Consultants are usually drafted in to help manage a specific piece of work within an organisation. Unlike people professionals who are employed by an organisation, consultants work with clients external to their own organisation to support their specific needs. 

What does a consultant do?

There are two types of people consultant roles: consultants who are employed by a professional services company (such as a large consultancy organisation), and independent self-employed consultants who have their own independent consultancy business. They may have a generic skills set, or they may be a specialist in a particular area. Either way, they’ll be expected to have a generic set of skills such as project management, stakeholder management and problem solving. They bring a fresh pair of eyes to the business and offer independent advice.  

Consultants have two organisations to consider: the one they are employed by or own, and their client organisation. They need to manage their own organisation’s objectives such as commercial targets, as well delivering the objectives agreed with their client organisation. 

Most consultants will have specialist knowledge and expertise in one or two areas of the people profession. They’ll build relationships with the client, help them define what the problem is that they are facing, and recommend solutions. They may also help implement the changes recommended. They often travel to the client’s place of work and could even be based at the client’s place of work for a period of time. This allows them to get closer to the client and immerse themselves in the organisation’s culture, helping to give a better understanding of how the organisation works and the best way to meet the client’s needs.

Being a consultant sometimes allows for more flexibility. For consultants who own their business, being their own boss means they can arrange their working hours and meetings around their lifestyle. 

Working with a variety of different organisations and experts allows consultants to experience working in different environments and to build a large network of contacts, helping them to stay informed on a wide range of organisational issues, which are not just people specific. There is often a lot of competition, and so they need to have an offering that helps them stand out from others. Multi-tasking is essential; they need to be constantly networking and looking for their next client, whilst also working on current projects and, if they’re an independent consultant, staying on top of the day-to-day running of their business is key. 

Your typical activities

Here are some activities you can expect to be involved in as a consultant:

  • Building relationships with and selling your brand / services to future and current clients
  • Taking time to understand the client organisation and their needs
  • Bringing your people and business expertise together to identify a range of people solutions to meet the client’s needs
  • Presenting solutions to clients
  • Meeting clients and key people involved in the solution (often key leaders within the organisation both in and outside of the people profession)
  • Scoping and planning project work, and writing proposals and reports
  • Being an expert in your area of the people profession, with the right knowledge and tools to do the job (see the other career areas for what this expertise might be)
  • Networking with and influencing people
  • Listening to your client and providing a support network
  • Facilitating workshops / focus groups
  • Project managing the solution to ensure your client’s needs are met
  • Keeping up to date with latest thinking in your expert area(s). 

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