The New Consultant’s Checklist

    Starting any new job can be a harrowing experience.  One wants to start out on the right foot and make a good impression.  Every company is different, New Consultant Checklistand starting in a new industry such as consulting can cause confusion in the most intelligent and confident people.  In this week’s podcast, we’ll discuss the things a new consultant should address as they launch their consulting career.

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    1. What are some of the first things a consultant should do as they prepare to enter the consulting industry?
      1. As I began preparing some notes for this podcast, I couldn’t help thinking that I wish I knew then what I know now.
      2. When I began consulting right out of college so many years ago, the small firm I joined put me through an extensive training program, but it was mainly based on technical skills.  There was very little about professional behavior and career management.
      3. I look back at my first few assignments and kind of cringe.  I was just learning the ropes and wish I had done things much differently.
      4. It’s not that I made a lot of big mistakes; I just wish I had managed things differently.
    2. What types of things would you do differently today?
      1. Well you’re bound to make a few friends at work.  Maybe you all started the same week or went through your orientation together.
      2. You may have one or two or a group of people.  But don’t limit yourself to just that group.  Try to meet as many people in the firm as you can.
      3. You don’t have to necessarily become friends with all of them. It’s just important to expand you network and not just stick to your own circle of friends.
      4. Invite others to join you for lunch.  Strike up conversations when you meet people in the break room. And try to sit with different people when you go to firm meetings.  Not only will you get to know more people, but more people will get to know you.
      5. Another to-do is to observe other people’s behavior.  See how people communicate with each other and how they act in meetings. This will give you some insight to the company’s culture.  This ranges from when people get to the office, when they leave and how long of a lunch they take.
      6. I’m not necessarily advocating being a follower; I’m just suggesting that you see what the bulk of people are doing to learn what the norms are within your organization.
      7. For instance, regardless of the published standard work hours, if you see that a majority of people come in 30 minutes before the standard start time, you may want to emulate that.
      8. If don’t take their full hour of lunch, take note of it.  I’m not suggestion you cut your lunch time back.  I just wouldn’t take more time than you’re allotted if most of the firm takes less time.
      9. You want to be yourself while fitting in at the same time.
      10. The same goes for the dress code.  They may have a formally published dress code, but I would observe the veteran workers.  The code may say one thing, but the folks that work there may say another.  There also may be people who push the envelope with dress or time they take for lunch hour.  They may get away with it for no other reason than they’ve been with the firm for a long time.
      11. It’s important to determine what’s the norm within the company and who are the rebels who overdo it a bit.  If you start emulating the rebel, someone may pull you aside and tell you to back off.
      12. And finally, something that will help a new consultant with all of the items I’ve just talked about is, if one is not assigned to you, adopt a mentor.  In fact, I would recommend having a couple of informal mentors even if the firm assigns one to you.  Choose your own.
      13. If you can identify a couple of more experienced people that you can just bounce ideas and questions off of, you can get a variety of opinions from and just get some different perspectives.
    3. Those are good suggestions for working within the firm.  What about when you get to the client.
      1. When you first get assigned to a client, I would try to sit down with whoever is going to be in charge and find out a few things up-front about the client.
      2. What is their dress code?  Or better yet, what is our dress code while we’re on site there?  They may allow jeans and flip-flops, but your project manager may have some requirements around the types of jeans and footwear that’s different from what the client employees wear.
      3. You might ask them if there’s anything you should know about the culture before you get out there.
      4. There may actually be things that the manager is aware of that they didn’t think to tell you.  By asking them, it will cause them to stop and think about it and say something like “Well the people are kind of uptight.  I wouldn’t try to joke around with them too much until you get to know them.”  Or “the client manager doesn’t like people lining up out of his door.  If someone’s in his office talking to him, just come back later.”
      5. They may be things they didn’t even think of until you asked.
      6. Also, if they don’t tell you, may sure you get the client’s address and find out which entrance to go in, where you should park and what entrance to go to.  Make sure you get their mobile number and the number of someone else, just in case you can’t get hold of that person.
      7. Also, when you head out there, you want to allow more time than the GPS indicates.  Allow plenty of time for traffic.  It’s better to be a lot early than to be 1 minute late.
      8. Once you get to the client, you want to do the same thing you did when you were new in the consulting office.  Observe.
      9. See how the client acts and dresses and communicates.
      10. But also, see how they treat you.  You want to be as perceptive as possible to how the client views you.  Some people my welcome you as a change agent.  Some may despise you because you’re a change agent.
      11. You want to be friendly but guarded.  Not everyone will necessarily trust you and that’s Okay.  You just don’t want to let your guard down and get burned by someone at the client.
      12. End even though I told you to be somewhat guarded, you also want to balance that by avoiding being too distant or aloof.  You want to be friendly but guarded, if that makes sense.
    4. Are there differences between starting right out of college and someone who already has some experience in the business world?
      1. Yes, and it depends on how much experience the person has.  Someone who has been working for even a couple of years has already gotten over the jitters of being right out of college.  But they’re still dealing with being a new employee at a new firm and they’re dealing with a new industry.
