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Five types of consulting - which is best for you?

Brianne Turk

Careers Commentator
Consultants can be found in almost every industry. They are hired by law firms, retail businesses, government organisations and mining companies, to name a few. They do everything from evaluating customer satisfaction through to protecting computer systems from hackers.

The diversity of roles within the consulting profession offer fantastic opportunities for individuals to specialise in areas that appeal to them.    

Typically, consulting roles can fit into one of five main categories: strategy consulting, operations consulting, financial consulting, information technology consulting and human resources consulting.

To help you get a sense of which types of consulting you are most interested in, we outline these five categories below.

Strategy consulting

Strategy consultants focus on and assist with the long-term vision of a company. Their goal is to see the bigger picture, and to identify ways in which to increase the company's overall profitability and competitiveness. They form strategies to reach long-term goals and oversee the implementation of these, ensuring they are cost effective and bring in results (profit).

Firms that are best known for pure strategy services are McKinsey, Bain and Boston Consulting Group (BCG).   

Example: The client is a top clothing retailer who specialises in adult sleep and fitness wear. As they notice their competitive edge slipping, they seek the expertise of a strategy consultant. The consultant identifies a major point of difference between the client and its competition: the client provides sleep and fitness wear to the highly profitable youth segment that is under served by competitors. The consultant develops a strategy to expand the retailer’s products in this segment.

Operations consulting

Operations consultants look at the systems that clients use to reach their goals and work to enhance their efficiency. They assess all levels of operations including production, sales, distribution and customer service. They are interested in how processes can be refined in terms of costs, time, staff involved and steps required, to best meet targets.

Strategy consulting and operations consulting are closely linked. Strategy consultants focus on long term goals whereas operations consultants evaluate the behind-the-scenes structures that enable fulfilment of these goals. Many leading firms offer both of these services.  

Partners in Performance (PIP) and the ‘Big 4’ advisory firms have a strong presence in operations consultancy.

Example: Using the same client as above, an operations consultant might work with the retail client to improve their production costs, which ultimately allows the client to sell products at a cheaper rate, making them more competitive.

Financial consulting

Financial consultants assess a client’s financial position in order to put forward a plan on how to better manage the finances of the business. This may involve providing information and advice on investment strategies, tax issues and how to manage the everyday expenses of the business. Financial consulting also covers insurance advice and saving strategies.  

Oliver Wyman are well known for their financial consulting services, although they do offer services in other areas too. This type of consulting could be the perfect match for those of you with a finance, economics or business degree under your belt.

Example: The retail client has now expanded globally. They seek the advice of a financial consultant to better understand the international market and provide advice on tax laws they need to be aware of.

Information technology consulting (IT consulting)

A consultant in this area provides advice on how to best use technology to enhance a client’s business. This could involve designing unique software for a company, assisting a firm-wide transition from PC’s to Macs, or testing the efficiency of current devices and programs within the business.

Consulting work in this area is called many things: tech consulting, IT advisory, business technology services or IT consulting. With hacking highly prevalent in current times, IT consultants are increasingly being called upon to ensure there are no security breaches and sensitive information is kept confidential.

Prominent firms in this space are Accenture, Capgemini and IR.

Example: The retail client has now decided to launch their own app for retail staff to manage sales on the shop floor. They utilise IT consultants to oversee the app’s development, troubleshoot any issues and train staff in the use of the new system.   

Human resources consulting (HR consulting)

Human resources consultants handle matters concerning a firm’s employees. They deal with the people side of business!

They work with clients in the recruitment and transition phases to place the best people in the correct roles. They research and implement well-being systems, attend to communication issues and handle remuneration and change management. They're expected to become experts in a company's culture, and therefore have the capacity to consult on whether two companies could successfully merge without a clash of ethos. HR consultancy firms also manage outsourcing.

You may have heard of Randstad or ManpowerGroup? These are big names in HR consulting.

Example: The retail client has decided to open specialised stores that only sell sleep and active wear for youth. They seek the expertise of a HR consulting firm to restructure the business and build a management team who are suited to working in the new market.

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So what now?

As you will have noticed, each type of consulting lends itself to specific skills and qualities. Perhaps your knowledge of computer systems and coding puts you in a great position for IT consulting, or your knack for dealing with all kinds of people has you gravitating towards a role in HR consulting. Wherever your interests lie, be sure to think about what you enjoy as well as what skills you possess.

Once you figure out what types of consulting interest you, it’s time to consider a whole range of factors that will impact your employment satisfaction, such as the ways in which consulting firms are structured.