When Contemplating Future Careers, Think About Working as a Consultant

By Robert Half June 5, 2019 at 5:26pm

Working as a consultant is already a career path of choice for many experienced accounting and finance professionals seeking diverse and challenging assignments, competitive compensation, and better work-life balance. And with businesses increasingly turning to interim staffing solutions to tap highly skilled talent, many consultants find they have access to an array of opportunities that not only make the best use of their current abilities but also allow them to keep growing professionally.

Now, a new report from Robert Half, Jobs and AI Anxiety, suggests that the future also looks bright for working as a consultant. The report notes that workers in the “gig economy” — which is sometimes referred to as the human cloud — and companies pursuing digital transformation were made for each other in many ways.

Many businesses are already staffing their digital initiatives with contract and interim professionals not just because they need to tap specialized skills, but also, because they may only need those skills for the duration of the project. And the Jobs and AI Anxiety report suggests that companies will increasingly outsource sophisticated, knowledge-based work for major, complex projects, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) upgrades or other business and financial systems implementations.

A related trend, the rise of a new labor model, is one reason that future careers in consulting look promising. This model, which includes a managed services approach, draws on full-time employees, external consultants and interim professionals. Technology helps to enable this model, according to the Jobs and AI Anxiety report, because it makes working with external resources and remote teams easier for companies. The report also explains that many employers like to work with the same consultants regularly because these professionals develop a deeper knowledge of the organization’s strategies, risks and opportunities with every engagement.

Learn more about the new labor model for finance in this post.

Consultants can help other workers prepare for future careers

You don’t need to wait for the future to start working as a consultant, of course. If you’re in a career transition, looking to refine or expand your skills, or simply feel you’ve learned all you can in your current position, this might be a good time to think about consulting work.

As explained above, many businesses are already relying heavily on consultants to staff key initiatives. But interestingly, many are also looking for these professionals to help their current teams prepare for the future of work.

Research conducted for the Jobs and AI Anxiety report found that nearly half (45%) of U.S. managers expect to bring in consultants who are subject matter experts to help their workforce upgrade their technological skills. The managers interviewed for our survey also named “knowledge transfer from consultants or other external subject matter experts” as one of the top five methods for helping their employees to learn about new technologies.

Working as a consultant: directions you might take

If you believe that a consulting career might be right for you, you’ll also need to decide which type of consulting is right for you. Here’s a look at some common consulting arrangements:

Interim management — Consultants are brought in to assist companies in transition by serving in key management roles, such as chief financial officer (CFO) or controller.

Project management — These types of consultants have the expertise and experience to support projects with defined deliverables and timelines, such as the implementation of an ERP system or preparation for an initial public offering.

Staff augmentation — When workloads spike, companies enlist the help of consultants to ease the strain on core staff without having to add to their full-time headcount.

And again, as explained earlier, many companies are now also engaging consultants through managed business services arrangements.

What types of skills and certifications do you need to become a financial consultant, accounting consultant or business systems consultant? See this post for details.

Why many professionals aim for future careers in consulting

One of the top benefits of working as a consultant is the ability to set your own work hours and schedule. You could work part-time or full-time or even work on two or more engagements at the same time. Also, you have the freedom to move from challenge to challenge and work on projects, at companies, and with people you find interesting. But those aren’t the only benefits. You can also:

Earn attractive compensation — The best staffing firms can find you engagements with attractive pay, and you also can receive benefits from some firms. To get a sense of how your skills and experience are valued in the current marketplace, take a look at Robert Half’s latest Salary Guide for accounting and finance.

Expand your skill sets — Working as a consultant allows you to grow your professional experience, in part, because every engagement requires you to adapt to a new work environment and different business processes and systems. If you work with a larger staffing and consulting firm, you might also be able to access online training and certification programs.

Discover other future careers — Consulting jobs expose you to different projects, business challenges and industries, and that may lead to you discovering a new full-time career path. Consulting can also be a bridge to retirement for senior accounting and finance professionals who aren’t quite ready to leave the work world behind.

So, when contemplating future careers, don’t overlook working as a consultant. Demand is strong for experienced professionals who can provide support and expertise on an interim and project basis. Half of CFOs in separate research from Robert Half Management Resources said their firm would likely bring in financial consultants for business systems initiatives in the coming months, and nearly four in 10 expect to work with these professionals for finance and accounting needs.

If consulting interests you, consider reaching out to a staffing firm that specializes in placing senior and midlevel accounting and finance professionals to find out more about this opportunity. You want to be sure to work with a specialist who understands your expertise, takes the time to understand your interests and goals, and will work to identify the right engagements for you.

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