If you’re in a position to receive resumes from anyone looking for a job, you may have come to the conclusion that everyone seems to be a consultant now days. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Tom Peters has been advocating for years that we should treat our careers as thought we are independent consultants. You may be a full-time employee of a company, but the days of retiring from the same company you hired into right out of college are essentially a thing of the past.
Times and trends change too frequently to be with one company that long. If you don’t leave your company after a few years, they’re likely to leave you.
Because of that, many people find themselves “between jobs” on a much more frequent basis. Between jobs is the new unemployed. And as common as that has become, it still doesn’t look good to have gaps of between jobs-ness on one’s resume.
What makes consultants experts?
To account for these gaps in employment, many have resorted filling that gap of time on their resume with the title of Consultant. This not only fills the gap, but projects an air of expertise.
I can just hear the interview now:
“So you’ve been a consultant the past four months, huh?”
“Yes, when I left my last job, I started my own consulting firm.”
“Interesting, what types of things did you consult on?”
“Well, I wasn’t able to get anyone to ask me or pay me for advice, but I was out there and willing to share my expertise in case anyone was interested.”
While there is no certification or special degree required to call one’s self a consultant, there are a few things that are required for a consultant – whether independent or as part of a firm – to be considered a legitimate consultant.
A consultant by his or her very nature is one who is sought for some special knowledge. Whether that consultant is a strategic advisor, called up on to provide recommendations to a company’s executives, or a contract programmer that a company needs on a short-term basis to augment their current staff, the assumption is that you have some level of knowledge of what you are to do for the client.
In addition to knowledge, which can be obtained from a book or a classroom, a true consultant has applied that knowledge for at least a few years in a practical setting. You can read books on strategy, study case studies about how other companies applied various strategies and succeeded or failed. But the real value comes from someone who has applied those strategies successfully. Applying them unsuccessfully can be great experience too. Education and training are great. But they are no replacement for experience.
So you’ve been trained in your skill and you have five years of experience in applying it. What have those five years of experience taught you? Was it really five years of experience, or was it one year of experience five times over?
Experience implies that you not only know how to do something, but also that you know how NOT to do something. You’ve learned from your mistakes and continued to advance your knowledge and continuously grow. Doing something wrong for five years may imply experience, but it doesn’t mean that you are experienced.
If you know your skill from both training and experience and know how to apply it, you’ve come a long way to becoming an expert. But if you have all of that value in your head and have no way to get it across to your client, it’s all for naught.
A good consultant needs to be able to effectively communicate all of that knowledge to their clients. The more channels of communication they are accomplished at, the more likely they are to succeed. A consultant that can express his or her views through the spoken word – to both individuals and groups – and the written word – informally in emails as well as formally in articles and white papers – is bound to be more successful.
You need a license in most states to catch a fish, but anyone can hang up a shingle and call themselves a consultant. If you’re using it as resume stuffing, most recruiters will see through it. If you would like to be a legitimate consultant, whether for the short-term or the long haul, these attributes are critical.
There is one more thing that a consultant needs in addition to all of the traits I discussed above. Clients. You can be the most knowledgeable person in the world with analytical and communication skills abound. But if you’re unable to convince people to pay for those expert skills, success will be elusive.
What else do you believe contributes to making consultants experts?
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.