Reaching the top of the consulting ladder can be a long haul. But if you’re willing to do the work, achieving senior status in a large firm can not only bring you respect and professional satisfaction, it can also mean considerably more money. Visit and make a quick comparison of your salary and that of your team leader, and you may be motivated to start climbing. (Figure A below illustrates national average salaries for U.S. business development consultants.)

Figure A
National average salaries for U.S. business development consultants

For advice about climbing the consulting ladder, we turned to Duncan Mathison, Senior Account Executive at Drake Beam Morin (DBM), a worldwide firm that helps organizations to select, develop, retain, and transition employees by providing leadership, executive coaching, and career counseling.

In this article, we’ll discuss the five ways Mathison suggested for junior-level consultants to climb one rung closer to becoming a senior consultant.

One: Be a “rainmaker”
Mathison said that being a “rainmaker,” or someone who develops business for the firm, makes a consultant very attractive to large firms. “One of the nice things about consulting firms is that your compensation is directly related to how much value you can bring to the bottom line, and that basically boils down to how much revenue [you create],” Mathison said. “It’s really easy to measure success. Either bring in the clients or become such a [technical] asset that you are the reason clients choose your firm.”

You can also up the ante if you have a specialty in a certain area. “Let’s say you have developed a pretty decent practice around a particular industry segment,” Mathison said. “Big firms might be interested in picking up or expanding that segment. So if there is a good fit between you and that firm, you can be very attractive to them because you can build business.”

If you’re already working from inside a large firm, however, honing your customer service and client management skills can help you build your business-development tactics.

Two: Become astute at the mechanics of project management
One of the key areas that junior consultants should focus on to get to the top, according to Mathison, is the technical/project management path. If you decide to go this route, one way to increase your skills and upward mobility is to understand the “science,” or mechanics, of managing a project. Mathison said that once you’re armed with this knowledge and the credentials to prove it, you’ll more likely become part of a large management team.

He suggests educating yourself about project management techniques and perhaps becoming certified by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Founded in 1969, PMI is a nonprofit organization that establishes project management standards and provides seminars, educational programs, and professional certification for project leaders.
This is the first of two articles about climbing the consulting ladder. Tune in next week to get more of Duncan Mathison’s advice for becoming a senior-level consultant.
Three: Become involved with big-name clients
Mathison said that another key path to focus on is client management and development. By becoming a part of the larger management teams, you increase your likelihood of becoming part of the “big name” client teams. Although the work you’ll probably do at the outset for these well-known technology industries may not be the meatiest assignments, being involved with these projects may add some clout to your personal client list.

“The project for ABC Construction may be interesting, but the project that comes from the Fortune 100 company is nice to have on the resume,” Mathison said. “There’s an implication that if you did work on that high end…you have expertise around those industry issues.”

Four: Keep your technical skills fresh
You may not have ultimate control over your consulting assignments but be sure to request assignments that challenge your abilities and force you to learn new technologies to keep your skills up to date. Mathison said that, for example, keeping a legacy system patched together until a new one can be rolled out is indeed a valuable service to a client and may be lucrative for a short period of time, but this kind of work can leave your skill set wanting in the long run.

“You end up building this great practice with these companies that are slow to adapt,” Mathison said. “Eventually they will. You can get easily two or more years behind because you’ve built your career around a dead end.

Five: Invest the time to get certifications
Whether you’re climbing the ladder at your present company or trying to break into a larger firm, Mathison said it’s important to remember that larger firms look for credentials.

“As a professional, it’s one thing to pick up a book and read about something and then apply it because you’re clever and you can figure out the software,” Mathison said. “It’s another thing to go through the certifications. A lot of the freelance guys won’t do that.”

Large firms prefer consultants who’ve taken the time to earn certifications because it proves that they have acquired a thorough knowledge of the technology. Certified consultants may also be a valuable selling point to clients interested in a new technology.
Do you have advice for junior consultants who want to rise to the top? Send us your tips, tricks, or personal stories in an e-mail or post your comments below.