Combining IT and business knowledge, the world of IT consultancy demands a broad range of skills

An IT consultant works in partnership with clients, advising them how to use information technology in order to meet their business objectives or overcome problems. They work to improve the structure and efficiency of IT systems in various organisations.

IT consultants may be used to provide strategic guidance to clients with regard to technology, IT infrastructures and enabling major business processes through enhancements to IT.

They can also be used to provide guidance during selection and procurement as well as providing expert technical assistance, and may be responsible for user training and feedback. IT consultants may also be involved in sales and business development, as well as technical duties.

Responsibilities

Your duties as an IT consultant will vary depending on the nature of the project, but may include:

  • meeting with clients to determine requirements;
  • working with clients to define the scope of a project;
  • planning timescales and the resources needed;
  • clarifying a client's system specifications, understanding their work practices and the nature of their business;
  • travelling to customer sites;
  • liaising with staff at all levels of a client organisation;
  • defining software, hardware and network requirements;
  • analysing IT requirements within companies and giving independent and objective advice on the use of IT;
  • developing agreed solutions and implementing new systems;
  • presenting solutions in written or oral reports;
  • helping clients with change-management activities;
  • purchasing systems where appropriate;
  • designing, testing, installing and monitoring new systems;
  • preparing documentation and presenting progress reports to customers;
  • organising training for users and other consultants;
  • being involved in sales and support, and where appropriate, maintaining contact with client organisations;
  • identifying potential clients and building and maintaining contacts.

Salary

  • Graduate IT consultants can expect to earn £20,000 to £30,000 with some previous experience.
  • With more significant experience, you can earn in the region of £32,000 to £40,000.
  • At a more senior level, if you've developed a specialist area, salaries can range from £40,000 to £80,000. The exact salary depends on the demand for your specific expertise.

Salary is dependent on location, size and type of employer and is usually performance-related. Contract work is possible and daily rates range from £150 to £550+ a day, depending on your experience and your area of expertise.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Although the hours worked are generally 9am to 5pm, the nature of the industry means that extra hours are often required to meet deadlines. You'll also spend a lot of time travelling to client sites, mirroring the client's working hours.

Part-time work is unlikely, but career breaks are possible as work is project-based. While many IT professionals are independent contractors, it's best to gain some experience and contacts in the industry by working for an employer before going down this route.

Self-employment is possible, where you can manage your own workload and hours.

What to expect

  • The job is mostly office-based, working as a member of a project team. You'll often be based on clients' premises.
  • There are more men than women working in the industry. However various groups exist to support women in IT and technology, to encourage them into the industry and list available jobs, such as BCSWomen and Women in Technology.
  • Jobs are available in many large towns and cities in the UK, with client sites located throughout the country, but most employers are based in London and the South East.
  • The dress code is formal for visiting clients and meetings, but is otherwise relaxed.
  • The work may be stressful and fast-paced, particularly when client deadlines need to be met.
  • Travel within the working day to clients' sites is often needed, and overnight absence from home is frequently required. Overseas travel may occasionally be necessary depending on the employer and client.

Qualifications

You can enter IT consultancy work with any degree, but in particular the following subjects may be useful:

  • business studies;
  • computer science/software engineering;
  • electrical/electronic engineering;
  • information systems;
  • mathematics;
  • other science/engineering disciplines.

If you have an unrelated degree you might need to show your interest in, and knowledge of, information technology. A 2:1 degree, previous work experience and a genuine interest in IT and consulting increases your chances of securing work.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification, for example, an MSc in IT, is not required, but shows evidence of your interest and competence, particularly if your first degree is not in a related subject. Tech Partnership, with the help of some of the biggest employers, have designed the IT Management for Business (ITMB) degree. It aims to give students the valuable skills needed for the IT and business industry and provides networking events with over 80 industry employers.

Search for other postgraduate courses in computer science and IT.

