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What Is the Difference Between a Consultant and a Contractor?

Consultants and contractors sound a lot alike. However, even though both might work on the same project, they both do very different things. This article stresses the differences in these fields and provides some information on several career examples.

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Comparing Consultants to Contractors

Generally, consultants and contractors will work in a large variety of fields. Consultants may be hired independently by a client or be on a consulting company's payroll in areas like information technology, management, operations research. As experts, they help organizations modernize, update or expand by solving a company-wide problem. Contractors are specialists in their fields who are often self-employed and come in to do specific work for an employer. Below is a comparison of these two independent fields and some vital financial information as well.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary* (2016) Job Growth* (2014-2024)
Consultants Master's degree or Bachelor's degree with years of experience $81,330 (management analyst), $79,200 (operations research analyst) 14% (management analyst), 30% (operations research analyst)
Contractors Bachelor's degree $52,160 (computer support specialist), $49,810 (interior designer) 12% (computer support specialist), 4% (interior designer)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Consultants vs Contractors

It would be common for consultants and contractors to work on the same project. Consultants are professionals who may be asked to come into a business, study a problem, research answers and then make suggestions to the company as to how the situation may be handled quickly and within budget. Contractors, on the other hand, are hired outsiders who may specialize in a field and do the work that is needed for the project. For example, an IT contractor may upgrade a company's network system while a design contractor might redo the interior of a hotel lobby.

Consultants

Normally, consultants work out of an office for a consulting company. Their job will consist of quite a bit of travel between meetings with clients and job sites. Almost all consultant positions require a degree and many years of experience in the field of their expertise. IT consultants may need experience with coding languages, Microsoft, Windows operating systems, and others. Operations consultants are tasked with operation research at a company who will then create models using their data to help update, streamline or readjust their operations for profitability.

Job responsibilities of a consultant include:

  • Testing and evaluating current company methods
  • Facilitating data info to determine where a company can improve
  • Developing and suggesting remedies to operational problems
  • Provide feedback or progress reports to clients during the improvement process

Contractor

Contractors are hired problem solvers who are brought in to physically do the job. This could include IT contractors who come in for the sole purpose of installing a network system and servers or a wireless communications program. A construction consultant might work alongside a contracted interior designer who puts together a design plan for someone's home, picks out the appliances, procures the carpets, and buys the faucets. Both of these examples of contractors have years of experience in their fields and some work independently. They work hard to build up their clientele but may be called upon by companies as subcontractors.

Job responsibilities of a contractor include:

  • Bidding on possible independent projects
  • Deciding what methods and technology to use for their assignments
  • Creating timelines for work and projecting budgets
  • Supporting clients with callbacks and visits

Related Careers

Computer systems analysts, like IT consultants, evaluate a company's technology and then design and maintain the systems, hardware or software they create as a permanent employee. Art directors are a related field for interior design contractors in that they can use their design training to put together layouts for ads, product packaging, print media, film/TV or the visual concepts for a stage production.

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