OK, so you're considering a career in consulting. The lure of a career in management consulting can get the juices flowing and you may be asking yourself if you are the right person for a career in consulting.
To answer that question you need to begin with an understanding of what a management consulting career entails. Knowing the career steps and skills necessary to become a sought after consultant will help you decide if you have the muster. Then you have to decide if you have the drive and passion to do what it takes.
There is a natural order and progression into the consulting field. Depending on the stage you have reached in your career management consulting could well be your next natural step.
A successful consulting career usually starts with experience in a management role in a corporate environment. You may be in a situation where you have gained significant experience and expertise in your field within an organization and you feel confident that you can offer valuable services as a change management consultant, for example. Now, where do you go from here? What is the best path to a successful career in consulting?
Let's first look at some of the typical avenues that you can take to reach your objective of establishing yourself in your consulting career. Unless you are a senior executive with direct experience in consulting, it makes sense to warm up for the big event. Here are some options as the first steps to a management consulting career:
As an employee of a consulting firm
Find a successful consulting firm in your area of expertise and get a job there. It doesn't matter the size of the firm. Both small and large companies have their advantages. It all depends upon your circumstances. The important thing is to find an organization that can teach you what you do not already know, one with the resources that will help you. If you want to offer six sigma consulting services in the future, find a firm that is involved with that discipline or whatever or experience you have at present.
Joining an established consulting firm will provide you with the experience, skills and confidence that you will need when striking out on your own. Even the interaction with other professionals in your field working with you has tremendous benefits that will only become clear once you have entered the realm of the independent consultant.
As an employee of a specialty company
There are many companies, like Oracle for instance, that provide a specialty product or service that others cannot compete with, putting them into an enviable position. Having specialized knowledge in a given field or of a particular IT application makes you the expert.
How many consultants do you suppose know about the Sarbanes Oxley Act? Imagine the edge that you would have knowing the particulars of this act and how it applied. Specialization is a great strategy that can be highly rewarding in monetary terms.
As an independent consultant
If you are in the enviable position of having enough experience, knowledge, contacts, and business acumen to jump right into a career in consulting, more power to you. If you are making the plunge from a consulting firm, so much the better. If not, if you come from industry, you may want to stick your toes into the water first. Try it part time or be an ERP consultant with an ERP firm.
Besides the experience and skills necessary to be successful in a career in consulting, you need to have the right attitude - the right work ethic. Starting can be rough, especially if your contact base is weak. You need fortitude to get through the tough spots. With the right contacts, though, you can become that strategic planning consultant whenever you are ready.
Let's look now at the challenges that you will face in your career in consulting. Here are just a few typical questions to ponder when considering your ability to succeed in a management consulting career:
Are you experienced?
You really have to know your stuff to win credibility with the leadership teams of large corporate entities and provide consulting advice. You have to have your own house in order before you tell someone how to clean theirs. Direct experience in your consulting field is paramount before venturing out.
You should analyze your background and knowledge base and ensure that you have experienced enough to understand the machinations of the organizations that you will consult for. You need credibility backed by experience if you want to make a difference.
How will your resume look three years from now?
Imagine the number of contacts that you will have made three years from entering a career in consulting. Simply by operating in this environment for a few years, your contact base will rapidly broaden and deepen both within the consulting profession and within client organizations.
Each exposure to a range of blue chip clients will provide excellent training that will elevate your value. You need to keep building your knowledge base.
You can substantially improve your worth with the right experience. If you can continue to build on your skills with training and putting yourself in the right situations, you will build an impressive portfolio.
What will be the impact upon your life?
This is a big question. Are you ready to handle the long hours, the intermittent periods of thin income, the travel, the pressures of deadlines and demanding clients? This is what you are up against when starting out if you choose to jump straight to working as an independent consultant. Although the rewards of a career in consulting can be realized, the road to that realization is not easy.
If you are an engineer working in manufacturing, for instance, and you are contemplating a career in process engineering consulting, your life will change dramatically and it will affect everyone around you. You are used to a routine that will now change. Process engineering as an employee in one factory is way different than working alone and independently with different clients across multiple factory sites.
And so it is with your business, your expertise. You will need to devote time to not only being a consultant, but also running your business. Since your only income will be from satisfying clients, you will need to spend hours and dollars to get things up and running.
What will be the impact upon your income?
It is quite possible to make a significant amount of money through a career in consulting. It is also possible that there will be lean times, especially when you start out. The key is to have the contacts that you need to keep a steady flow of work coming in. Contacts are highly important in sustaining your income and increasing it. The more clients, the more assignments.
Take the time to analyze your monetary requirements of a career in consulting. Keep in mind that your income may not be steady at first and it may be up and down. Consider how long it will take to reach a particular income level and prepare accordingly.
So, here you have some food for thought. Do you have what it takes? Can your industry and your niche support your monetary requirements and aspirations?
You have some challenges ahead, but you have the experience and the knowledge to get you started whether you choose to join a consulting firm as an interim step to build confidence, or whether you choose to jump right into the consulting pool and start your career in consulting independently.
Careful planning and persistence are the foundations of success.
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