5 types of consulting roles (With duties and key skills)
Updated 1 September 2023
Businesses in many industries may look to outside experts to help them overcome challenges or meet their goals. These experts are consultants and they use their specialised knowledge and experience to advise organisations. If you're interested in pursuing a consultancy career, you may wish to learn about the different disciplines of consultancy. In this article, we define what consulting roles are, explore five such roles in greater detail, look at the work environment of a consultant and provide some key skills to be effective in this role.
What are consulting roles?
Consulting roles can have a broad scope depending on your professional background and expertise. Consultants are specialists who offer advice to a business, group or individual. Consultants typically handle specific challenges or tasks to achieve a set goal. Usually, this goal relates to improving performance or profitability. For example, they may review an organisation's processes and offer suggestions for changes that can improve efficiency. Consultants often have knowledge and experience in a specific sector or industry that relates to the challenges the company hiring them is facing, along with a proven track record of helping businesses meet their goals.
There are three general reasons businesses may look to employ the services of consulting specialists. First, they may not know how to approach achieving their organisational goals. Similarly, they may have a strategy in place but look to use a consultant to refine this strategy to help them achieve their goals faster. Additionally, a business can save time by immediately looking to a third party when devising a plan so it can implement a proven methodology for achieving its goals.
5 types of consultants and what they do
There are virtually as many consulting roles as there are industries and business types. Many people divide consultants into general and specialised consultants. General consultants may have broad, potentially surface-level expertise across many fields. They may focus more on business practices that apply to all types of companies, using their skills and knowledge to help businesses make overall improvements.
Specialist consultants have more refined, focused knowledge of a specific industry or area of business operations. They may have prior professional experience in this area before entering consultancy and often have credentials such as specialised consulting certifications. Here are five examples of specialised consulting positions, with a brief explanation of the functions of these experts:
Management consultancy has a broad scope encompassing several organisational concerns relating to management. Many management consultants advise on issues or topics relating to human resources (HR). They may provide guidance on how HR teams can improve interventions relating to people management or their overall processes and functionality. For example, they may provide input on how to improve the onboarding process or suggestions for how to better deliver training. As there's such a broad scope, it's unsurprising that management consultants make up a large proportion of the consultancy profession. Common roles in this field might include:
human resource management consultant
employee benefits consultant
These specialists help an organisation better understand its financial capabilities and general financial health. They can also advise businesses on how to achieve their financial goals. A business may use a consultant if it's looking to grow or restructure to get a better understanding of its financial risk profile, for example. Consultants may specialise in specific disciplines of finance, such as investments or financial management. Financial consultancy roles can include:
Marketing is a fundamental component of many businesses' success across a variety of industries. It's how an organisation develops and nurtures a relationship with its customers. As marketing activities and strategies can be essential to their success, many businesses look for specialised input from consultants. Consultants can help businesses better understand their audiences and ways to grow these audiences. They can also advise on the best ways to target specific audience demographics. For example, they can help define the messaging a demographic best responds to and aid in creating brand identity. Marketing consulting roles may include:
brand management consultant
customer service consultant
Organisations are increasingly becoming aware of the environmental impact of their operations. They may wish to reduce this impact, in part to protect the environment but also to boost the overall sustainability of their activities. Environmental consultants use their expertise and knowledge to advise companies on ways to change their practices to be more environmentally friendly with greater viability in the long term. They may also have specialised knowledge of an organisation's industry. This might include knowing industry regulations and being able to identify areas of non-compliance and suggesting appropriate changes to business practices. Environmental consultancy roles might include:
heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) consultant
environmental audit consultant
environmental project manager
Cyber security consultants
Cyber security consultants often have expertise that organisations don't have in-house. They may assess a company's current security solutions and overall infrastructure to identify potential points of weakness. They may then suggest security solutions to address these weaknesses and bolster security. This can involve recommending software solutions or even developing specialised software. Consultants may also implement network upgrades. Specific cyber security consultancy roles might include:
cyber security strategy consultant
cyber security implementation consultant
ethical hacking security consultant
Work environment of a consulting expert
Consultants typically work on a freelance basis or through a consultancy firm. They offer their services to organisations on a short-term, contract basis. The specifics of these contracts can vary depending on the nature of the assignment and the needs of the organisation. Consultants may work full- or part-time hours. This might depend on whether they provide their services to multiple clients simultaneously. The duration of their contract may also vary. Many consultants have standard consultancy agreements they present to an organisation or may negotiate a customised arrangement.
A consultant's specific workday can vary depending on their specialisation or industry and the specific needs of their clients. They might focus on developing training materials, for example. There are some common tasks a consultant may carry out, though. These include:
providing expert advice and guidance on internal operations, such as work environments
giving guidance on external factors, such as industry trends, regulatory changes or emerging technologies
offering neutral, unbiased input on existing company practices
developing and providing access to consultancy resources, such as training materials
Key skills for consulting specialists
There are several skills effective consultants tend to have. For example, intellectual curiosity and a passion for continual learning can allow these individuals to constantly develop and update their knowledge base and provide expert advice. This, coupled with strong leadership, helps inspire confidence from clients and allows consultants to lead organisations in effecting meaningful change. Disciplined thinking also allows these experts to set reasonable, achievable targets and allocate resources effectively. Here are some other skills successful consultants may possess:
Consultants may often have several different tasks across a number of clients and it's their responsibility to effectively manage their workload. This is particularly true if you work as a freelance consultant rather than through an agency. Good organisational skills allow you to efficiently execute your duties. Organisation in a practical context may involve prioritising tasks to ensure you complete critical responsibilities in a timely manner, for example.
Communication can be a large part of a consultant's role as you liaise with a client's employees, management team and other key stakeholders. Being able to verbalise your observations and suggestions allows these stakeholders to understand your input. Doing this confidently is a key part of getting stakeholder support. You may use a range of written and verbal communication techniques as you manage email correspondences, prepare and deliver presentations and host meetings.
An organisation typically employs a consultant's services because they have a specific problem to overcome. They may want to scale their services or improve their efficiency, for example. Handling such problems and offering effective, novel solutions involves well-honed critical thinking. As a consultant, an organisation often looks to you to provide insights it hasn't been able to discover. Using your knowledge and creativity and applying your skills to critically assess a challenge lets you propose unique, beneficial solutions.
Consultants often encounter a variety of different challenges and situations. In fact, an organisation may approach a consultant specifically because it's encountered an unusual problem or an abnormal set of circumstances. Adaptability to different situations, clients and industries is often the key to a successful consultancy career. Being flexible and responsive in how you work gives you the capacity to have a varied, diverse network of consultancy clients.
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