|Written by Kay HallHits : 667|
|Thursday, 31 December 1998 19:00|
If you've ever dreamed of becoming a consultant, you're not alone. Many people put consulting high on the list of jobs they'd like to have, citing high pay and and an ever-changing series of stimulating assignments as enticements to pursue consulting careers. Truly, consulting can be an ideal job for those well suited to its unique rigors.The term consultant is a bit overused these days, so perhaps we should define it before going any further. A consultant is someone who earns money as a professional sounding board or troubleshooter. (We're not talking about the kind of consultant who is actually a commissioned salesperson for a particular product line.)
You can be a consultant in one of two ways--as an employee of a consulting firm or by starting your own consulting company. If you want to become an independent consultant, you should look at your suitability not only for consulting, but also for entrepreneurship. Working for a consulting firm may be a wise interim step for those unsure about starting their own consulting businesses. We'll look at what it takes to be successful consultant here and leave the entrepreneurship issues for a later column.
While anyone can claim to be a consultant, your potential clients will expect that title to mean that you have a certain level of expertise and perhaps a unique perspective to bring to their situations. This expertise can be gained through training or education (an MBA, for instance), but more often is the result of industry experience or high-level academic research in the field.
The qualifications needed to be a consultant depend on your industry and the clients you seek. For instance, state professional licenses are mandatory for some types of engineering consultants. Most other fields carry less stringent requirements, or none at all. Check with your state's professional licensing agency for details. Collecting brochures from competing or similar consultants--or visiting their Web sites--is a good way to find out what is expected (as opposed to legally required) of consultants, as is asking potential clients with whom you have an inside track.
In addition to possessing the requisite level of technical expertise and the proper credentials, a consultant should have at least a measure of business acumen and background knowledge about the client's industry. This context allows the consultant to develop solutions that serve the client's overall interests, instead of just putting out whatever fires flare up.
The ability to constantly generate creative ideas and to think on your feet are valuable, if not essential, assets in consulting. A certain level of analytical brainpower is expected; after all, a consultant's mind is really his or her product.
Certain personality traits and soft skills also are crucial, beginning with a high level of confidence. It will be difficult to convince clients that your abilities and ideas are worth paying for if you do not believe that yourself.
Consultants must enjoy solving problems, and must be both talented and tenacious at it. Remember that many companies wait until they've deemed a problem insurmountable before they call in a consultant. It will be your job to get past the obstacles and persist until a solution is discovered and perhaps implemented.
It isn't enough to have great ideas. A consultant also must be able to express them clearly--in informal conversations, in written reports and in boardroom presentations. Many consultants will tell you that being a good listener is the most important communication skill of all, because listening to the client is the foundational step in understanding and ultimately solving his or her problem.
The lifestyle of the consultant may look glamorous, but many in the field simply call it grueling. Extensive travel is typical of many consulting jobs, as are exhausting work days where the consultant must remain "on" for long periods of time. Consulting isn't a job for the faint-hearted, but if you meet the qualifications outlined above, it could be your ticket to a fascinating, lucrative and satisfying career.