Category Archives: Getting in to Consulting

Can You be an Independent Consultant and Work for a Firm?

Independent Consultant
Independent Consultant

Although there are many ways to categorize consulting, one major difference is whether someone works as an independent consultant, or as a consultant working for a consulting firm.

Firm consultants vs independent consultants

Independent consultants generally have a large network of clients and potential clients. They either do their own marketing to sell projects to people in that network, or they partner with a firm that helps them identify work.

An independent consultant often does short gigs for clients, usually working alone to perform a study or tightly defined task.

Conversely, a consultant working for a firm often works with a team of people. The team can be a combination of fellow employees of their firm, employees of the client, and other consultants.

These rules are not set in stone. Consultants from a firm can work alone and independent consultants can be part of a large team on a long-term project.

A consultant with a firm will be charged the going hourly rate to the client based on that individual’s skills and experience. That consultant is paid a salary that is often a fraction of the rate billed. That consultant generally receives a full benefits such as health insurance, a 401(k), and paid vacation time. Although firm consultants are responsible for developing new business, they have less responsibility for finding their next job. The firm generally has a sales team that finds the work for them.

Independent consultants are responsible for finding their work. They get to keep most of their billings after taxes, but are responsible for their own health insurance and retirement savings. If they want to take vacation time off, they don’t get paid.

Consultants that are risk averse often stay affiliated with a firm that will do the heavy lifting of sales for them. They can do the work of a consultant and not worry so much where their next job is coming from.

Some consultants work for a firm until they can develop a good Rolodex of clients before they set out on their own. Sometimes, just because they have consulting experience, they may get an opportunity to do some independent work for a client gig.

Conflict of interest

There is nothing wrong with a firm consultant doing a one-off gig or even transitioning to becoming an independent on a full-time basis. The critical consideration is to avoid any conflict of interest.

Consider if you work for a client for your firm, and that client offers to pay you separately to do additional, independent work for them on your own time. If your firm provides the same service the client is asking you to do – even if it is not your role, you could be competing with your own firm.

Whether there is any question of competing or not, it would be advisable to meet with your manager at your firm and get their opinion. If they have any reservation, it may be a conflict of interest. On the rare occasion that they don’t have a problem, make sure that the time you work on the independent work never interferes with the work you are doing with the firm.

If a completely separate client asks you to do independent work on your own time, this may be a more palatable set up for your firm. You still need to ensure that the time you spend on your independent client doesn’t interfere with the time you spend for your firm.

Your firm may require you to bill a minimum number of hours to the client to justify your salary. Working fewer hours in order to serve your independent client creates a conflict of interest. Obviously, billing both clients for the same hours is also a serious breach in ethics.

Finally, always ensure that you don’t use any of your firm’s resources to serve your independent client. This includes office supplies, email accounts, and intellectual property.


Many consultants use employment with a consulting firm as a stepping stone to becoming an independent consultant. During that transition, it is important to maintain ethical practices to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest with your independent practice and your firm.

How have you made the transition from a firm to independent consultant?

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

Image courtesy of StuartMiles at

When your leader can’t lead

When your leader can't lead
When your leader can’t lead

I’ve had the good fortune to work for some great leaders during my career. Some have been better than others. But most were very good from one aspect or another. I learned from the best and the mediocre. I once had the misfortune to work for someone who was put in a leadership position without any leadership skills whatsoever. I decided quickly that I had made a big career mistake. I then had to determine my back-out plan.

The realization: This leader can’t lead

Having spent most of my career in consulting delivery, I decided to make a change that took me outside of my comfort zone. I accepted a position with a small but growing firm in the hopes of learning a new aspect of consulting. It took only one interview and the quick decision for an offer was made. That should have been a warning sign. It was only after I joined that I learned that my predecessor walked out without a notice.
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Does Your Alma Mater Matter?

Does your alma mater matter?
Does your alma mater matter?

