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What is a Senior Consultant?

A senior consultant provides expertise in a particular area to a company.
Consultants should be experienced and experts in their field.
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  • Originally Written By: Andrea Campbell
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: JD
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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A senior consultant is a business professional whose main job is to advise corporate leaders and executives about ways to improve the overall business model, client or employee relations, or other facets of day-to-day operations. Sometimes their primary goal is to troubleshoot specific problems, or they may be hired to improve efficiency and cut costs more generally. This sort of professional usually works for a business consultancy firm and often serves as a member of a larger consulting team. It’s also possible for people with a lot of experience to work on a freelance basis. The day-to-day work can vary tremendously depending on industry and the desired goals, but in most cases the job centers on helping business leaders achieve certain outcomes and providing outside, unbiased advice.

Broad Purpose and Main Goals

Business consultancy firms are relatively commonplace in most industries, and serve as a way for leaders and directors to get expert help when it comes to improving processes and streamlining methods. A senior consultant is usually someone who has expert knowledge in a specific sector, and is able to provide not just advice but also demonstrable guidance. This person will typically teach company leaders new ways to help save money, might implement new software programs, and frequently works with existing leaders and managers to both see what they’re doing and to look for ways to improve things.

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These sorts of services can be used in small businesses with just a few employees as well as in multi-national corporations with huge teams on various continents. Government agencies on all levels make use of them to provide advice, just as the private sector does. Other major clients include school and educational systems, universities, hospitals, unions, and nonprofit organizations. No matter the context, the primary areas in which consultants generally work tend to be the same, namely management, financial, scientific and technical, and professional. They might oversee a scientific program, update technical services, or provide new tools that their clients cannot get for themselves. Sometimes they’re hired when a business is expanding, merging, or shrinking, but they might also be brought on board for no other reason than to inventory how things are going and to look for ways for the company to be even more efficient.

Importance of Expertise

What a senior consultant brings to the table is expertise and a special proficiency, or knowledge, of a particular market environment. A consultant with the “senior” ranking has usually spent a lot of time working within a particular industry to the point where he or she knows the ins and outs very well, and his or her expertise is usually considered really valuable to people who either can’t see the “bigger picture” or don’t have the time or resources to make overarching judgments about how the business is running.

Hierarchical Position

Most consultancy firms have several different ranks of employees. Analysts and associates usually fill out the entry-level roles, while people at the senior level are usually near the top. Seniors have typically been promoted from a lower consultant position after having demonstrated creativity and success with their casework. Seniors may be junior to executive consultants and principals, but in most cases they have the more knowledge and experience than anyone else in the firm.

The chief difference between principals and seniors is usually that seniors allot more time to actual casework while spending fewer hours on managing client relations. The principal or executive in the firm is usually more of a manager and holds a higher oversight position. He or she is also typically in charge of making assignments and tasking individual consultants with specific projects.

Workload and Schedule

Senior consultants who are on staff with consultancy firms typically work full time, and often put in a lot of hours each week — but the nature of their projects often shifts around with some frequency. Some projects might take a year or more, but on average jobs are much shorter. Consultants often enter a business, meet with its leaders, observe and study its processes, then make recommendations within a relatively short amount of time. They’re usually paid by their firm, not by the company directly.

People who have a lot of experience consulting sometimes decide to work for themselves, usually on a freelance basis. These people have a lot more control when it comes to choosing jobs and setting their own hours, but they also bear responsibility for marketing themselves and making sure that they have projects from which to choose. Companies sometimes prefer to hire freelancers since these professionals usually cost less; without the backing and resources of a firm, though, they may also be able to produce less. A lot depends on the specific circumstances.

Getting Started in the Field

People who want to enter this field usually need to start by getting a university education. An undergraduate degree is often a requirement, and many of the top performers also have graduate-level credentials. Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) degrees are often essential, though graduate coursework in a relevant field can sometimes be substituted.

It’s relatively rare for a person to jump into the senior role directly after school. Most of the time, people need to be prepared to spend several years in a more junior role in order to build up experience and contacts. Many firms promote top performers to senior levels, and it’s also usually possible to laterally transfer to a different firm once some experience has been gained.

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Discuss this Article

anon954811
Post 3

In our organization, a senior consultant has grey hair.

triglyc
Post 2

That is interesting, because we have taken the exact opposite approach. When searching for candidate for our senior level IT consulting jobs and management consulting jobs we favor the interpersonal skills and communication skills. Our senior consultants need to be generally versed in their fields but do not need detailed knowledge of the latest technology or trends. We want our senior consultants to see the bigger picture and motivate the people reporting to them to push the technology envelope.

jessicalab
Post 1

We use more and more consultants and rely on fewer full time managers these days, often because it is easier to terminate a contracting consultant than it is to terminate a full time manager. Yet it is getting tough find true Senior Consultants and Senior Analysts. Becoming a senior consultant is often as simple as declaring yourself one. Also, businesses tend to hand out titles to people that they might not deserve, so a previous job title might not mean much. Too many people know the business buzz words but do not really know their business. Our interview process has become very technical, as a result. A candidate’s technical prowess is now more important than their communication or interpersonal skills. This, of course, causes its own problems.

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