What Does a Consultant Do?

Consultants are paid to share their expertise and knowledge to help businesses attain goals and solve problems. Consulting is a wide-ranging field with positions in innumerable industries. Many consultants are hired by foreign businesses looking to operate in the United States.

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Overview of a Consulting Career

In the general sense, a consultant is an individual with vast knowledge and experience in a specific professional field. Consultants are hired to lend their expertise to clients in need of insight they do not possess. In addition to expertise, a consultant should have a track record of past accomplishments. Consulting is a broad area of interest, and, from businesses to personal services, there's a consulting opportunity for practically every industry.

Businesses often hire consultants to supplement their staff and save the costs of hiring a full-time employee. As a person new to the company or organization, consultants view the situation from a fresh perspective. Because a consultant isn't beholden to any particular corporate culture, co-worker scrutiny or morale, consultants can act as the catalyst for change.

Consultants are often used prior to, and during, the start-up of a new business or to re-energize a flailing business. Consultants are also brought in when a business needs reorganization, including the termination of individual employees or entire departments.

A client will retain a consultant's services until the goal or obligations of the particular endeavor have been met. The time period for consultancy can vary in length, depending on the needs of the client and on any unforeseen problems or additions to the project for which the consultant was hired.

Job Duties

Job duties can vary depending on the industry in which a consultant is working as well as his or her specific field of expertise, but the following job duties apply to most consulting positions. Fixing or improving a particular component of client's business is the broadest duty for which consultants are hired. Consultants may sometimes be asked to teach a business' employees how to manipulate a new software program or some other skill that increases productivity or generates more revenue. Consultants provide influence and objectivity to managers as well as employees. They're also expected to provide advice, make recommendations and excel at problem solving.

Skills

Successful consultants derive their skill set from a combination of learned techniques acquired from higher education and, to a lesser degree, innate personality traits. These skills include the following:

  • Logical reasoning
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Ingenuity
  • Ability to work well with others

Employment Projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the combined field of management, technical and scientific consulting services was expected to be the fastest-growing industry in the United States from 2008-2018 (www.bls.gov). Globalization and the growth of international business help create new consulting services opportunities. Foreign companies wanting to compete in the United States typically require advisement on U.S. laws, taxes and the business environment. Culture, etiquette and language are other areas where a consultant can be insightful to non-native companies.

Salary Information

Earnings vary depending on the field of consultancy and whether a consultant works for a large company or is self-employed. Earnings can be high for successful self-employed consultants, while company employees enjoy possible additional compensation such as profit sharing, bonuses, stock ownership and health benefits.

Salaries for consultants can vary depending on area of expertise. For example, according to PayScale.com, in 2013, the 10th-90th percentile range of salaries for human resources consultants was $40,221-$130,082; for information technology (IT) consultants, this range was $42,514-$133,156, and for management consultants it was $55,396-$176,502.

As previously mentioned, there is an almost unlimited potential for consultants in any industry, and these salary figures only represent a few. Individuals with higher levels of education and experience will generally receive greater compensation for their services.

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