Throughout my career, I’ve spent a lot of time on both sides of the interviewing desk. It is nerve-racking sitting on the opposite side of that desk. No matter how confident I was, I was sure they would ask that zinger that I couldn’t answer. Worse yet, I was afraid they would ask an easy one, to which I would blurt out something so stupid, they would just get up and walk out.

Over the years, I began interviewing people for entry into the firms I worked for. I found that that made me a better interviewer. I could identify the ones that hadn’t prepared. They were just going down the same list of questions they ask everyone. I knew when they had read my resume or were reading it for the first time as they sat down.

At one large firm that I worked for, we held recruiting days. The firm would arrange for several candidates – mostly college entry – to come to our office and go through a full day of four interviews. They would meet with two managers, one senior manager and one partner. At the end of the day, all of the interviewers would meet at a “round table” meeting. There, we would go through each candidate and the interviewers would give their assessment.

In these round table meetings, I learned about the various things different interviewers focused on. Some discussed the candidates’ confidence. Others focused on appearance and their ability to face a client.

I found that many people focused on the college the particular candidate went to. It caused me to wonder what the value was of the school a candidate attended.

Experience reduces risk

When I went to school in the 1980s, school was cheap compared to today’s tuition rates. I graduated from Illinois State University. ISU is not heavily recruited from the top consulting firms. Those that give it the time of day only hire a select few. I received, at best, a passing glance from them. There were no second interviews.

Instead, I took a job at a small, privately held consulting firm as a computer programmer. I did the same as a lot of new developers for the big firms. I didn’t get paid as much, because my firm couldn’t bill me out for as much.

After four years with that small firm, they went out of business. It was a scary feeling. But within a couple of days, one of those large firms came in and said they would interview anyone interesting in talking to them.

Many of our people interviewed. That firm ended up extending offers to four people, and I was lucky enough to be one of them. It made me wonder, why was it that they couldn’t be bothered with me four years ago, but now I was so valuable.

It was pretty obvious to me that my four years of consulting experience proved a lot more than a four-year degree. Lots of people can eek through college. They can even get good grades. But they aren’t necessarily consulting material. Consulting demands more than just smarts. It requires the ability to think on ones feet. It requires people that have the confidence to make decisions, do hard work, lead others, and sell, all at once.

My four years of experience in consulting, and my willingness for more, showed them that I was good enough for them. At that point, they didn’t care what school I went to.

For more information, check out Getting In to Consulting

It goes both ways

When I began interviewing experienced people, I found that some would draw attention to where they went to school. I would ask a question and they would reference an experience they had in college.

If someone went to the trouble of looking up my LinkedIn profile, they might bring up the fact that we both did our graduate work at Northwestern. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

I’ve always wanted to say, “Oh! I get it. The old boys’ network. You want me to hire you because we’re both in the same ‘club’.”

“Yeah. That’s how it works,” was the response I imagined.

When I interview experienced people, I might glance at their alma mater at the bottom of their resume (and it should be at the bottom). But it isn’t a factor in my decision. In my opinion, if you have four or more years of experience, you should have an entirely different set of laurels to rest upon.

If you have that much experience, and you’re still counting on the alumni network to get you a job, you might be doing something wrong with how you manage your career.

I’m not alone, but I’m not the majority

There are many people who feel the same way I do. Particularly those that have had to prove themselves every day because they didn’t go to Harvard. There is a large population of people who went to nobody schools, community colleges, or didn’t even finish. Many of them figured things out for themselves. They are successful despite a so-called limited education. Some of them are more successful because they were getting experience when many others were partying and going to football games in college.

There are many interviewers like me that look for those people. However, there are still those in power that will hire a twenty-year veteran because they were in the same fraternity at the same university. They may pass up someone with better experience, but with the bad DNA of a lowly college.


I suppose, what it comes down to is that you should market yourself with as many positive values as you can. Attend the most prestigious school that will accept you and that you can afford.

