A consultant can often be confused with an advisor, as the two roles contain a number of overlapping features. Consultancy roles are available in almost every industry around the world, so let's break down the industry...


What is Consulting?

Consultancy roles are available in almost every industry around the world; they are incredibly valuable within specific fields of business for the unique and highly in-depth insights they can provide.

Traditionally consultants are hired by businesses to provide an outside perspective and expert advice; they take an independent and unbiased approach to a situation, often hired to help with specific projects or areas where a business needs help. Occasionally, however, in-house consultants are hired to really tackle ongoing complex issues within a single business.

A consultant can often be confused with an advisor, as the two roles contain a number of overlapping features. The meat and potatoes of a consultancy role is exactly that: consulting. It is the practice of providing a third party company or business with expertise on a particular subject or in a particular field.

The role of a consultant can incorporate much more than just advising a business, however; it can also involve strategising, management and the implementation of a new project or processes. This requires carrying out research and collecting data, analysing such data, preparing business proposals, identifying and solving problems within a business’ processes, implementing solutions and managing entire projects and teams.

As well as the above, there are three main characteristics to a consultancy role:

  1. They provide support in the form of expert advice to a company in a specific field or on a specific subject.
  2. They work independently from the client so as to ensure the advice given is unbiased (unless employed as an in-house consultant – more on this later).
  3. They work in a professional manner, ensuring they have the right qualifications and expertise to provide a high-quality and valuable service

Job roles in Consulting - the types

There are three main types of consultancy jobs:

    • There are over 300,000 consulting firms in the UK alone, which offer services to businesses in numerous fields, disciplines and industries. Before taking a job in a consultancy firm, there are a number of things to consider, including what services they offer, the clients they work with and if there is a particular field of expertise. Checking out a firm’s reputation and company culture is also advised.

      Working for a firm provides more job security than going freelance and means you will have multiple people within the firm to bounce ideas off of. You’ll also have the benefit of career progression, moving from a Junior Consultant or Analyst up to a Senior Manager, Senior Consultant or even a Director or Partner and a constant stream of work secured by the firm to keep you busy.

    • What’s nice about going solo as a freelance consultant is that you are granted the freedom to pick your own projects to work on, unlike in a consultancy firm where your work will depend on the firm’s clients and what is assigned to you.

      While this level of freedom may be nice, it does require you to build and maintain a strong network of contacts to ensure work is constant, organise your own work schedule and have a strong personal brand. This does mean your work schedule can fluctuate from being very full, with numerous projects or tasks for different clients running at once, or very quiet, depending on what work has come in that month.

    • This role is great for those looking to get fully immersed in a business but still remain within a consultancy role. You may form part of an in-house consulting team, or a subsidiary company which services the needs of the main company.

      In-house consultants will work to solve strategic and operational problems or issues within a business and will understand not just the company, but the industry as a whole, inside and out.


Job roles in Consulting - specific roles

So while those are the main types of consultancy role, there are also many specific job roles within consultancy, too:

    • This role is very varied and includes organisational concerns, such as management, to overarching strategies, creating value, improving business performance and helping with growth. They use their business skills to provide unbiased advice to a business and suggest recommendations to make a positive change.

    • This is a high level role within the consultancy field. Generally, Strategy Consultants focus on large-scale corporate and organisational strategy, and potentially even economic and government policies. This role is less focused on implementation, and more heavily reliant on analytical and communication skills. The role revolves around forming strategies to reach the long-term goals of a company.

    • Operations Consultants help improve the operational side of a business. They will advise and come up with solutions to operational problems or roadblocks a client may be facing  and implement a change. This is actually one of the most popular roles within consulting.

    • This is naturally focused on the finance side of a business, with Financial Consultants assessing a client’s financial position to help them better manage their money for the future. This will involve advising on investment strategies, tax issues and the everyday financial transactions of a business.

    • If you’re good with technology then a role as an IT Consultant might be for you. In this role you will help clients with their IT functionality, implementing new technologies and processes to help propel forward IT-specific projects and operations.

    • This role deals with people and the human side of businesses. HR Consultants help with HR policies and a business’ employees, potentially helping with the recruitment and transition of employees within a company. This requires knowledge of HR and employment law and ethics, but also a company’s culture.



You rarely need a specific degree to get into consultancy, rather experience of problem-solving and advising within your chosen field of expertise.

However, it is useful to have a degree that is analytical in nature or that is related to the industry in which you want to work; the following degree areas are very helpful if looking to break into Consultancy:

  • Business
  • Economics
  • Finance
  • STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths)

There are some consultancy-specific qualifications also available from places such as the Institute of Consulting, in Professional Consulting, a Diploma in Professional Consulting and a Diploma in Business Support.

There is also the Certified Management Consultant award which is considered highly prestigious in the industry, however is only available to those who have been practising for three or more years full-time.

In terms of achieving specific results, a number of companies are becoming more flexible on degree specifications. EY and Deloitte, for example, have both removed their minimum 2:1 requirement for graduate roles.


Skills you need

There are plenty of skills needed by consultants. These include:

    • You’ll need to work with a number of different people from various businesses and departments.

    • You’ll need to take on potentially very different projects and tasks regularly.

    • You’ll need to be able to discuss problems and how you plan to solve them coherently.

    • You’ll need to be able to think outside the box to come up with solutions to complicated problems.

    • You’ll need to be inquisitive to find the best solutions and up to date with the latest news and trends in the industry.

    • You’ll need to demonstrate passion from the start to the very end of a project.

    • You’ll need to work through and solve sometimes complex and not straight-forward problems.

    • You’ll need to show an ability to come up with unique insights into data patterns and other forms of information.

    • You’ll need to keep a cool head during stressful times when deadlines are looming.

    • You’ll need to have knowledge of the industry and business in question.


Industry insights

The consultancy industry has been steadily growing in popularity since the 1960s and 1970s, and is now hugely successful and considered vital to a number of different industries and businesses. It is highly varied and is now one of the more mature markets within the professional services industry.

As the global economy grows, the consultancy industry also flourishes. In 2011, the industry was valued at $205 billion, with globalisation and advancements in technology helping to bolster this. It is also a global industry, with North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific all regions in which the consultancy industry is well established.

In the UK alone there are around 63,000 professionals employed in the industry and it is predicted that, with positive global economic growth, the industry will remain a safe sector to join.


Work experience

Because of the diversity of the role and positive career progression and salary, breaking into the consultancy industry can be tough.

There aren’t many consultancy internships available, and those that are out there are highly competitive. If an internship is the best route for you, ensure you are well organised and research what opportunities are available and when applications close. Summer internships can last six to 12 weeks and are usually favoured by penultimate-year university students. The application deadlines for these are generally around the end of January but some may close in November, so be sure to check.

Luckily there are often many internships available that relate to some of the key roles within consultancy – such as a Finance, HR or IT Consultants. Seek out internship and work experience opportunities within businesses involved in these sectors and draw on that experience to bulk out future applications for Consultancy jobs.

Of course, other avenues to help build experience include work shadowing and insight days; the more of these you do and the more contacts you build, the easier it will be to break into freelance consulting in the future.


Pros and cons

Consultancy is a highly varied role and allows for individuals to work with numerous businesses and across multiple projects.The work-life balance can be tough, with many consultants working very long hours during busy periods.
The salary is very high, with junior consultants earning up to £30,000+ and those at partner level within a firm hitting an annual salary of over £100,000+.You will need to learn on the job a lot as new projects and problems crop up; you will also need to be up-to-date with all industry news.
There are also many perks, such as bonuses and added benefits like a company car.It is a very competitive industry to break into.
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