provide you with lifelong opportunity.

Consulting as a Post-Retirement Career Option

On the other end of the spectrum, consulting can be a great way to rake in some post-retirement income. You can control the amount of work you do by limiting the amount of clients you take on. Furthermore, you can consult in the field that you previously worked in. This will give you in an edge not only in experience, but in marketing yourself.

If you choose to freelance, you can even work from home at your leisure. You could also open a consulting business, but you’d have to have someone else run it (or risk coming out of retirement.) No matter which way you go, consultancy can be an excellent opportunity to supplement your income post-retirement.

Consultancy is a complicated field; no two practices will be the same. Every day and every client is different. However, few jobs offer this flexibility, autonomy, and authority simultaneously. If you’re considering becoming a consultant, do an honest self-evaluation of your expertise and begin marketing yourself as soon as possible. This job is truly what you make of it.


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Dayton is a chronic Wikipedia addict, which is detrimental to her social life but stellar for her writing. She resides in Boise, ID, surrounded by her own frantic outlines, highlighted encyclopedias, and potatoes. The latter was not by choice.

This post was updated March 27, 2018. It was originally published March 28, 2018.