Being a business or technology consultant is one of the most fun and rewarding careers you can have. The question is, how exactly do you get into that career and what are some of the recommendations to become a better consultant? That's what I'm going to cover in this blog today.
My journey is a long but rewarding one. I started my career at one of the big five consulting firms at Price Waterhouse, back in the late 90s. I have been a consultant my entire career for 25 years and I have worked at smaller organizations too before starting my own company.
The insights in this blog are relevant whether you're just starting out in consulting or you are already an established consultant looking to expand your knowledge. The goal today is to give you key learnings and real-world examples so that you can become a successful consultant in the business and technology workspace.
The first and probably most important trait of good and even great consultants is to listen and understand your clients. You need to understand their needs. Be sure to ask really good questions as well.
Consultants that can ask important questions and understand a client's situation are always going to be the most successful, even if they have strong technical capabilities or extensive experience skills. If we are unable to absorb and process our client’s needs – then the project will fail.
When I'm hiring consultants for our team, I always look at the consultants that can listen and understand. This a key trait that is hard to prove on a resume. If you can demonstrate in an interview, or in any sort of recruiting process, that's going to go a long way to becoming a great consultant.
Having a fresh breath of knowledge is one of the most important traits you can learn early on in your career. When you think about the sorts of transformations that you're going to guide your clients through, or perhaps you already do, there's a lot you need to know in terms of business processes, organizational change, new technologies, and program management strategy, in order to become an effective consultant.
While you can't be a jack of all trades necessarily and be good at everything, you can constantly be pushing yourself to expand your knowledge and learn more and more about different parts of the transformation.
If you're a project manager, it could be highly effective to get certified in organizational change management or learn more about technology. If you're a change consultant, it can be very effective to go learn more about technology. If you're a technology consultant, learn about organizational change management and push your boundaries of what you know. Having this ability to see the big picture will allow you to effectively serve your clients and set them up for success.
I remember when I first started my career, I started as a change management consultant for SAP implementations. One of the first things that I was asked to do was to go get certified in SAP and I didn't want to do it. That was the last thing I wanted to do as a change and a strategy type of consultant. However, in hindsight, I'm really glad I did it because it gave me a good understanding of technology, it gave me a good foundation of how technology works.
It is important to look for ways to constantly push your boundaries. Make sure to look for ways to sharpen the ax, continue to stay on top of trends, and strive to understand new ways of thinking. These are all different consulting skill sets that are going to be important to you throughout your career.
One of the biggest downfalls of consultants is when they come in with the right answer without fully understanding what the situation is. I already mentioned how it's important to listen and understand what your client's needs are, but it's just as important to also make sure that you're not coming in with a preconceived or predefined answer.
For example many consulting organizations have a cookie-cutter approach of one way of doing things, which on one hand, gives them the ability to scale and bring on kids out of college to teach them how to consult in a consistent way. The bad news however is cookie-cutter approaches rarely work for organizations.
There are certain parts of consulting and certain things you do as a consultant that can be repeatable. And maybe the way you did things for your last 10 clients could also apply to your next client, but there's going to be a lot of things that don't apply and new situations. As consultants, we have to identify the unique needs of each client which will determine the tools and strategies we need to incorporate. The bottom line, there is no silver bullet that will work with every client.
It's always a good rule of thumb to try and exceed expectations. Whether that be with your boss or your coworkers. In consulting it is even more important to go above and beyond because, as an hourly rate partner you’re not promised more work when each project ends. Some clients can get sticker shock regarding consultant’s rates so it’s important to provide measurable goals and communicate your value.
As a consultant, you really have a higher standard. You have to exceed expectations. You have to prove the value for every hour you work for any given client or given project. That drive, focus, and that high-performing attitude is absolutely critical to succeeding long-term in the consulting industry.
If you say you're going to get the client something by Monday, but you don't get it to them by Tuesday. It may be okay to deliver on Tuesday, but clients will generally hold you to the day you mentioned and expect more of you simply because they're paying you more.
In the end, you're the outside expert. It is extremely important to focus on the detail, follow-through, and delivery. These are just as important as the bigger picture expectations.
Being perceived as an expert in your industry, or in whatever specialty area you're in, is an important part of being a good consultant. The more you can point to examples of demonstrating your knowledge, the better.
By putting yourself and your knowledge out there you will find new clients and gain that credibility that you want in the industry. If you do not know where to start, it could be something as ambitious as creating something to get yourself out there.
In the end, you want to find ways and outlets that work for you to demonstrate your knowledge and to share with potential clients and peers in the industry. This is one of the fastest ways to build credibility and an effective method in getting your name out there to really establish yourself as an expert in any given arena.
I hope this has given you some guidance and sparked ideas on how to further your career as a business or technology consultant. If you're interested in learning more about career opportunities at our company, you can send me an email or visit our website. I hope you found this information useful, I’m always happy to be an informal sounding board for you and your team.