Dear Matt: I'm tired of working for someone else. I hear about people getting hired as a consultant. What exactly does a consultant do? What industries do they work in? What skills/abilities would I need to become a consultant?
Matt says: Every industry uses consultants. How can this be you? First, you have to prove you can add value to a company -- enough value to justify hiring you to get the job done. Consultants listen, investigate, analyze, recommend, catalyze change and implement, says Joan Runnheim Olson, an internationally certified career coach and owner of Pathways Career Success Strategies, LLC (pathwayscareer.com). Effective consulting requires strong skills in presentation, relationship building, listening/communication, time management and conflict resolution.
"Consultants typically have several characteristics common to successful entrepreneurs," said Runnheim Olson. "Those include being a calculated risk taker, proactive, highly innovative, flexible and disciplined."
Some consultants are asked to perform focused tactical work, requiring minimal interaction with others, while some are asked to act at a strategic level, often leading and influencing teams without direct authority, says Lisa Frame, Director of Recruiting for STAR Collaborative, a Twin Cities-based strengths-based project consulting firm (STARcollaborative.com).
What makes a good consultant? Frame offers these tips:
• Ability to navigate ambiguity and obstacles. Value is delivered to a client by rapidly surveying the landscape and readily delivering positive outcomes. Consultants are typically expected to learn quickly and produce results with minimal guidance or training.
• Planning for low times. There can be breaks between engagements, and consultants should anticipate their financial needs and expenses and determine their bill rate for projects that will sustain them during the valleys.
• Focus on the business and not on personal issues. Clients expect a high degree of professionalism and commitment from a consultant and want them to be self-managed, self-motivated, results-driven and removed from office politics.
• Commitment. Do what you say you will do, and execute on the deliverables flawlessly.
Is this for you? If so, the rewards can be great, personally, professionally and financially. "Consultants often have better command of their compensation and the opportunity to work in virtually any industry, on projects that feed their passion," said Frame.