What is a Consultant and What Are Their Responsibilities?

A consultant is simply an individual who provides expert advice for a fee. Since consultants usually are employed in an advisory capacity they are not held accountable for the outcome of a project.

Depending on the industry, job duties will vary for consultants. In most case though, consultants are hired to improve or fix a specific component of a client’s business that they are speclificiazed in. Consultants also share advice, make recommendations, and solve any problems within an organization. For example, an IT consultant may be called in to teach employees how to correctly use a new computer computer that was recently installed and how to troubleshoot any issues with the software.

In most cases, consultants are used before and during the launch of a business. But, consultants can also be used when a business needs to reorganize or rebrand itself. Consultants will be retained until the goals of a business have been achieved. Because of this, the time period for the consultant’s services will vary.

Besides education or work experience, a consultant can be successful by possessing the following the traits:

  • Are a leader
  • Able to reason logically
  • Ability to communicate effectively
  • Ingenuity qualities, like being clever, innovative, and inspirational
  • Can work with others

Do Consultants Require a College Degree?

Organizations usually look for consultants who are either highly educated or have years of experience in their field. As a whole, consultants are not required to have a college degree. If you’re looking to join a consulting firm though, having a college degree from a top university will definitely help you gain an advantage from other applicants.

Even if you don’t have a college education your years of experience in your respective field can be just as attractive to consulting firms or potential clients. However, if it is required that you have a degree, certification, or just need to brush-up on your skills you can self-study by taking online classes on CourseraUdemy, or edX. You can also attend a class either online or in-person of any accredited university of your choice if they offer a degree program in your field. Depending on your area of expertise, you may need to have take a class so that you can have the right certifications or keep up-to-date with the latest trends and changes.

Consulting v. Contracting

If you start your own consulting firm or are a freelancer, it’s important that you know the difference between being a consultant and a contractor.

  • Consultants are brought in whenever a company has a problem that it either can’t solve because it doesn’t have the knowledge or time. A consultant will analyze the problem and figure out the best course of action to take. Consultants are self-directed.
  • Contractors are basically temporary employees. Contractors have to work under the manager’s supervision in order to complete a project. Because of this, contractors are told what to do, how to do it, and when it has to be done.

Additionally, according to project manager Rosalind Baker, the main differences between consultants and contractors also include:

  • Level of engagement
  • Length of engagement
  • Engagement rate

Knowing the difference between the two is important for you and clients because:

  • Contractors base their bills around the time spent performing services, and find work through agencies.
  • Contracting can be easier and safer to find employment since you’re using an agency. But, if you have a niche skillset, you can take the risk and become a consultant
  • Consultants bill clients by project where they charge for designing and implementing their solutions. Consultants find their their own work by networking or marketing.
  • Consultants can set prices on quality and demand, as opposed to just an hourly fee.