How to Get a Consulting Job in 6 Steps
Just as no 2 consultants are exactly the same, there is no brightly lit path that all consultants should follow in order to find jobs. When you choose to be a consultant, you’re embracing the autonomy and creativity that come along with it. You’re an explorer, and you need to be comfortable forging your own path to success.
If you’re scrappy, you’ll be able to find what you need when you need it. This is one of those professions where, as independent attorneys often say, “You eat what you kill.” It requires tenacity and patience to make a name for yourself and begin building your legacy.
If you’re the type of person who likes their work to be served up to them, you might want to reconsider your career. Because there aren’t any assembly lines that will keep a steady stream of consulting opportunities rolling in.
Since you’re still reading this guide, we’ll assume that you fall into the “scrappy and tenacious” camp. You know that you’ve got the goods when it comes to consulting, and you’re just looking for guidance that will help you to kickstart your career and find the best opportunities.
There’s more than one path to starting a successful consulting business. There are people like my dad, who launched his consultancy by walking into his boss’s office and saying, ‘I’m starting a consulting business. I’d like to make you my first client.’ Just like that, he went from being the employee of a large hospital to being an entrepreneur […] And instead of consulting for one hospital, he gained the bandwidth to help many. Then there are people like veteran consultant and author Alan Weiss, who launched his consulting business after being fired from his corporate job in the mid-80s. Weiss chose the fake-it-till-you-make-it approach. He went into debt to look the part of a high-end consultant. He bought a brand-new suit, flew first class, and arrived to client meetings in a limo […] It worked, as Weiss quickly became an upmarket consultant earning seven figures per year.
How you enter your own consulting career might hinge on the nature of your business right now. Are you unemployed? Are you a full-time employee within an organization? Are you an entrepreneur looking to move into consulting? Are you a current consultant with dreams of building a better version of your career?
Each of these scenarios presents unique opportunities and challenges. For example, if you don’t have a current job, you’ll have more time to invest in building your consulting business. On the other hand, your resources might be more limited.
If you’re a full-time employee, there might be connections within your organization that can help you transition into a consultant role. But it will be more of a challenge to find time, as you’ll need to balance your current job and the pursuit of where you want to go.
Regardless of where you are and the exact route you plan to take, here are 6 steps that will help you connect with quality consulting jobs.
Step 1: Prepare Your Presentation
Before you can get a consulting job, you need to have your credentials optimized. Your cover letter and resume will often precede you, so make sure they represent your qualifications and purpose. Clients should be able to scan your resume and understand within 20 seconds what sets you apart from all the other consultants out there.
Use your cover letter and resume to showcase your unique background and how it enables you to provide crucial solutions to problems. For example, if you have a degree in mathematics, you could explain how your mastery of numbers consistently leads to sales breakthroughs for your clients. If you have served in the military, you might describe how that training gives you a special edge when it comes to analyzing multiple channels of information.
To help you further stand out, avoid templates like the plague. Sure, they make things easier. But they also announce to a client that you enjoy taking shortcuts and don’t care much about the quality of a finished product.
Speaking of templates, your cover letter and resume should be updated each time you approach a new client. Tailor the messaging and examples to their needs. There should be no doubt in the reader’s mind that you understand their business and have the unique skill set needed to take them to new heights.
You’ll also want to maintain a strong social media presence, as most potential clients will review your profiles before committing to a contract. LinkedIn is the most crucial element of these efforts, but you should also focus your attention on at least 2 other platforms so that you can reach a broader audience.
Step 2: Get a Mentor
You’d be surprised how many people skip this step. But there’s a power that comes from having an experienced professional in your corner. Your mentor can advise you on how to structure your business, how to approach contracts, and how to provide the best value to clients.
As this guide is focused on how to get a consulting job, it’s important to note that your mentor can absolutely steer you toward great client opportunities. When mentors are overloaded with work or simply encounter a job they know would be perfect for their mentee, they pass these jobs on to you. The significance of this arrangement is that you can get access to prime jobs via your mentor that would otherwise be difficult for a beginner to land.
Step 3: Network like Your Life Depends on It
Part of being a successful consultant is knowing the people within your industry who can help match your consultant skills with a client. So the more people you meet and the more people who understand your skills, the easier it will be to land jobs.
Your networking activities should be a daily ritual. Block out time in your schedule for it, so it’s an official part of the day and not something you’ll “just try to fit in.” Over time, you’ll find that your dedicated networking rituals become second nature.
