What Is Consulting? Q & A with Alumni in the Field
Consulting is an increasingly popular option for students to enter post-graduation. In order to understand more about it, we asked UGA alumni who are currently in the industry, Aspen Kissell and Chris Macdonald, to share their insights.
What is consulting? What options does someone have to choose from when going into the field of consulting?
AK: Consulting is the business of providing your expertise and offering strategic guidance to an organization. In terms of fields and professions, you can consult on pretty much any topic or industry! Whether its healthcare, financial services, energy, political, public affairs, more traditional public relations - even fashion. The impetus for consulting is to fill a need that an organization lacks.
I am a management consultant in federal consulting, specializing in healthcare. This means that I am normally placed on projects within the Department of Health and Human Services or Veterans Affairs and work on strategy, communications, trainings, as well as project and program management.
CM: Consultants are essentially professional advisors. Companies across industries hire consultants for a variety of reasons. They can be brought in to identify problems, design solutions, create a strategy to transform an organization, or even to help execute changes in a company.
There are many types of consultants that serve different industries. Consultants can be generalists (deal with very high-level matters regarding strategy/operations of an organization) and serve many different industries. This is often known as “management consulting.” Alternatively, consultants can be very specialized. For example, a consultant that specializes in a specific piece of software would usually be hired by companies to implement said software.
Consultants can specialize in all sorts of fields, including technology, strategy, risk, finance, supply chain, human resources, marketing, etc. In addition, they may work with many industries or only serve a specific one.
Personally, I am a technology consultant serving clients in the financial services industry. This means that I work on projects involving digital transformation, data, and technology implementation for companies such as banks, asset management companies, insurance companies, and private equity firms.
What skills might I need? How can someone prepare for this career?
CM: Based on my experience, here are some of the top skills that consultants require:
- Interpersonal communication: I cannot stress the importance of this skill. It is probably the most important quality required in the field of consulting. Clients want to be listened to and have solutions communicated back to them clearly and concisely. It is important to practice active listening and to able to speak effectively and confidently.
- Excel & PowerPoint: Much of what consultants do involves processing data in Excel, creating reports, visualizing data, and presenting it in a clear manner to your team and client through PowerPoint. It is important to obtain experience with these programs and feel confident using them to produce high-quality deliverables.
- Attention to detail: Have you ever misspelled the name of a person you are addressing an email to? It can be an embarrassing situation. Now, imagine that email was sent to the CIO of the client who has hired your team for a project. The consequences could range from damaging your professional relationships to harming your personal brand. It is extremely important to triple check any work handed over to the team or the client. Producing high-quality work free of errors will help build your brand as a trustworthy, reliable team member.
- Teamwork: Consulting is a very team-oriented field. The best consultants are great team players. This means being good at building solid working relationships with your team, being timely with deliverables and communication, showing support towards team members, and taking the initiative to offer to help with other tasks when availability permits.
To prepare for this career, take some time to work on your weaker areas. For example, if you struggle with interpersonal communication, do some online research or read a book on ways to improve it. Then, make sure to practice those skills every opportunity you get. This can also apply to technical skills (like Excel, PowerPoint, interpreting data, etc.). There are so many free online resources such as articles, videos, and courses you can leverage to work on these.
Whenever you work on a team project, ask your teammates for feedback on how they perceived you as a team member. This will help you become aware of areas you can improve on regarding teamwork, allowing you to become a better team player. Finally, work on your attention to detail skills through any and every class assignment you are given, as well as every email you send out. Make sure that the formatting is impeccable, that there are no spelling or grammatical errors, and that you have put in the extra effort to make your work as organized and easy to follow as possible.
Career Center Pro Tip! You have access to LinkedIn Learning with your UGA MyID! There are videos about technology, soft skills, and more.
What do you love about this field? What can be challenging?
CM: I love how dynamic this career is. One week, you could be working on a system implementation project for a large bank. You might meet a co-worker you’ve never met before at a happy hour who tells you about a great upcoming project. Two weeks later, you are working on an eCommerce transformation engagement for a power company. You never really know what kind of work you’ll be doing next, but the variety and challenge of learning new skills at every project are aspects of this I really enjoy.
An added benefit is that your schedule is usually very flexible. On different weeks I’ve been able to work at the client site, work remotely, work at my companies’ office, and travel to other cities to work at different locations. Most consultants get to choose to work remotely on Fridays, so you can use this time to work from home or choose to go into your local office to see familiar faces and meet new ones.
Speaking of familiar faces, another factor that makes me love this career is the type of people you work with. I am always surrounded with some of the smartest, most ambitious, and most personable individuals I have ever met. Working with these kinds of people have motivated me to try to improve every day.
It can sometimes be challenging to maintain a good work-life balance. This won’t always be your typical nine to five job. Sometimes, you will be pushed hard to meet tight deadlines. On top of your client work, you may want to get involved with internal initiatives to help organizations within your firm. If you are traveling for your project, you also have to factor in the extra time and energy required to be constantly on the move. Managing all of these factors and trying to maintain a balanced personal life can be quite the challenge at times. It requires learning how to be as efficient as possible in accomplishing tasks, organizing your time well, and evaluating your priorities to make sure you dedicate the right amount of time and energy towards them
AK: I love the variety of topics and issue areas that you have the opportunity to work on. You will never get bored! What I love about federal consulting, in particular, is that you are working on impactful issues that affect the country and American citizens. There’s nothing more rewarding.
It can be challenging to find stability and a routine in consulting. The type of work and clients often change. On the other hand, this consistent change allows you to get a lot of exposure and develop a broad range of skills. Some, myself included, find it a little daunting to adjust to the change; however, every time I get settled and learn a new skill and meet great people, it all comes together.
What is travel like? How do you fit work/life balance into that?
AK: Since I am within federal consulting and all our clients are based in the Metro DC area, we are not required to travel. Some travel might be required for specific clients, but it will not be the weekly travel schedule other areas of consulting are sometimes known for. If you’re interested in consulting, but prefer to not travel weekly, you should consider federal consulting.
Management Consulting Senior Analyst at Accenture Federal Services
Master of Public Administration, 2017
Technology Advisory Staff at EY
Management Information Systems, 2019