Business Career Info - Becoming a Business Consultant

Name: Philip Lafeber
Job Title: Business consultant
Current Employer: Mavim
Where: Amsterdam, NH
Years of Experience: 6
Other Relevant Work Experience: ICT analysis, process consultancy
Education: University of Amsterdam, M.Sc. in Artificial Intelligence
Salary: Use the PayScale Research Center to find median salaries for business consultant careers.

Business Career Info - Becoming a Business Consultant

In this Salary Story, business consultant Philip Lafeber discusses the ins and outs of consulting careers. For anyone considering a career in this field, he provides a detailed description of his current responsibilities, offers sound advice on becoming a business consultant, and describes some of the differences between internal and external business consultant positions. For more business career info, check out the links at the bottom of the page.

PayScale: What is your business consultant job description?

Customers hire me on a daily basis to help them with becoming process-oriented organizations. They need expertise on business process management, quality management, risk management, but also simply on working with the tool that our company provides to manage and exchange information that helps employees in their work. The latter can be process documentation, definitions, function descriptions, manuals, and so on. This information is all related to the "business architecture," so an introduction in business architectures will tell you what kind of information a business needs to manage to keep all the engines running. Getting to this information is a process in itself - determining the mission and vision and strategy; setting up policies, goals and year plans; organizing workshops to determine the business processes and gathering documentation to support the execution of the actual work. We help organizations to understand this process and to facilitate this. As a consultant, I also sometimes teach the classes that our organization gives. These are all geared to understand the tool. So, every now and then my work is not at the customer site but in our training room, standing in front of a classroom full of computers and pointing at the beamer, going step by step through the buttons and functions of the application.

PayScale: What was your path toward becoming a business consultant?

I was working for Canon at the ICT department as a functional designer and programmer when I realized I wanted to do more on the business side. At that time, there was a relatively new department with process consultants supporting the managers in the organization to understand what process management is and how to document their processes. I applied and got the job of process consultant, and I could focus on process management in the ICT department because of my background and relations with the managers. We started to organize the department better based on ITIL. With an introduction and a certificate in the basics, I could distribute this knowledge through the organization and help the people into a new way of thinking.

PayScale: What do you love about your consultant career?

Now that I get to go from customer to customer, I can get to know many different organizations, their employees and their processes. I have customers in every corner of the economy - ministries, police, health care and logistics, finance, government and not-for-profit. Everywhere I go, I am asked to help with my expertise, knowledge, analytic skills and competence with ICT tools. So every day I have the opportunity to help people and make them happy with a new step toward improving their organizations. My day is made when a customer tells me that they are happy that I came, or that they value my input and effort. Particularly good service is valued and when customers report that they are happy with the high level of service, then I know that I did a good job.

PayScale: What are the biggest challenges you face as a business consultant?

There is a fine balance between knowledge and people skills that will make the ideal consultant. A consultant needs to be able to deliver added value. Particularly specialized consultants are very valuable, since they have a lot of in-depth knowledge on a certain subject. Since specialized consultants are rare, they can also be very costly. But a consultant cannot enter into a good relation with a customer, nor sustain such a relation, without good people skills. You can never know what kind of contact person you will meet, so you need to be able to work, talk and interact with everyone. Stubborn, shy, weak, arrogant, rude or slow people are not appreciated. Good listeners, cheerful minded, quick thinkers are appreciated and will be asked to return so that their business value rises.

PayScale: What advice would you give to those who are interested in consulting careers?

Although I came out of a completely different field, it is always better to enter into this field with education in business, process management, economy, logistics, ICT or finance. This will help with a foundation of knowledge. Next, consultancy skills are required. It is best to start as a junior somewhere, learning about business processes and their place in organizations. Courses, training or experience in teaching, interviewing and process modeling are good additions. There is a big difference in internal and external consultancy. Internal consultants will work for their employers, creating relations with all the important people in the organization, using their knowledge of the organization. External consultants need to have more sales related skills and field related expertise. They have more use of knowledge of ISO, BPMN and so on.

PayScale: What have been some of the most interesting moments during your business consultant career?

Very funny are the moments when a project celebrates its completion, with champagne and cake and a moment to reflect on what happened and what went wrong. That is when you can have lots of fun with colleagues and business relations. After a while, when you have long relations with certain contacts, it is nice to be able to have fun with them even outside work because you find shared interests. Also, I like being able to "broker" sometimes in vacancies because sometimes people need to leave their job and sometimes contacts report that they have a vacancy. After a number of years, you will notice that a new job will no longer be found through "anonymous" applications but through contacts asking you to come work for them.


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