Determining the Type of Consultant You Should Be—Five Paths to Success

We’ve all heard about the perks of consulting—travel, per diems, cool assignments, and advanced learning. We’ve also heard about the challenges—really long hours, a grueling workload, and being on the road most of the week. Even with those cons in mind, consulting offers incredible opportunities and a way to navigate an undecided career path.

Because of the varied nature of projects, companies, cultures, and industries one works in, a consultant gets exposure to much more diversity than any one job could offer. Consultants also get exposure to C-suite concerns. Most employees have to work their way up the corporate ladder to get access to high-level strategic projects. As a consultant, you not only get to work with the top of the pyramid, but you also learn what keeps them up at night and how you can help solve business-wide problems. You learn a lot very quickly.

Consulting offers freedom from corporate politics and gives you a certain level of courage to say and do what’s right for your clients. That’s the reason they hired you, and you should foster that. Consulting allows you to take pride and ownership in your ability to do great work and deliver beyond the client’s expectations. When you do this, you quickly establish your brand.

With all these points to consider, there’s one question you have to answer: Is consulting for you? If so, how do you determine what type of consultant you want to be?

The Choice Is the Way

People fresh to the workforce—and those looking for new job opportunities—sometimes find it difficult to determine where to focus their career. Consulting can be the perfect opportunity when you’re unsure of the type of position you want or the type of company you want to work for. It’s also a field that’s available for entry at any point in your career.

For example, an owner of a very successful firm worked as a consultant early in his career because he knew his industry focus—but not the path he wanted to follow. He realized he loved the variety of gigs that consulting offered and eventually started his own firm in the banking and fin-tech space.

Another owner started consulting later in his career as a way to leverage his industry and business knowledge. He had deep product intel and strong relationships with many financial institutions and credit unions. Going into consulting was a logical next step.

Success Is in the Details

For aspiring consultants, it can be difficult to determine which consulting path to follow. Starting out, the key is to establish relationships with clients and put them first. The marketplace is saturated, but with exceptional customer service, consultants will find success in any field. Here are five steps that will help ensure you set off on the right path:

1. Do Your Research

CEOs and decision makers can quickly tell whether you know the ins and outs of their unique industries. Beyond interviewing the company’s employees, extend your research to competitors and the company’s client base. Determine what differentiates the company from its competition. Is there anything it’s doing that sets it apart? Anything that should be done differently? You’ll want to present this information and discuss why you are, or are not, following suit.

Review any existing customer surveys, or reach out to the business’s customers and clients. Look for any consistent feedback or concerns to address. If you come into that first meeting with a thorough understanding of the company’s concerns, your confidence will more readily shine through. And all of that early work will prove that you really do mean business.

2. Provide Customized Solutions

Businesses bring on consultants to help with their companies’ highly specific pain points. A generic product or solution isn’t going to cut it. A consultant’s role is to research the company’s needs, interview top-level executives, and come up with custom solutions.

Every interaction with the customer should be meaningful. That means digging deeper to uncover any issues before you’re blindsided in a meeting or an interview. Determine why the questions and concerns exist and how a solution is critical to the client’s business model. You will develop better insight into the company and be able to customize a solution that promotes the necessary changes within the organization. All that personalized effort won’t go unnoticed by a savvy CEO.

3. Update the Client Consistently

It’s crucial for a consultant to stay on top of client communication once the project has started. Set a reporting plan, and stick to it. This is even more important if a timeline slides or something isn’t going as planned. Consistent updates allow you to include specifics on the issues at hand and note what’s being done to resolve them.

This reporting increases your value to the client. Not only that, but if the client notices that you’ve gone silent, it gets easier to question why you’re being kept on the payroll. Even an update with no new information is better than no updates at all.

4. Manage Expectations

Consultants are typically hired when the client already knows there’s an issue. Whether it’s a specific supply chain issue or a broader strategic concern, the client’s awareness that something is wrong drives the decision to hire a consultant. Unfortunately, businesses often expect a quick fix.

Sometimes, part of your role is to bring your client’s thinking back to reality. It’s important for a consultant to manage expectations and provide an accurate time frame for resolution—one that includes an initial analysis phase to determine the true scope and cause of the problem. It’s sometimes different or larger than the client ever imagined, and making that reality understood is an important early step.

5. Brace Yourself for Resistance

Change is hard, and employees from all levels of the company will inevitably resist it. The Satir Change Model tells us there are five stages to change: late status quo, resistance, chaos, integration, and new status quo. The middle stages are the hardest and most volatile. As a consultant, you need to navigate this time with patience, support, and (perhaps most importantly) guidance.

The client will look to you for how to handle these situations, as well as for your assistance in pushing through times of uncertainty. Your approach will be different for various employees, depending on how significantly the change may impact their daily tasks and roles. Put the client first, and address the needs of all team members.

By remaining consistent and approachable—and by following through with your initial plan—you set yourself up for success as a consultant. With each project and referral, your network will grow, and your knowledge and expertise will expand. Consulting is a great path for those who prefer independence and a chance to really make a difference. You just need to raise your head high and take that first step.


Sona Jepsen is the global head of sales enablement at Fidelity National Information Services (FIS). Her team empowers FIS’ global sales teams with sales content, strategic insights, and world-class learning and development opportunities.