Once you get that education, make it count. A 3.6 GPA doesn’t add to a company’s bottom line. That GPA should translate to knowledge. Knowledge should transfer to ability. Ability should transfer to results. And those results should contribute to the bottom line.

What is the focal point of your resume?

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

Getting In to Consulting

getting in to consulting
Getting in to Consulting

I could tell by the look on his face that the interview was over. I was sitting in an interview with a top tier consulting firm in my college’s career services center. The interviewer had explained what it was like to work there. He said there would be a lot of travel. It could be up to 100% travel if I was working for an out of town client.

My response was nothing short of sophomoric. I told him, “Oh, I like to travel. My girlfriend and I went on a trip last winter.” I told him a little about our trip for a few seconds before I read the look on his face.
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The 5 Biggest Myths of Consulting

A mythical land
The 5 biggest myths of consulting

When I tell someone I’m a consultant I never know what the response is going to be. Some people are impressed. With some people, their son or daughter is a consultant and they sense a connection.

Still with others, I see them trying to suppress a sneer. Some of these people may have had a bad experience with a consultant. Or, they know someone who lost their job because of some changes implemented by a consultant.

Whether the impression is good or bad, it seems that people have many myths of consulting. Here are just a few dispelled.
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5 Tips for Consulting Interviews

Tips for Consulting Interviews
Tips for Consulting Interviews

When I was a college senior interviewing with top consulting firms, I had two problems. Information about how to interview wasn’t readily available and I wasn’t ambitious enough to seek out what was there.

I went into most of my interviews cold, just planning to be myself. And I failed miserably.  While I encourage people to be themselves during an interview, it is also imperative to be prepared. If you are interviewing for a job at a consulting firm, here are some tips to make the interview more successful.
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7 Reasons Young Consultants Fail

Reading the newspaper, one of the Reasons Young Consultants Fail
Reasons Young Consultants Fail

In my twenty years of consulting, I’ve seen many consultants come and go. Some decide that it’s not for them. For others, the decision is made for them. A client may kick the consultant off the project, or the firm may remove them as a form of damage control.

Every consultant struggles to some degree in his or her first year. With any new position, it takes time to learn the ropes. But some just don’t learn. I’ve written before in this blog about consultants that just “don’t get it.” These are the things those consultants do – or don’t do – to cause them to fail early on.
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7 Questions to Ask When Considering a Consulting Career

consulting career
Is a consulting career for you?

To some, a consulting career is a destination.  You may target consulting firms as college graduation looms.  If that attempt is unsuccessful, you may accept a job in another industry with the goal of acquiring a few years of business experience and applying with consulting firms again later.

While these are both valid strategies, like every industry, consulting isn’t for everyone.  It is important to verify that you are willing and able to live the lifestyle of a consultant.

Before diving into a consulting career, ask yourself the following questions:

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How to Prepare for a Management Consulting Interview

Management Consulting Interview
Preparing for a Management Consulting Interview

(This week’s blog is guest written by the fine people at

Management consulting recruitment season brings out some of the best candidates for the vacant positions that are available. The interview process is known for being highly selective, rigorous and unpredictable.

Furthermore, the competitive nature of the industry ensures that only top candidates are shortlisted. Because of this, active preparation is the key to minimize as many risks as possible, while making a lasting impression on one’s target firm.
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Why Consulting Hiring Keeps Rising

Consulting Hiring
Consulting Hiring is on the Rise

As of January, 2013 the U.S. unemployment rate stood at 7.8% (Bureau of Labor Statistics). That’s certainly lower than its peak of 10% in October 2009, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. Still, the consulting industry is in the intense pursuit of qualified individuals.

One has to be careful, however, in reading statistics by occupation. “Consultant” is the title many use to fill unemployment gaps in their resume. Calling one’s self a consultant doesn’t necessarily make him one. But the demand for legitimate consultants is high.

Why is consulting hiring hot?For a number of reasons. The most prominent ones being:

Memories of layoffs.

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