      2. I would say they should probably do the same things a new consultant does.  The one difference would be in how you select a mentor.  Most of the time, your mentor is someone with more experience, so you may want to select someone who’s been around more than just a few years.
      3. You also may want to find someone who also joined after a few years of experience in the business world.  They can give you some first-hand advice on how to better make the transition.
    5. What about someone joining a firm who has previous consulting experience?
      1. That’s a little different situation.  They’ve already had the experience of being new at a consulting firm.  They’ve most likely dealt with clients so they know that landscape too.
      2. A couple of things to consider are, first, try not to compare what the new firm does with how your old firm did it.
      3. I’ve met people who join a new firm from a previous one, and begin to get somewhat critical about how they do things.  You get comments like “Well that’s not how my previous firm did it.  We did it this way.”
      4. It’s okay to make an occasional suggestion if you don’t word it like you think your new firm’s process is inferior.  But firms tend to be sensitive about that kind of stuff.
      5. You may even get a comment wondering why you left your last firm if you liked their procedures so much more than your new firm.
      6. I guess what I’m really saying is not to be a know-it-all, trying to impress everyone with the fact that you might be new, but you’re not new to consulting.
      7. If you came from one of their competitors, they may want to hear how your old firm did it.  But I’d still wait until someone asks rather than offering it up unsolicited.
      8. You’ll want to go through the same steps of learning the culture and meeting the people in the new firm.  Having previous consulting experience doesn’t make you any less new to the new firm.
      9. I’d also recommend the same mentoring advice.  Try to find mentors that came to this firm with previous consulting experience.  They’ve been in the same boat as you and can possibly give some pointers on how to make that transition smoother.
      10. They may even be able to give you some advice on how open your new firm might be to suggestions from your previous firm.
    6. What are some things the consultant should consider once they’ve been with the firm for a while?
      1. Once you develop a comfort level with the firm, and that may take a year or so, you want to start analyzing where you want to go in the firm with your career.
      2. Most firms offer a couple of tracks depending on your interests and skills and education. So you want to determine what the best track is for you and start developing a strategy for moving to the next level.
      3. It might be a multi-year plan but there are intermediate tactics that you can do that will get you there.
      4. This is also where mentors will come in handy.  Picking at least one or two that are working toward the same goal will give you some insight, advice and maybe some lessons learned on how to navigate your career to reach your goals.
      5. You may decide that either consulting or maybe that consulting firm is not where you want to be for the long term.  Unless you’re completely miserable, I’d recommend trying to hold out for two years.  Two years should give you enough time to make sure you didn’t just have a bad first year.
      6. It also looks better to have that much on your resume before changing jobs and two years of experience in consulting will make you more marketable.
      7. But the point is that if you decide to move on, you want to start thinking about what it is you really want to do.
      8. If you’re unhappy, you need to decide if it’s the firm or the industry.  If it is the industry, you want to decide what new direction you’d like to go.
      9. The bottom line is that after about six months to a year, you want to start doing some career planning so that you don’t just have a meandering career with no direction.
      10. And that’s something you always want to keep in check.  At 23 you may decide you want to be a partner in your firm someday.  But four years later, you may have started a family and have a whole new set of priorities.
    7. I would imagine this type of a checklist varies depending on the size of the firm one joins.
      1. It can.  If you join a large firm, there are different considerations.
      2. For instance, in a big firm, you want to do some networking and get to know more people in the firm.  If you join a smaller firm, you may meet all of the employees in the first couple of weeks.
      3. Getting acclimated to the culture is easier in a smaller firm also.  In large firms, there are cultures within different groups and it’s much more complex figuring it out.
      4. Mentors are important for any size of firm, and they will serve pretty much the same purpose.  They’ll help with any questions you have about the culture of the company, their processes and methodologies and career advice.
      5. Determining your career direction can be a much different story.  In a large firm, there are a lot of opportunities.  There is the partner track where anyone who proves themselves.  It’s not like firms like that significantly limit the number of partners.
      6. And larger firms are more likely to have many career track options.  You might be able to take a technical track or non-partner management track.  It’s just kind of a rule of thumb that the larger the firm is, the more career options there are.
      7. A smaller firm may have fewer options but that’s not necessarily the case.  Being in a smaller firm gives you more exposure to top management.  If you’re a top performer you may move up to the top more rapidly because you’re more likely to get noticed.
    8. Any final thoughts for new consultants starting out?
      1. No matter how new you are to the business world or to the consulting world, when you join a new firm, you really want to get the lay of the land.
      2. You want to be observant to learn the culture of your new firm, including the way they dress, behave and communicate.
      3. I’ve seen people start out on the wrong foot and spend a lot of time recovering.
      4. I think one of the most important things is to find someone you trust, who will be open and honest and willing to spend time with you to mentor you and just help you out.
      5. It doesn’t have to be a formal mentoring process where you schedule a weekly meeting.  It can just be someone who’s ear you can bend and take out for a drink once in a while to talk.



    Next week: Failing strategically


    Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting

    Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting

    Consulting 101 provides you with 101 useful tips to optimize your professional performance and jump-start your consulting career with success.

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