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Consulting: The Skills You Need to Succeed
Consulting is defined as "a service provided by a professional adviser," and every single business or profession has use for various types of consultants.
There are consulting companies that focus on specific areas such as technology planning, strategic services, and management consulting. There are freelance consultants who help school systems and universities make better programs for students or help the school come up with a better financial plan. There are consultants for sports teams, investment banking, publishing companies, and accounting firms. Literally everyone and anyone with a marketable skill can become a consultant BUT to be a GREAT and SUCCESFUL consultant in any domain you must have developed very specific qualities and skills.
In consulting there are two basic career paths you can travel -- you can be a generalist or a specialist. A generalist focuses on universal improvement of a company. These people have many skills (IT, accounting, business management, etc.) that they combine to give companies a plan to by and large improve their situation. A specialist focuses on one particular area (writing, skill building, human resources management, accounting practices) and gains all the knowledge and information they can on this specific area in order to share it with a company and improve that one function in the company.
Because consulting is a group project one of the most important skills a consultant needs is the ability to work well with others. You have to be able to get along with, listen to, speak to, and handle other people in order to consult. If you do not enjoy long hours of collaboration then this line of work is not for you. Your communication skills must be off the chart in order to be successful.
Besides being good with people, another equally important quality needed to consult is having a service-oriented personality. You have to be motivated by meeting all of your client's needs. You could be excellent at whatever you consult on, but if you can't fulfill what the client wants then you have wasted their time as well as your own.
Even though you are constantly working with other people as a consultant, leadership skills and the ability to come up with ideas on your own and use logical reasoning are a must. You are in charge of fixing or improving an aspect of a company or business. The owners and managers are looking to you to tell them what to do to make their corporation better. You should come into every job with a fountain of ideas that are reasonable and useful and be ready to take charge and get started. There is no sitting back and letting someone else pick up the slack when it comes to consulting. You are the only one with the ability to make yourself and your work a success.
Can you problem-solve? I hope so, because the answer to a quandary for a consultant may be easy but the execution is not always as simple. In dealing with all different types of businesses with different rules and policies, depending on one answer to a problem to be the only answer is not only silly but downright wrong. You will need to be able to think of many solutions to the same problem to be triumphant in your work.
Beyond your number one specialized skill (management, IT, etc.) there are a few other basic, but necessary skills. You must have a great writing skills, business acumen, presentation skills, and basic computer skills. Without these abilities, you won?''t even be able to get into the door with a company you would like to work with.
You have decided you have all the skills to be a great consultant, now you are wondering, how do I get the jobs? Many people join consulting firms specializing in their area of expertise. This is the easiest way to have consistent work as a consultant. Large firms usually do recruiting at colleges and job fairs. A warning to all, consulting firms are RIGOROUS in there interviewing. They ask a variety of questions about your personal background, your past behavior and they will give you case studies they expect you to immediately analyze and find answers to. Your resume must be impeccable. You have to emphasize your skills, solid educational background, and all experiences that would make you an ideal applicant. The most important qualities that are looked for in an interview for a firm, large or small, are functional knowledge, eagerness, and ability to get the job done.
As in all professions, networking and having a strong online presence is key. If you do not want to join a consulting company you must know a lot people who really like your work and will spread the word. Or you can look for companies who want 'relationship consulting." This type of job is characterized by one consultant working with one company on a long-term basis with an extensive contract. In this scenario you have to pull out all the stops and be sure you can provide new and inventive ideas for an extended period of time. There are websites that you can also look to for help in find consulting jobs. Sologig.com has job postings for freelance, contract, and part-time employment for consultants in every career field.
Consulting is hard work with long hours and high pressure job requirements. There are often tight deadlines and even tougher people that you have to get along with, work with, and please. The upside is, consultants tend to make a lot of money and usually it is doing something they really enjoy and are good at. The most important thing to keep in mind when considering a career as a consultant is whether your personality, skills, and what you want from a job really complement a consulting career. As an all-or-nothing type of job, only you can decide whether you can really succeed in such a socially demanding, service oriented, and challenging career.
Jianna Schroeder is a freelance writer in New York City.
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