This exciting role is at the forefront of helping organizations translate data into a strategy for growth, but what does a data consultant do?
Today, we’ll lead you through the different types of data consultants you’ll encounter and share some practical tips on how to kick-start your career in data consulting.
Ready to learn more? Let’s get started!
- What is a data consultant?
- Types of data consultant
- How to become a data consultant from scratch
- Pros and cons of being a data consultant
1. What is a data consultant?
Data consultants are professionals who help companies make use of their data to inform any strategic decision-making and ensure that companies meet their defined targets.
A report by McKinsey’s AI arm, Quantum Black, predicts the rise of the “data-driven enterprise” by 2025, and roles that support this technological transition will become increasingly necessary for success.
Because data consultants work with both data and management, they’re uniquely positioned at the intersection of data science and business strategy, and require a balance of these two radically different skills to work most effectively.
As with any data-driven role, data consultants must have well-honed technical expertise. They are capable of working with a range of data structures and types, and know how to use the most appropriate tools or platforms for data extraction, transformation, and analysis.
Data consultant tools
Depending on a company’s preferred tech stack, data consultants may need to know how to use languages such as:
They also typically use analytics software like:
Data consultant skills
Many data consultants need to do statistical analysis and even predictive modeling.
This helps them be more proficient at forecasting future trends using existing data, and helps make more accurate predictions about how likely a company will meet its targets, whether they’re trying to increase sales or cut costs.
Data consultants increasingly draw on machine learning methods and models to automate this process and improve its accuracy, thus making them valuable analytic contributors to any organization.
Although the word “data” is in their title, it would be an oversight to assume that data consultants need to only be good at technical tasks.
They’re very much data storytellers who take their technical findings and translate them into bite-sized and actionable business strategy. Often they will be called on to present their findings to senior management and stakeholders without a technical background.
Data consultants who have strong written and oral communication skills are most effective in trying to influence strategic decision-making with their findings.
2. Types of data consultant
As with any career path, you can find many different specializations of data consultants. We’ll turn to six of the most popular ones you’ll encounter:
Data analytics consultant
Data analytics consultants work to interpret data and identify trends for business insights.
They typically work with cross-functional teams to extract raw data and transform it into actionable insights for management. They most commonly work with applied statistical software in their day-to-day work.
Some consultants also work on data management governance to ensure that the company complies with regulations around data use.
Data management consultant
As their title suggests, data management consultants help businesses manage their data to ensure accuracy, security, and privacy.
They often work at a high-level of abstraction that includes drawing up policies on data governance and how to manage internal databases. They also improve data quality, ensure that data sources are integrated across different platforms, and that these data management systems ultimately comply with regulations.
As consultants, they make sure that companies know how to extract the most value from their data assets to make better decisions and improve strategic KPIs such as profit margins.
Big data consultant
Big data consultants work with very large volumes of data, commonly defined as anything that a typical data management platform has issues handling at scale.
They typically use big data tools such as Hadoop, Spark, and NoSQL databases to extract insights from big data. As a result, their role is similar to the data analytics and management consultants, except that they need additional technical knowledge to comfortably handle the unique challenges of processing big data.
Data science consultant
Data science consultants are specialists who combine their knowledge in machine learning, statistics, and data analytics to make strategic decisions.
They’re well-versed in working with big data to extract insights, make forecasts, and create compelling visualizations for narrative storytelling.
They best add value by applying appropriate data modeling techniques to solve existing business challenges.
Data privacy consultant
Data privacy consultants are specialists whose main responsibility is helping companies comply with complex and ever-changing data privacy regulations.
They work to keep up on data privacy and management laws, interpret these legal frameworks, and translate them into actionable policies that can be effectively implemented across the company. They often perform audits on internal processes to try and find issues proactively.
This is a niche role that requires a strong grasp of the technical fundamentals of data management, as well as training in legal frameworks. It can often be a high pressure job, since they are ultimately responsible for data security and compliance, which determines a company’s reputation.
Data ethics consultant
As concern around responsibility of data has grown considerably in recent years, there has been increasing demand for consultants specialized in data ethics.
Data ethics consultants are often called on at many steps along the data management pipeline. They create policies to ensure that internal use of data respects privacy laws, and design audits to test whether the collection, use, and storage of data meets ethical standards. More broadly, they also raise awareness internally on how to responsibly use data.
Their role remains critical within any organization that prioritizes high ethical standards, as any mistakes can inflict serious reputational damage when made public.
