Consulting is as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it: “providing professional or expert advice”. However, saying someone is a consultant is a very vague statement since there are so many areas that consultants can operate within. This article provides an introduction to consulting by briefly looking at internal vs. external consulting, as well as an overview of consulting practice areas that you can specialize in if you’re considering consulting as a career.

Internal vs. External Consultants

An internal consultant is someone that consults for an organization they are employed by. They may be specialized in a certain practice area, or they may be in charge of project-based work that spans across a number of disciplines. Internal consultants will typically experience more hands-on work since the implementation of their recommendations likely falls under their responsibilities.

An external consultant is someone that works for a consulting firm and is hired out by that consulting firm to assist clients. External consulting is often split up into larger firms, like the “Big 4” consulting firms (ex. Deloitte), and boutique consulting firms, which are smaller, more specialized firms (ex. A firm that specializes exclusively in technology consulting). If you’re an external consultant, chances are that you will eventually specialize in a practice area or industry as your consulting career progresses. External consultants, more often than not, are not as hands-on as internal consultants. Usually, they will consult on their particular practice area, however, they will not implement recommendations unless the client hires them to do so.

Choosing which consulting capacity you work in takes time and research, and the working cultures differ greatly between internal and external, and then Big 4 and boutique consulting. The best way to gather more information is through networking with career consultants, recruiters, and mentors. Use this PWB informational interview guide to help you start those conversations.

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Consulting Practice Areas

Kajol, from @Management.Consultant on YouTube and Instagram, has wonderfully split consulting specialties into these main practice areas:

1. Strategy

Strategy Consultants guide strategic choices on the firm’s goals and ambitions, where they should focus, and how they can achieve and exceed their business objectives. These consultants may specialize in a particular industry, or they can be general with transferrable skills and experience.

2. Brand

Brand development consultants focus on building brands, revitalizing brands, and improving brand performance. Areas within this practice are brand strategy, brand positioning, and client engagement with brands.

3. Proposition Design

These are your product development consultants! These professionals specialize in creating and launching new products and services for firms. You can expect lots of idea generation, design thinking, customer discovery, and prototype testing within this practice.

4. Technology

Ok, this one is my personal favourite since it’s an industry I’m wanting to break into. Technology consultants use data and technology to improve business operations models, improve business processes, and make a firm’s human workforce more efficient. If you’re looking into this line of consulting, you may find yourself on a new software implementation team, or you may find yourself adjusting existing business processes to fit the optimization capability of the firm’s technology.

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5. Digital

Digital consulting is relatively new, and it comes as a result of the evolution of the digital age. This practice area focuses on the digital needs of businesses, like shaping digital experiences, visual functional design, web development, digital marketing, and analytics.

6. Operations

Operations consultants consult on your back-of-house activities. These can include designing operating models and implementing business processes that fit the firm’s strategy in one or more of these areas:

  • Finance: These consultants optimize the finance function within a firm. For example, a finance consultant can be hired to advise a firm’s CFO on structural reform and balance sheet management, and finance processes automation.
  • Human Capital: These consultants look at how to extract the most value out of a firm’s employees. They will improve productivity and employee engagement, as well as implement organizational change management, organizational transformation, and assist in talent and leadership management.
  • Supply Chain and Distribution: These consultants dive heavily into the analytics of end-to-end supply chains and distribution networks. Projects in this area can include supply chain planning, materials sourcing, inventory modeling, logistics, and forecasting.
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After reading this, you might be thinking: “Oh my gosh… I want to get into consulting but I have no idea what practice area to start in!”. Good news, while you can be hired into a practice area when you start, you can also be hired as a general consultant which gives you the opportunity to work in many practice areas. From here, you can network within your consulting firm to get onto diverse projects that interest you; what you learn throughout your experiences will help you to adjust your career path in the direction of the practice area you’d like to consult in. Lucky for you, you have Kajol from @Management.Consultant to give you the 101 on making these kinds of consulting career decisions and more.

Collaboration Acknowledgements

Thank you to Kajol, from @Management.Consultant, for her collaboration on this PWB article. Kajol consults on strategy and digital innovation from Deloitte in London, UK. I can’t recommend a better account to follow for young women considering a career in consulting! Subscribe to her YouTube channel and follow her on Instagram.

Visit this PWB informational interview guide to learn more about how to start a career conversation with a consultant.