What does a consultant do?

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While being a consultant seems like the aspiration of every business school student, what a consultant does is not always clear. Find out what exactly a management consultant does on the job.


It seems that every other business school student or MBA candidate's dream is to become a consultant and for good reason - it can be an extremely rewarding job which gives you the breadth of knowledge not usually available working in industry.

While the "Consultant" title looks great on a business card, there are many out there, even among aspiring consultants, who don't quite understand what a consultant does. In a nutshell, there are three different phases you’ll go through, from when you start your journey as a junior consultant, all the way to partner.

Phase 1: Learning the ropes, fresh from university

When you first start off your consulting career, you’ll most likely be sent off into the field to perform agreed work for clients.

Before reaching any form of advice, you need to study the client and understand their situation. You need to understand their present “as-is” situation, and their desired “to-be” outcome. For example, if a bank client wanted to increase efficiency in their back office services by cutting costs by 15%, then you would need to go in to understand what the client’s current processes are.

A team of consultants would parachute into the client to study their documentation and interview their staff to form a solid understanding of how their processes work. It’s a job where you need to have good people skills and walk a fine line between being friendly, yet professional, in order to obtain the required information. Only once you’ve developed this understanding can you start to identify where functions can be consolidated, automated or even cut – all recommendations not to be taken lightly.

With all this information, you would work with the senior consultant or manager to analyse the data, and develop relevant recommendations to help them achieve their desired outcome. You’ll also draft up reports and working papers, which is the documentation we keep of the work done.

Phase 2: Moving up to senior consultant

Once you move up a bit in ranks, you will be expected to review work done by your junior consultants, to make sure that everything is properly and accurately documented, and that the analysis and subsequent recommendations make sense. Senior consultants and managers will also be responsible for managing the job and controlling the budget so it does not exceed the amount agreed with the client.

Unlike in industry, one of the benefits of consulting is that you learn to manage teams at a very early stage in your career, and project management and other managerial skills you read about in the Harvard Business Review become second nature quite early on in your career.

As you progress, you will also be responsible for authoring and even reviewing the reports to be given to clients. Sometimes clients like presentations to summarise the information, which you’ll soon be delivering.

Phase 3: Straight into management

Once you start becoming a manager, director and eventually partner, you will need to win work. How you sell the work all comes down to your ability as a salesperson, whether it is through connections, responding to a public RFP (request for proposal) or a potential client cold call. The higher up you go, the more work you need to sell, and such sales revenues are tied into your KPIs.

In fact, lead partners spend most of their working hours in activities to sell work – developing client relationships, helping to put the finishing touches on a proposal or listening to consultant briefings to identify possible client opportunities.

Even early on in your career, you may be asked to assist to develop slides to sell to clients, so this is an area you’ll begin to develop quite quickly.

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Consulting is a very rewarding career, with ever shifting responsibilities and roles, where you are continually learning something new. Is consulting for you?

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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead: What does a consultant do?
What does a consultant do?
While being a consultant seems like the aspiration of every business school student, what a consultant does is not always clear. Find out what exactly a management consultant does on the job.
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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead
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