I’ve witnessed many stories of success and failure in consulting. I’ve found that some people flourish in consulting while others either fail or get stuck in a purgatory-like existence. These people neither succeed nor completely fail. They are simply unhappily stuck in the same position indefinitely.
I’ve found that the ones who succeed are the ones that have figured out the consulting career secrets that propel their career success higher than the average consultant. Here are five of the consulting career secrets that I’ve seen those people follow.
1) You get a promotion when you start doing that job
In most companies, you have to do a good job to get a promotion. You may have to exceed some set expectations to get promoted to the next level. In others, you may just have to put in your time.
In consulting, you need to begin meeting the expectations of the next rung in the ladder to prove that you can do that job. Once management sees that you can do the job, they make the job title official with a well-deserved promotion.
The attitude of “I’m not going to do that job until they start paying me for it.” will never fly in most consulting firms.
2) No matter what your level, you are responsible for sales
It’s no secret that the higher up you are in a consulting firm, the more you need to develop relationships and sell projects. But sales is important at every level.
Certainly the green consultant just out of college will not be expected to write sales proposals for a major consulting engagement. Lower-level consultants are expected to be billable most of the time. While they work on billable projects, they should begin developing relationships with the client team that they work with. They should also recognize that they represent the firm in the work that they do. New consultants should exceed the expectations of the client enough that the client will want them – and the firm – back for more projects.
Additionally, consultants at all levels are expected to be involved in networking through professional and alumni organizations. This helps to develop more relationships to broaden their network later in their career.
3) You are not better than the client
Some consultants like their expert, outsider status. They develop an attitude that they are better than the client because they were brought in to fix whatever is ailing the client.
The fact is, consultants aren’t better than the client, they’re just different.
Consultants have different skills. The expertise a consultant brings to the client should complement the skills the client has. They provide – pardon the consultant-ese – a synergy that helps the client solve a problem or get a project completed. They both add value.
Consultants have a different set of responsibilities. While the client’s employees have a deep knowledge of the client’s business processes, the consultant is responsible for sorting out the good process and suggesting improvements. While the client employees focus on their everyday jobs, the consultant focuses on his or her assigned project.
Consultants have a different attitude. Most consultants go into consulting because they love a challenge and like to solve problems. They expect to move from client to client tackling new projects. They thrive on the challenge, variety, and sometimes chaotic existence.
Client employees usually seek a more predictable employment. They prefer the stability of staying in one place and working with the same group of people over time.
4) Your brand is important with the client and within your firm
A consultant needs to be aware of the image she portrays in front of the client. Just like Nike guards its brand in the public, a consultant should always make sure she looks and acts in a professional manner.
The deliverables a consultant submits to a client should be publishing-ready, meaning free of typos and grammatical errors. It should also make sense and be written for the appropriate audience. If possible, another consulting peer should proof-read deliverables before submission to the client.
The consultant’s brand is just as important inside the firm. If you act unprofessional within the firm’s offices because you know there are no clients around, managers may still be wary of placing you on a project for fear that you won’t know the difference when you’re at a client.
5) Your value should exceed your cost
The annual salary that you are paid by your consulting firm is only part of your cost to them. Additional benefits such as insurance, Social Security, training, paid vacation, and bonuses can represent as much as 25% more on top of your salary. So if you make $50,000, you actually cost the firm approximately $62,500. If they pay you for bench time (unbillable time), the cost could be even higher.
Keep that in mind as you calculate the number of billable hours you work and what you contribute to the firm’s bottom line.
Additionally, it’s good to know what the firm is billing the client for your time. The consultant should strive to provide more value to the client than the client is being billed.
What secrets have you learned that have helped your consulting career?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
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