Information Technology

Becoming an IT Consultant: Training and Careers

Becoming an IT Consultant: Training and Careers
Many IT consultants opt to work for a consulting firm, which provides access to bigger and better opportunities. Image from Unsplash
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Mary Kearl December 31, 2019

IT consultants use technology to help companies make better business decisions. If you boast that winning combo of people skills and a tech-savvy, strategic mind, IT consulting could be your optimal career.

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Digital disruption—when new technology impacts the way companies do business—is changing the face of modern business. Are businesses ready for a makeover?

Not entirely. According to the Brookings Institution, currently less than half of all companies (44 percent) have recognized and responded adequately to the disruption. The remaining 56 percent should probably hasten to one of the nearly 2.4 million IT (information technology) consultants working to help smart businesses avoid obsolescence. These professionals work with clients, evaluating their technology to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

For those with both people and technical skills—plus the drive to continue their education and earn advanced certifications—information technology consulting offers a raft of opportunities. From 2014 to 2019, the profession grew at an annual rate of over 4 percent; that projects to nearly 100,000 new jobs in 2020.

You could become an IT consultant and hold one of those jobs; this article explains how, covering:

  • Steps for becoming an IT consultant
  • Best degree path to becoming an IT consultant
  • Skills and attributes you need to be an IT consultant
  • Salary and career outlook for IT consultants

Steps for becoming an IT consultant

Most IT management professionals start with a bachelor’s degree, followed by an entry-level position as an IT consultant. For those who are driven to obtain better positions, it may be worth earning some certificates, or even completing a master’s degree program after a few years.

Once you’ve found your inroad to the profession, it’s time to climb the ladder. If you decide to work as an independent contractor, congratulations! You have reached the top. Unfortunately, that ladder only has one rung. That’s why many IT consultants opt to work for a consulting firm, which provides access to bigger and better opportunities (or if you prefer, more rungs). It can take more than ten years to make partner at a consulting firm, which many IT consultants consider the pinnacle of the profession. Reaching the top requires connections and networking skills, as well as technical know-how.

What makes a good IT consultant?

A good IT consultant conveys their skills and knowledge effectively. Make your résumé stand out by demonstrating your strengths in one or all three of the following IT consulting areas:

  • Industry experience:Build niche expertise in a sector like finance or healthcare and apply for jobs in those industries.
  • Technology experience:Market yourself to potential employers with up-to-the-moment knowledge of the latest in analytics, networks, or whatever is your area of specialty.
  • Specific applications experience: Becoming an expert with SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, or another vendor will help make you appealing to any employer who uses the same platform.

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Best degree path to becoming an IT consultant

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most employers require IT professionals to have at least a bachelor’s degree.

The two most common undergraduate degrees among IT employees are:

These degree programs share overlapping coursework, including computer programming, software development, and math.

A graduate degree (such as a master’s degree) may not be necessary, but it can certainly help, particularly when you’re vying for a promotion at a competitive firm.

According to the BLS, the three most popular master’s programs among IT managers are:

What can strengthen your application for an IT consultancy program?

IT consultants are employed at many of the country’s top consulting firms, such as:

If you are interested in working for one of the best firms, it is crucial to get in the door as early as possible. Internships for students (both undergrad and graduate) can be beneficial and are therefore very competitive. In an interview with Cosmopolitan, Tina Gao of Boston Consulting Group says the company has “a presence at many of the top universities across the U.S.” Doing well in college and showcasing your skills can help you land an internship, which can turn into a job.

Gao says the company also recruits through:

  • Clients and competitors
  • LinkedIn
  • Referrals

Strong networking skills and a great internet presence will boost your chances of being seen as an ideal candidate, whether that’s working for a large firm or working as an independent consultant. Keys to independent consulting success include utilizing your connections as well as a strong dedication to budgeting and money management.

Skills and attributes you need to be an IT consultant

The following skill set is common among IT consultants, according to Payscale:

  • Project management: Organizing and running a team to meet goals
  • Business analysis: Data-driven insights that help companies succeed and grow
  • Java: A multi-use programming language
  • C#: Another multi-use programming language
  • SQL: A programming language for managing data

Not all of these skills will boost your salary, but they do make you more versatile. In addition to being fluent in a variety of programming languages and business practices, soft skills like communication and creativity are important for IT success. There is no use in having technical know-how if you can’t put it to use effectively.

What certifications make IT consultant hires more competitive?

No one certification outshines another for an IT consultant job seeker, however, obtaining certifications helps. There are some certifications that can lead to a higher salary. They include:

  • Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT): This certification lets employers know you understand enterprise-level IT governance. To get it, you’ll need five or more years of experience in a supervisory position for a large-scale company. CGEIT-certified consultants earn an average of $121,363.
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate: Since AWS is the top cloud platform, this certification can go a long way. You’ll need one year of experience designing systems on AWS, plus knowledge of at least one programming language to earn the certification. AWS-certified consultants earn an average of $121,292.
  • Project Management Professional (PMP): This certification requires at least three years of experience, a four-year degree, and 4,500 hours of leading projects. PMPs demonstrate excellent management skills; the average credential-holder earns $114,475.

Salary and career outlook for IT consultants

Where are the most jobs for IT consultants?

Forbes has ranked America’s Best Management Consulting Firms to work for, broken down by industry:

The top five companies in the areas of IT, technology, and telecommunications:

  • Accenture
  • IBM
  • Microsoft
  • Booz Allen Hamilton
  • Boston Consulting Group

The top five companies in IT implementation:

  • Accenture
  • Cisco Systems
  • IBM
  • Microsoft
  • Deloitte

The top five companies in IT strategy:

  • Accenture
  • Cisco Systems
  • IBM
  • Bain & Co
  • Boston Consulting Group

What is the average salary range of an IT consultant?

Payscale reports that entry-level IT consultants can expect to earn salaries of about $61,000. IT consultants with 20 or more years of experience can expect to earn $109,000 in salary. Consultants typically receive other forms of compensation, which can include bonuses (average: $5,040), commissions (average: $20,000), and profit-sharing arrangements (average: $3,007). Consultants working in New York City may make up to 11 percent more than average. Those in D.C. may make up to 8 percent more. Professionals in Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston, also typically earn above-average incomes.

IT consultants don’t make as much as management consultants, on average, but they certainly do well for themselves. If you are a senior partner at a top consulting company, your salary will probably be in the millions.

What is the typical career path of an IT consultant?

From big firms, like those mentioned above, to smaller shops, there are plenty of career opportunities.

Boston Consulting Group shares how a typical career path may look for consultants joining its workforce within the IT track:

  • Entry level: IT consultant and senior IT consultant: You’ll learn IT organization and process analysis, IT planning, and IT project management, graduating to quality assurance, organizational development, and leadership building.
  • Mid-level: Manager and senior manager: You’ll start developing strategies, offering client support, and leading multiple teams.
  • Executive level: Associate director and managing director: Here, the goal is bringing in more business for the company, while building and sustaining client relationships.

After spending years in the corporate world, you may be ready to become your own boss as an independent consultant. This involves:

  • Keeping your skills sharp
  • Paying for the costs of your business yourself
  • Potentially logging longer hours
  • Paying for your taxes and healthcare
  • Having more flexibility around when and how you work

Maybe you were born to be your own boss with your own consulting business, or perhaps you’re meant to climb the corporate ladder on the IT team to eventual career fulfillment in the C-suite. Either way, a significant perk of IT consulting is there is no one clear path. If you have a masterful strategic mind when it comes to technology, becoming an IT consultant offers a great career option for you with a flexible path to fulfillment.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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