Career

What is a consultant?

A consultant is an person who provides professional or expert advice in a particular field of science or business to either an organisation or individual. As there is no legal protection given to the job title 'consultant', in theory, anyone can on a day wake up and decide to adopt the consultant title. Despite the broad definition that can be subsumed under the term consultant, there are in essence three characteristics that distinguish a consultant from other professions.

Firstly, a consultant provides expertise that a client lacks or support that a client is unable to fulfill. In return for their professional services, the consultant charges a fee. Secondly, a consultant operates independently from the client, implying that, from the respective consultant, there is no conflict of interests between the client's issue and the services. Thirdly, a consultant operates in a professional manner, which ranges from having the right qualifications to ensuring high quality service delivery and a solid internal operation.

Why do clients hire consultants?
One of the defining features of a consultant suggests that clients hire consultants because they possess a knowledge advantage. In the overlarge majority of cases this is the main reason; a client hires a consulting firm to provide expert advice that ultimately (should) lead to the resolution of an issue within the client's organisation. There are however more reasons why consultants are hired:

• consultants are independent and provide an objective view on dilemma's and solutions
• external consultants are less susceptible to internal politics and/or sensitive situations
• hiring consultants may in certain areas be cheaper than retaining the expertise in-house
• when firms find themselves short in capacity for projects/positions consultants can backfill
• consultants can easier do the 'dirty work', i.e. take the decisions no one internally wants to make

Where do consultants work?
Consultants can work at a consultancy firm, operate as independent consultant (freelance), or else work as consultant within the company they work for (‘internal consultant’). According to statistics from the ONS, the UK has around 300,000 consultants, of which around 63,000 professionals work as management consultants. Accurate data on the number of internal consultants in the UK is not available.