What is a consultant?
William Cohen, a successful independent consultant and author defines it as “anyone who gives advice or performs other services of a professional or semiprofessional nature in return for compensation." This vague definition is not particularly helpful in visualizing what consultants do, but that’s because their responsibilities can vary so widely. Likewise, a wide variety of consulting firms exist and consultants’ role in these firms and their specializations can be diverse.
Where do consultants work?
Consultants are hired by organizations when they need additional personnel for a particular project, need expertise to solve a specific problem, need outside perspectives, or other reasons. Consulting firms exist in different types:
• national general management firms like Accenture, Bain & Company, Mckinsey, and Booz-Allen; these are sometimes referred to as the “bulge bracket”
• accounting firms with consulting divisions like Deloitte & Touche PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Ernst & Young
• functionally specialized firms
• industry-specific firms
• public sector firms, specializing in work with government, universities, and hospitals
• think tanks
• regional and local firms
• independent practitioners
• specialty firms outside of business that may focus on fashion, health, or other areas 
Julia Flanders, a post-academic consultant working for Brown University, describes the work this way: “A typical situation for a consultant is to be asked for help addressing what is taken to be a small practical problem. In the process of learning the context for addressing this problem, the consultant and client discover that in fact the practical problem arises from a deeper set of issues which had not been fully analysed or understood, because the client was too close to them (or lacked the perspective) to see them.” For those who enjoy research, working on projects, and helping to solve problems, consulting work can be very rewarding.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, consulting is the fastest growing industry in the U.S. economy, which strong growth potential in all areas. Consulting firms can specialize in many areas; among the most common specializations are technology, operations, HR, energy, management, and marketing.
Pros and Cons
Besides the strong industry growth, there are other benefits to consulting work, including
• high pay,
• intellectual stimulation,
• working in teams and at a fast pace, and
• the importance of problem solving.
There are also drawbacks to working as a consultant, two of the most commonly mentioned being the frequent travel and extremely long hours: 80-100 hours per week for a new consultant is not uncommon and might actually be expected. Consultants are often asked to make high-stakes recommendations based on limited or incomplete data, which can either be exciting or terrifying, depending on your personality.
Research, collaborative, and problem-solving skills are essential for consultants. Interpersonal and written communication skills are also key since each job often culminates in a lengthy report (50 to 100 pages).
If you have foreign language skills and expertise in the affairs of a particular country or region, international consulting positions may be open to you. As in other consulting jobs, you would be providing information and advice for businesses making important decisions. Areas of specialty tend to be IT, rural health care, nutrition and family planning, rural educational development, adult literacy, agriculture, and civil engineering. The languages that are currently most in demand are
• French (for African countries)
• Asian languages
(See also the page for Translation/Interpretation.)
- Research the “case interview method” in books like Cosentino’s and the LACS handout on case interviews in the LACS library
- Read other consulting resources in the LACS library in FAC 18
- Prepare for the late August recruitment of the “bulge bracket firms”
- Ask LACS staff for a list of Texas consulting firms
- Network, network, network! Many consulting jobs are never advertised.
- Search for “Senior Associate, Deloitte” on Vault’s Career Insider
Print and Web Resources
PhD to Consulting - written by and perhaps for academics in the sciences, but still has lots of good interviews with consultants, information about case study interviews, consulting firms, and more.
⁃ Human capital
⁃ Global business issues
Accenture's Consulting Careers Blog
Day, Laurence, and H. Ned Seelye. Careers for Foreign Language Aficionados & Other Multilingual Types. 3rd ed. McGraw-Hill, 2007. Print.
⁃ Long list of business employing international consultants on 149-154.
Cohen, William A. How to Make It Big as a Consultant. 3rd ed. New York, NY: American Management Association, 2001. Print.
⁃ A popular guide to independent consulting; focuses almost exclusively on working independently instead of for a consulting firm.
Cosentino, Marc P. Case in Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation. 7th ed. Needham, MA: Burgee Press, 2011. Print.
Flanders, Julia. “‘You Work at Brown. What Do You Teach?’,” #alt-academy: Alternative Academic Careers, May 6, 2011.
4. Julia Flanders, “‘You Work at Brown. What Do You Teach?’,” #alt-academy: Alternative Academic Careers, May 6, 2011.