Geographic information systems (GIS) consultants are responsible for managing digital mapping data and performing analyses to answer geographical questions. The key focus for many GIS consultants is making maps for clients, deduced from analytical data.
Your work can be used in a variety of fields. Your GIS analysis can be used to find research and data by mapping the spread of disease (medical geography), plan for urban forestry, find suitable building locations and analyse sustainability.
GIS roles require a combination of technical, analytical, cartography and design skills.
Your main duty is to use your skills to help meet the needs of your clients, collaborating with them and your colleagues to meet project deadlines and accomplish goals.
You will use GIS mapping, data sourcing, management and analysis to produce digestible maps, figures and metric reports for your clients.
- Project management: As a GIS consultant you will be involved in a variety of projects, many of which are likely to occur at the same time. You need to be organised and adept at multitasking as you manage client expectations, work towards deadlines and keep on top of budgets.
- Data analysis: GIS requires you to analyse data and turn it into visual maps, metrics and readable reports. This requires an analytical mind, an ability to quickly switch focus and think logically when faced with problems that occur in the field. If you can show that you can extend and alter the standard analysis using GIS to meet requirements, that’s a bonus for recruiters hiring GIS consultants.
- Produce maps from analytics: Clients may require you to create maps using analytical data. You'll need to be adept at using GIS software and be a proficient cartographer in order to help non-GIS users understand the data you are presenting to them. Dealing with mapping requests is also key part of the role.
- Model building: You may be required to build models using GIS software to help demonstrate how a workflow is to be built. This will help you visualise your ideas and projects and get a sense of what needs to be done, what should be scaled back and why. Having this as a skills proves that you have not only a logical and a creative eye but a forward thinking vision that shows you are aware of any contingency plans you may have to put in place.
- An ability to communicate well: Consultancy jobs such as these rely on your ability to pitch projects and plans to clients who may not know much about GIS. It’s all about helping people get to the root of their problem and finding the solution. Depending on your level of seniority, you may supervise or manage other GIS consultants, technicians or analysts, in which case, communication skills are even more important.
- Good writing skills: Reports, reports, reports. You’ll be writing a good deal of them, which is why many GIS consultancy jobs require you to have polished writing skills.
- Sales skills: Sometimes you have to sell your ideas and projects to clients. Non GIS users may not know what reports they need or which models they need building, so it's your job to get to the root of their problem and find a solution.
- Attention to detail: Being detail oriented can get you very far. When you're working with maps, data and workflow, the quality and amount of effort you put into your work will show through.
A master's degree in GIS, environmental sciences or geographical sciences, with advanced knowledge of GIS software, is normally required for GIS consultancy roles. Having a background in business development, computer science, engineering or urban planning can also help your CV stand out when applying for jobs.
When applying for GIS consultancy roles, you’ll notice a pattern in the job descriptions. They ask for at least 3-6 years experience in the geospatial field. This is to ensure that you have harnessed all the capabilities and technical responsibilities that someone working in GIS will need before they move up to the consultant position.
Even though you have most likely had experience learning and using one or two GIS software programmes, it is important to be able to code in multiple languages. Python is regarded as the most universally usable amongst GIS software users. Coding makes model building and map simulating a much quicker process.Virtually anything you can do manually using GIS software can be done using Python, and it will be done more efficiently - improving your workflow.
As a consultant your hours will often vary.
A GIS consultant’s salary can vary from £20,203 - £44,078 depending on experience, company and time spent working for an organisation.
Your next steps
- Senior GIS consultant
- GIS manager
- Environmental consultant
Industry advice for future GIS consultants
- Grow your network: Work on contributing and maintaining it - this can you help you get job openings.
- Brush up your GIS software skills: Esri offers great training courses for ArcGIS, both offline and online - so that you can keep yourself updated on the latest software design.
- Take a good cartography class: This will help you learn the techniques involved in cartography in order to help you understand how to create maps and visualise the ins and outs of spatial analysis. Bad cartographic design can make your analysis hard to interpret.
- Utilise Adobe illustrator: This can help take your maps to the next level. Using the same colour techniques that are used in infographics can enhance your design and visually represent your analytical data in a way that GIS software is not intuitively capable of achieving.