An advisor typically works with the clients on a long-term basis, providing advice for ongoing business challenges. A consultant, on the other hand, solves strictly defined, granular problems – they work on a project basis, each lasting 2-3 months. Generally, consultants are more well-paid with faster career development, but work more hours than advisors.
Both advisors and consultants possess deep professional knowledge and provide organizational strategies to help tackle business problems faced by the clients. However, the kind of problems they deal with do differ.
An advisor typically works with the clients on a long-term basis, providing advice for ongoing, broader business challenges to help companies achieve their overall strategic goals. In general, an advisor is deeply involved in the business’s long-term success, he/she helps the clients identify the problems, and offers a suggestion based on his/her professional expertise or experience. It is important to know that advisors do not decide or implement the tasks for their clients.
A consultant, on the other hand, solves strictly defined, granular problems. Consultants offer strategies for specific issues, and sometimes even help their clients implement such strategies. Consulting work is usually on a short-term basis, with a duration of 2-3 months. Consultants are not involved in the overall operations of their clients.
Both careers are quite open, however, the consulting industry is slightly more welcoming to non-business and non-finance backgrounds.
The great news is you don’t need to be a business student to apply for consulting or advisory. Both fields are open to candidates coming from all backgrounds. However, when you officially enter the field, consultants have slightly more advantages than advisors when it comes to moving up the career ladder.
Advisors are often pressured by having to achieve certain industry certifications on their own to get promoted. The needed certification depends on the specialty you are involved in, some examples are Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) for IT Advisory, Certified Public Accountant (CPA) for financial-related roles. Consultants, on the other hand, tend to study for the more generalist MBAs.
Regarding the compensation, consultants typically earn around 20% more than advisory. An entry-level advisor at Big 4 firms has an annual salary of $69,000 on average. Meanwhile, first-year consultants at MBBs are paid around $80,000-90,000/year (MBB consultants have much higher perks and bonuses than their Big 4 counterparts). The gap widens with seniority.
Salary of Consultants and Advisors in the Big 4 firms (US – 2019)
Source: Management Consulted
Consulting is one of the highest-paying jobs. If you’re interested in finding out more about consulting’s salary, I’ve written a comprehensive article on that. Check it out by clicking here.
As a consultant, you will normally work whatever hours needed to finish the jobs on time. It usually takes up on average 60-70 hours a week, and you sometimes have to work on weekends. Although it depends largely on the client, the project, and your position, the work-life balance is quite intense.
Working in advisory, you normally have more easy-to-breathe working hours, with 50-60 hours per week. Advisors do not have a busy season, and the hour is flexible, depending largely on the clients.
Both consulting and advisory require you to travel to the clients’ bases, either in your homeland or overseas. Generally, advisors have less business traveling than consultants in the long-term, considering both the frequency and locations. In terms of flexibility, consultants are able to convince the EM to let them join the project with their desired location after a few projects.
In terms of exit, generally consultants have it better than advisors.
Both fields are great springboards to get into other professions since they require consultants and advisors with deep expertise, highly differentiated skill sets and offer them many chances to widen the networks with top executives.
However, because consultants tend to work on higher-level problems and their work varies more widely in terms of industry and function, they have more flexibility and can access higher-level exit opportunities (such as C-level management on the client-side).
For an advisor, some common exit options are:
- Specialized fields: finance, law, legal
- Corporate Management
- Freelance advisors
I’ve written an article about consulting exit opportunities, here are five options summarized from that article:
- Corporate Management
- Finance and Banking
- Nonprofits and NGOs
- Public sector
#1. People skill
Mastery in working with people is important for both an advisor and a consultant. Without such skill, you can never get far in your career.
As an advisor, you mostly interact with the client in a one-on-one relationship. Such closeness boils down to the ability to build trust and understand the client’s needs. A successful advisor does not simply give advice to their clients, but help the clients believe that you are a trustable referral source.
On the other hand, consulting work requires you to interact with many types of people in different circumstances, so proficiency in people skills/communication skills are also a must. You need to convince clients to work with you, navigate the conversation between different stakeholders in the right direction, especially in a complicated political scenario, communicate with people both directly and virtually, etc.
#2. Business acumen
As mentioned, consulting and advisory have to tackle business problems and provide organizational strategies for clients to overcome the issues. The nature of the jobs demands a great deal of business knowledge. To be successful in either consulting or advisory, you need to enhance the business acumen, develop a commercial mindset and think more strategically.
#3. Analytical skill
Both consultants and advisors have to excel at analytics – but the analytics consultants do are more widely applicable elsewhere.
For consultants, to solve a difficult business problem, analytics skills are a must. The ability to draw an issue tree and isolate the root cause requires the master of analytical quality. The hypothesis-driven approach of consultants is a tried-and-true, highly efficient and effective method of problem-solving that makes them successful in many fields after exiting.
Advisors also need analytical skills to bring the most value to their clients. For example, financial advisors need the ability to read data, analyze data to recognize trends, and anticipate the market so they can provide the most useful information for the clients.
In terms of broadness, consultants have a much wider network than advisors. On a daily basis, they interact with not only C-level executives but also staff with different positions, departments, and even other countries. Such diverse exposure offers many chances to build relationships with people from all backgrounds that can enhance their career life even after they leave consulting.
In terms of closeness, advisory offers the opportunities to form much deeper relationships. Advisors work very closely with the clients for a long period; hence, it is undoubtedly the bond between advisor and clients is strong.
With that said, the actual key to good networking is your own proactivity. Networking is important regardless of your profession. If you are a good networker, you can leverage your brand name to meet pretty much anyone you want to meet.