What complicates this post is there are at least three types of consulting positions…so I’ll deal with jobs first.  For a job, meaning a permanent position in a company that will offer promotion over time, employers want competence in the specific position initially, but also want someone who can grow in the organization, take on more responsibility, and generally do more for the organization over time.  This is true even for pretty senior positions, I think, but particularly true for entry level or early career positions.  So, you need to show that in your resume (and cover letter).

Consulting can be a whole other kettle of fish.   In the first type, working as a consultant in a consulting firm (non-profit, international, business consulting, technical consulting, whatever), you are really applying for a job.  The organization needs to have you work for clients -  so you must have certain talents, but they also expect to provide some training and expect you to move ahead, leading teams, leading projects, and eventually bringing in clients and work yourself.  Your resume for this type has to show strong substantive competence, but needs to show more.

The second type is as an independent consultant on a long-term project.  This is often found in international development work as teams of ‘consultants’ (I would refer to them as technical assistance providers, but many call them consultants) are posted overseas on a project.  To get the project, the firm bidding has to present a team that clearly meets the job requirements defined by the funder, so if you are applying to the firm to be included, they really need to see a very focused resume showing you not only can do tasks x, y, and z, but have actually done them successfully in the past.  That is necessary.  However, the firm - if they are any good - also realize that things change on a long-term project: task requirements change over time meaning you want people with flexible skills; people leave and may need to be replaced and moving someone up within the team can have advantages; the personal attributes that make for a successful PCV are important over time, even if they don’t make up for hard skills in getting the work.  (I find it depressing that funders seem to evaluate teams presented to them on such narrow, narrow grounds, but that’s another story).  Anyway, for this type of position, be clear about your substantive abilities (and if you don’t have them, don’t apply), but also present your other, softer skills, since the best employers in these fields will value them.

The third type of consulting position is a short-term, we-need-someone-to-fix-something job.  Think of a plumber.  Not too many folks want a plumber who is learning on the job.  If you are this kind of consultant - doing short-term jobs for, hopefully, big bucks - or want to be, your resume has to really be a presentation of work done, results accomplished, and references.

Upcoming posts:

  • How much education should you include?
  • Applying to US employers versus overseas employers.