Skills

If you want to enter IT consultancy work, you need to show:

  • leadership ability;
  • communication and interpersonal skills;
  • teamwork skills;
  • a logical approach to problem solving/analytical skills;
  • the ability to learn quickly;
  • confident decision making;
  • presentation skills;
  • excellent customer service skills;
  • good organisational skills to prioritise heavy workloads;
  • the ability to communicate technical information to non-IT clients and colleagues;
  • flexibility and adaptability;
  • time management skills.

Work experience

If you find IT-related vacation work or an industrial placement or internship it may lead directly to graduate employment. As a first and second year undergraduate, you can apply for internships in the industry. Work experience gained in a commercial environment helps demonstrate your commercial awareness, client management skills and ability to understand and communicate the business benefits of IT.

Competition for vacancies is fierce, so it's a good idea to start making applications for jobs to larger firms in the autumn term of your final year. Graduate places fill quickly and competition gets stronger as time passes.

Employers

IT Consultants are usually highly experienced IT professionals, but some employing organisations recruit people as junior consultants to be trained in specific technical and business skills.

Consultants find work in firms of management consultants, software and systems houses, and some large manufacturers of computing equipment or software and work in a range of sectors, including:

  • manufacturing;
  • financial services;
  • the public sector;
  • health;
  • transport.

Clients are wide-ranging and include automotive firms, global investment banks and utility companies. The growth in e-services within the public sector has created an increase in consultancy projects linked to central and local government departments.

Some IT companies specialise in one area, such as web design and internet solutions, or produce software tailored to a particular market. The consultants they employ will have specialist knowledge and experience in that area or about specific products and client sectors.

IT companies range in size from industry giants to companies employing fewer than five people. There are many big graduate recruiters who take on recent graduates into consultancy roles.

Globalisation, outsourcing and cloud computing have been key trends in recent years. The rise in social computing has also created new opportunities for using technology to form and extend community networks. Clients are also seeking environmental innovation in products and services.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies commonly handle vacancies. For companies who employ consultants, see Management Consultancies Association (MCA).

Contracting is an option for experienced IT consultants and most job sites deal with contract roles. Also search specialist sites like Contractor UK and Freelancers.net for leads.

Professional development

On-the-job training and in-house courses are usually combined to develop technical and business skills.

Organisations may offer training in a variety of programming languages and the principles of systems analysis, as well as project management and specific business software. They may also provide courses to develop personal skills that enhance client interaction, such as communication, leadership, conflict resolution, and sales and presentation skills.

Formal training is more likely in larger companies than in small ones, where on-the-job training may be more typical.

Many large companies run mentoring schemes and tailor training opportunities to individual members of staff and the projects they're working on. Such schemes ensure that new members of staff are exposed to a variety of working environments and systems.

Professional qualifications, like those offered by the BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT), provide a framework for professional standards and a platform for the recognition of new skills. The BCS also helps by providing information and guidance to assist members to develop their expertise and recognise and plan their learning needs.

Further information on professional development in the IT industry is available from the Tech Partnership.

Career prospects

As an IT consultant, your immediate prospects depend on the size and type of the organisation you work for. Movement between employers is common.

Most large consultancies have an established career structure for their staff, with frequent appraisals and an emphasis on individuals managing their own career. Typically you might move from the daily responsibility of a project to a more strategic role with team leadership and responsibility.

The IT industry is so diverse and IT consultants perform such a variety of tasks that your career can develop into a number of different industries and sectors.

Once you gain generalist experience, you may want to work as a senior consultant or specialise in a sector or a program such as SAP or Oracle.

You may also take on greater responsibilities in another part of an organisation, such as:

  • training and recruitment;
  • project management;
  • sales;
  • account management.

Other possible progression routes includes the development of specific technical expertise, possibly leading to contributing at national and international technical conferences. Some consultants go on to become IT specialists at partner level or IT architects.

You may move in a more strategic business direction, either within the company or with a management consultancy firm. Once you have a significant amount of experience, you may choose to work as a self-employed contractor.