The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that consulting is the fastest growing industry in the United States and offers top dollar to qualified job candidates. Consultants are experts who provide guidance, research, services and solutions in very specific areas or on very specific issues to businesses. Rates, wages, salaries and bonuses vary dramatically depending on which industry a consultant works in, which firm she works for and how much experience she has.
Consultants operate in every industry. The BLS reports that management, scientific and technical consulting take the lion's share of consulting jobs, with over 1,000,000 consultants working in the U.S. as of 2010. Consulting jobs and pay should outstrip opportunities in other industries in years to come. Consultants in these fields can expect high salaries right out of college, though more competitive offers go to graduates with post-secondary degrees. Starting salaries with leading firms range between $40,000-$60,000 for employees with an undergraduate degree, while those with MBAs or PhDs can ask for $80,000 or more, plus signing bonuses.
The BLS reports that consultants' average salary works out to anywhere from $12 an hour to $61, depending on industry and rank. Some consultants often charge much higher rates — $50 to $500 an hour is normal — but the Consultant Journal notes that only about a third of a consultant's rate goes to pay the consultant; overhead, taxes and other expenses often eat two thirds of a consultant's hourly rate. Management Consulted, a consulting company for consultants, states that once a person becomes an established consultant, especially at an established firm, the sky is the limit, and annual income can top $1,000,000.
The BLS states that nonsupervisory employees in consulting firms average $931 per week across industries — significantly higher than the $600 average of comparable employees in nonconsulting jobs in the private sector. Multiplied by 52 weeks, $931 a week comes out to a salary of $48,000 a year, not counting bonuses and benefits. Consultants' earnings average more per hour than comparable workers in other industries in most areas. For example, management specialists make $39 per hour instead of $35 and accounting personnel make $16 instead of $15.
Billable versus Nonbillable
Consultant pay can reach high levels — the Wall Street Journal reports that some "expert networks" pay consultants $1,000 an hour to talk to clients — but a consultant must be experienced and established to charge high rates. Note that Management Consulted's "sky is the limit" numbers are for senior management and directors of established firms — people who work decades of overtime to get to that level. Furthermore, the seemingly high rates of consultants average out to much less per hour of work because many hours are not billable to clients. Consultants can only charge for work done for clients after signing a contract and not for work on project bids, continuing education or other activities involved in finding work and improving a consultant's skill and marketability.