[Thanks to NE for sharing his informational interview report on how to become a consultant in the area of accounting and finance and related career information.]
I conducted an informational interview with a friend who is a consultant working primarily in accounting and finance. I wanted to interview her because consulting may be an alternative career path for me instead of the corporate ladder route. I came across this person through a friend of my wife’s who we met at a family picnic. I asked her what she does for a living and she said she does consulting. I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn more about this type of work! I asked her if she could provide me some guidance in her line of work as I am interested in that type of work and she was happy to do so.
Interview Q & A
1. What is your job title and what is the name of the company/organization?
I am a contract accounting consultant for small to large information technology companies.
2. What are your responsibilities?
Anything a company wants me to do! Primarily controller-based activities including managing the financial close activities, providing guidance to staff accountants, to making decisions on accounting guidelines.
3. How long have you been doing this job?
I’ve been at my current opportunity for 2 years. The company enjoys my personality and work plus they have the flexibility to reduce my hours if needed.
4. Briefly, can you let me know how you got to where you are today?
I obtained this position as I used to work here full-time and decided to go part-time on my own. It was a risky position to do so, but the company was laying off and I thought it was a good opportunity to consult rather than get laid off and start somewhere new.
5. What is a typical day like?
A typical day consists of checking in with the boss to update him on the status of any projects and if there’s any work to be done. The next step is checking emails to respond appropriately and list down additional assignments. The rest of the day is spent working on assignments which can range from financial analysis, going to meetings, managing staff accountants, and writing narratives for processes. It takes a broad range of managerial and strategic skills to balance out the various tasks and delegate appropriately.
6. What skills are required for your job?
Necessary skills include being good with numbers, being analytical, having good interpersonal skills, and managing people.
7. What activities do you enjoy doing the most? What are 3 things that you enjoy most about working at your company/organization?
The first thing is the various assignments that I get to work with. There are many small and large projects to work on that it helps me keep my skill set current. The next thing I enjoy is working with different people. This expands my network and also provides me with varying personalities to interact with. The third thing is the small business atmosphere. Because this is inherently my own small business I put more pride into my work versus if I were just a full-time employee because I know it’s truly my work.
8. What is the greatest challenge of this job? What are the 3 most challenging aspects of working at your company/organization?
The greatest challenge is having to find more assignments at other companies. It is a constant networking challenge to sell myself while I’m working on current assignments and sometimes stressful.
9. What skills are the most important for you to learn to be successful in this career?
To sell yourself! Besides the basic finance and accounting skill set to do the work, you need to get out there and sell others on your abilities.
10. What professional organization would you recommend that I check out to learn more about this career?
I can’t think of any specific organization as I started out on my own. The best source is other consultants and staffing firms who work with managers.
11. What is the typical salary range?
By hour if you have more than 10 years of experience you can make $50 to $200 per hour depending on the type of work. You have to include 15% for benefits since they don’t pay you this. However, you get to write off deductions such as gas, home office, advertising, because it is a small business.
12. If I wanted to start in this career area, how would you recommend that I go about it?
Start planning a timeline and work towards improving your skills. Keep networking and when the time is right then make the plunge. The beginning is tough like any business but once you’ve established your brand then it’ll be easier.
13. What kind of opportunities are there for advancement, and how would one qualify?
In this field you just want to gain more experience and over time companies are willing to pay the premium for that experience and knowledge you can share to their organization.
14. What advice would you give to me in regard to my career direction? Or, if you had a chance to do it all over again, what would you have done differently?
If I had a chance to do it over again, I’d start sooner! Mainly because with consulting you don’t have to deal with the politics as much and you have more flexibility.
Discussion of Information Gathered
The overall context of contracting as a career was not new to me as I have worked with consultants in my experience. I would say I knew about 80% of the information from this interview. New information included how to handle the assignment from a business standpoint and how to market yourself to new customers. The general assignment of working on various projects is similar to what I do now.
What was particularly interesting was the networking component and business sense that one increases from this type of business. Because you are constantly looking for future opportunities, you’re more aware of the sense of urgency in meeting new people and how to market yourself. At a full-time job, you have a sense of security which allows a sense of cushion to exist.
The information helped create a neutral impression regarding the career. The positive aspects include being your own boss and flexibility in what you do. There could be some assignments you take on and some you don’t. However, the downside is the constant marketing that you must do in order to keep projects coming. Therefore, there is upside and downside for this career.
For my personal goals, I would like to be an executive and start my own business. Therefore, based on this informational interview feedback I will continue for 5-15 years working in the corporate ladder route building my experience and network. Then I will start consulting after 20+ years experience and more contacts.
The overall experience was positive as I realized people love talking about themselves and giving guidance towards others. It was helpful to the extent I learned how much of the small business experience applies although the work is generally the same as what I do. It was helpful because I’ve been thinking about it for some time and always see the positive aspects (i.e. the money, networking, and flexibility). She introduced me to some risks such as having to market myself and always be 100% committed.
Thank You Note
Thank you for taking time with me in conducting an informational interview about your consulting business. It provided me with insight into whether I may go towards that direction in the future. I wish you continued success with your business and I’ll keep in touch!