As I’ve pointed out in this blog before, one of the things I’ve always liked about consulting is the variety. You generally work on a project for a few months and, by the time you’re getting tired of your surroundings, you get transferred to another project. Sometimes it’s another project at the same client, but often times you go to an entirely new client, perhaps in another city.
You could be moved to another project right as you were getting in a groove of the project you were on. Often times you have some advanced warning. If you are assigned to a single phase of a project, you know the timeframe of that phase. You may have hopes to be on the next phase, but you could be pulled off if you lack the right skill set for that phase, or the client loses funding for the next phase or any number of other reasons. Projects simply go in new directions, causing changes to the staffing model.
Critical consulting skill: Flexibility
You could be informed of a change at a moment’s notice. Once, while I was unassigned (on the bench in consulting vernacular), I was called at home at 9:00 PM and told to show up in another city the next day.
When you roll off of a project and the firm doesn’t have another project to assign you to, you either go back to the office or to a work-from-home status. Firms evaluate their consultants on a number of criteria, but the primary ones are on their sales numbers and their utilization numbers – percentage of available hours that you were billable on projects.
What to do on the bench
While on the bench, it’s important to do two things. First you want to get assigned to a team working on a project sales proposal. This will help you gain sales credit, but also can help you get assigned to the project if the firm wins the business.
The second thing to do is to get your name out to partners or whatever roles within the firm assign staffing to projects. It’s important to let them know who you are, what skills you have and that you are available and ambitious to get on a billable project.
Once you get assigned, it could be on an out-of-town project, requiring travel from Monday thru Friday or at a location that requires a long commute from your home. You may hear of new projects starting up with new and exciting technologies only to find out that you’ve been assigned to a mundane project with little growth potential.
You can lobby for the projects you desire, but you often don’t get a choice. Consultants are usually assigned to projects based on the firm’s ability to maximize their billing rate across all clients. If you turn down a project for any reason, you risk being labeled as a non-team player and they may resist assigning you to projects in the future.
They usually do ask you what you are interested in and what your career goals are and, if they’re able to assign you to a project that fits your interests, they’ll try to find a match for you. They do have an interest in keeping their employees happy. But they also need to bill clients to stay in business.
The critical consulting skill involved in this is to be flexible. Doing what’s best for the firm in the short-term will often be recognized by management and can be good for your career in the long-term.
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.