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Consulting At A Glance

By Experience

Multiply all of the problems confronting business leaders by the number of companies that are out there and you will begin to gauge the potential market for consultants in today's economy.




Multiply all of the problems confronting business leaders by the number of companies that are out there and you will begin to gauge the potential market for consultants in today's economy.

With managers focused squarely on the bottom line and competitors constantly nipping at their heels, firms are often willing to pay for a pro who can come in, analyze a problem, and more importantly, come up with a solution in the least amount of time and at the smallest cost possible. Often this involves taking on a project to address a management issue, boost sales, or to ramp up for a job of limited scope and time where adding full-time staff is out of the question.

Enter the consultant. She may be trained in management or possess financial and technical skills, or perhaps she has many years experience in a particular industry. In her job, she spends much of her time on the road as part of a project team, meeting with a client's staff to pinpoint and cure some pain point. Hours can be long and deadlines are frequent, especially when reports and presentations are due.

But, notes the U.S. Department of labor, as an industry, consultants enjoy significantly higher pay than workers in general. Colleagues tend to be highly educated. For those who enjoy new challenges, consultants typically move from project to project frequently, never staying with one client for a great length of time.

The term consultant is a catch-all phrase covering a field made up of firms with employees numbering in the thousands and scattered about the globe to sole practitioners working out of their home office, but able to come together with colleagues when necessary to scale up to meet a sizeable challenge.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, it is a field that is expected to grow as competition and the complexities of doing business in global markets multiply.

The good news: Between now and 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates wage and salary jobs for management, scientific and technical consultants will grow by a whopping 55 percent, as compared to predicted job growth of 16 percent for all industries combined.

The bad news: Competition for jobs is likely to be cutthroat because of the generous salaries and low cost of entry into the field. In essence, anyone with an advanced degree or experience in an industry, solid communications and analytical skills, and a desire to work on a project basis can hang out a shingle and sell his or her services.

That means persistence is key to landing a job, especially when seeking to enter the consulting field straight out of college. Top academic standings are required, and those with an MBA are likely to find doors much easier to open.

Still there are jobs for those with a bachelor's degree, and many consulting firms will often come right on campus to do their recruiting.

Undergraduates typically get their starts as "analysts" or "associates" and are the most junior members of the team. They are responsible for performing most of the research and analysis for a project, and work closely with the "consultants" on the team to plan the most effective way to develop recommendations for clients.

Analysts typically work on four to six projects each year, and these may involve different industries and different business problems. Analysts interviewed by said they enjoy the diversity of work as well as the thorough business education that consulting offers them.  They also pointed out they are usually responsible for doing the detailed research and analysis that acts as the backbone for the entire project team's findings. Because they know the details so well, the analyst often becomes the "expert" on the team, and more senior team members will rely on the analyst for information that will shape the consulting firm's final recommendation. That level of responsibility is unusual for recent college grads.

A typical analyst might remain in her role for two to three years, but to advance her career will likely have to return to school for an advanced degree such as a MBA.

A grad with a MBA could expect to land a job as a "consultant" or "associate" within a large firm. Consultants are responsible for managing the research and analysis performed on behalf of the client. Consultants often do analysis themselves, and they are also responsible for managing the work of the analysts on the team.

At a typical assignment, the work of "consultants" and "analysts" is overseen by
a "team manager" (also referred to as an "associate partner"). Frequently cited as the most difficult job in consulting, the manager's responsibilities include meeting regularly with senior client contacts, discussing project strategy with the "partner" on the team, meeting with the consultants and analysts to review their work, and planning the team's schedule for solving the client's business issues.

"Partners" are the senior members of a firm, primarily responsible for selling the projects and managing the client relationship.

If you have your heart set on consulting, but you're having trouble finding a job, you may consider accepting another job first and reapplying in a couple of years. In addition to hiring students just after graduation, firms also hire analysts because of their work experience dealing with numbers, research, management, or data analysis.

While landing that first job may require tenacity mixed with a portion of good luck, the rewards can be significant. In addition to the salary and intellectual challenges that come with the job, working as a consultant can prepare you for a new career down the road. Former analysts can be found amongst the ranks of financial service and banking experts, venture capitalists and in the executive suites of many corporations, including the corner office.

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