With its increased relevance in the age of AI and beyond, it’s no surprise CareerFoundry picked the data ethics consultant role as one of the jobs of the future.
3. How to become a data consultant from scratch
Whether you’re a fresh graduate or a mid-career professional trying to make the leap into data consulting, it can be daunting to consider how to do so if you lack experience or credentials.
However, as our roadmap will outline, the process might be easier than you might realize. We have a few tips on how to get started towards data consulting regardless of your professional background.
Many data consultants hold degrees from fields such as economics, statistics, physics, and data science.
Even if you didn’t graduate from these fields, consider whether you took courses that signaled your analytical potential. For instance, if you have a computer science degree, that not only demonstrates to employers your technical abilities to work with analytics platforms, but also your ability to tackle difficult abstract problems.
Consider whether you’ve taken any courses or programs that involved a foundation in mathematics, data, and programming as these would prove an edge in the hiring process.
Skills and certifications
If you don’t have any of these educational credentials, it’s still not impossible for you to make the transition.
There are many specific skills that employers look for in a data consultant. These include knowledge of programming languages like Python, SQL, or R, and experience with data visualization tools like Power BI. If you have experience with machine learning (a side project counts!), that’s something to bring up in an interview too.
Perhaps most importantly, you will need to demonstrate strong oral and written communication skills, and that’s something that you can prove by improving your analytical writing and public speaking.
You can also pursue industry-recognized certifications such as DAMA International’s Certified Data Management Professional (CDMP) exam to further demonstrate your interest in data consulting.
Employers typically place a premium on previous experience. After all, real-world experience trumps textbooks and theory.
If you’re short on experience, try to find internships, entry-level roles, or even volunteer opportunities that make use of data analysis. You can even ask for more data-related tasks in your current job.
These slowly build a credible portfolio of real-world projects that not only demonstrate your technical competence, but also your keen interest in excelling as a data consultant.
The best way to find a job is through a direct referral.
To do this, you’ll need to start building meaningful connections with other professionals in data consulting. This is easier if you’re located in a tech center or a major city like San Francisco and London, where there are always industry events and meetups you can join as a newcomer to meet other professionals.
Even if you’re located in a smaller city, you can still join online tech communities through sites such as Meetup and start to engage with them there too. Networking is always more efficient than sending 50 job applications a day.
It’s also more fun to meet new people; even if you don’t get a job out of a new connection, chances are you’ll have learnt something valuable by sharing strategies and tools.
4. Pros and cons of being a data consultant
As with any role, it’s worth considering the positives and negatives of being a data consultant before embarking on a path towards it. So, let’s go through a few of them now:
Data consultants are highly sought after because of their required specialized and interdisciplinary skillset.
Hence, companies are inclined to offer competitive compensation during hiring.
Data consultants will only become more popular as software continues to “eat the world”.
This is a growing field that is currently experiencing a shortage of experienced and qualified candidates. In fact, the Bureau of Labour Statistics has found that management analysts, a close match to data consultants, are expected to grow 11 percent over the next decade.
Learning on the job
Since data consultants work at the cutting edge of technology and business, you’ll have the opportunity to continue learning and grow your skill set throughout your career.
Types of work
As data consultants span industries, you will have your pick of projects depending on what you might be more interested in.
Working on projects across sectors such as finance and healthcare also increases learning opportunities.
Stress and pressure
As this is a fast-paced industry to work in, with the need to constantly learn new skills to better serve clients, it can lead to burnout.
Data consultants also often work with tight and overlapping deadlines, and it can be stressful to juggle these demands while also aiming to meet clients’ high expectations.
Since data consultants need to have both soft- and hard skills, it can be challenging to cultivate a strong technical background while also excelling as a communicator.
The rise of data-driven decision-making has meant that analysts not only need to be technically equipped to parse trends from data, but to also translate them into actionable business strategies. Data consultants have become highly sought-after for their strong technical knowledge and ability to translate hard data into business insights.
Whether you’re a data enthusiast, a fresh grad applying for your first job, or if you’re doing a mid-career transition, this guide was written to help you towards a thriving career in data consulting. We’ve provided you with a roadmap on how to become a data consultant. If you get excited by the thought of transforming data points into strategic narratives, this just might be the perfect role for you.
If the world of business analytics interests you but you don’t know where to start, why not try CareerFoundry’s free introductory data analytics course? It covers the basics of data analytics as a field and will give you a good idea of whether or not it’s a career path you’re interested in pursuing further.
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