Potential networking activities include:
- Industry events
- Professional organizations
- Email follow-ups
- Reaching out to past clients
- LinkedIn posting/messaging
- In-person appointments
Through your network, you’ll find a large variety of jobs. Some clients will come to you as referrals. These are golden opportunities, as a referral from within your industry carries a lot of weight when clients are considering which consultant to hire.
You can also reach out to specific businesses within your network to ask if they need your consulting services. These aren’t cold calls, mind you, because you’ve already made the initial connection and ideally share mutual friends within your industry. Given these trust-building elements, your chances of finding jobs are quite high.
When businesses decline your services, feel free to ask if they have any recommendations for other potential clients to contact. Anytime you get a name in this way, you’ve got a built-in advantage due to the fact that you were given the referral by someone who already knows the client.
Step 4: Master the Art of Following Up
It’s been said that success is 50% hard work and 50% follow-up. We’re here to tell you that this ratio is woefully out of balance, and that following up plays a much larger role in your ability to succeed.
Consider the fact that just 2% of sales come from your initial contact with a client. That means 98% of sales made are the result of following up. Yet, many consultants get dejected when their first outreach doesn’t strike gold. These stats tell the story:
- 3% of the market is in active buying mode at any given time
- 40% of the market is preparing to enter active buying mode
- 44% of salespeople throw in the towel after the first attempt
- 92% of salespeople give up before following up more than 5 times
Drawing upon the overall learnings of these stats, nearly half of the prospective clients you approach will be either ready or close to ready to work with a consultant. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to make a quick decision. You’ll need to maintain the relationship, which demonstrates the tenacity and patience that are so important for the best consultants.
How you follow up is entirely up to you. Emails and texts can work well, while some consultants prefer to arrange phone calls or informal meetups.
Step 5: Scour Job Boards
Create accounts on platforms such as FlexJobs and Indeed so that you can get alerts for some of the best consulting jobs to open nationwide. Many jobs posted to these boards are remote, meaning you can apply regardless of where you live.
Act quickly when you encounter an intriguing job posting. No, this doesn’t mean you should fire off your resume within the first few minutes of reading about the job. Take the time to visit the business’s website to learn more about its operations. Visit their social media channels to get a glimpse of their personality. Armed with these insights, you’ll be able to submit a customized application that highlights your ability to conduct research and use details to your advantage.
Step 6: Never Stop Building Your Skills
A consultant never arrives at a certain point where they can just coast through jobs. You should constantly be seeking new data, new insights, and new approaches. While there are some jobs in the world that value legacy skills, such as custom furniture building, consulting is a realm where you’re either evolving or you’re obsolete.
If it seems like a herculean feat to constantly be growing in your skills, remember that it actually gets easier the more you specialize. For example, if you were trying to dig a hole in the ground that was 25 feet across, you probably wouldn’t get very far. But if you focused your energy on digging a hole that was just 4 feet across, you could reach far deeper in a short period of time. Before long, you’d even hit water. And that, dear reader, is how wells are dug.
As Jesse Sumrak advises:
Don’t try to become the go-to marketing consultant for every industry and every business. Instead, become the best-of-the-best in a single, hyper-focused niche. Think about it. If you were hiring a construction company to build your home, would you hire a (a) residential, (b) commercial, (c) industrial, or (d) general construction company? You’d probably choose the residential construction company, right? That’s because they’re the professionals in the specific task you want done. You don’t care that they can build other things, too—you just want them to build your home.
If you’re not sure where to focus your efforts, talk to your mentor. You can also confer with members of your network whose opinions you value. Ask where the most promising opportunities lie and where they see your talents being put to the best use.
When the work is grueling and the results are minimal, it’s time to reassess the situation. You’re trying to dig a 25-foot-wide hole.
Your ultimate goal is to find a niche that piques your curiosity and utilizes your strengths. You’ll know you’re in the right field when you’re motivated to get out of bed in the morning and your clients consistently express admiration for your ideas.
And to help you keep those ideas fresh, we’ve prepared a collection of business courses that feature some of the brightest minds in the business world. Want to learn better negotiation skills? The incomparable Daymond John has got that covered. Need help overcoming obstacles to reach your goals? Joe De Sena’s is packed with actionable suggestions.
Take a moment now to review the courses and see which ones will provide the biggest boost to your consulting career.