These Are the Most Important Traits of Successful Consultants

Whether by choice or necessity, more IT professionals are working as consultants. In 2013, management and technical consulting services accounted for more than 48 percent of all newly created IT jobs, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

business people at a deskSo, what does it take to be a successful consultant? Among other things, the right attitude to move from project to project, and an understanding of the challenges contract employees face.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Many consultants complain that they’re handed assignments that aren’t clearly defined. Still, they have to push them through to completion. “You have to be able to deliver,” says Brandon Smith, a workplace coach and founder of Atlanta-based The Worksmiths. “That means having specific goals and timeframes in mind.”

The key here is to ask good questions before the assignment starts and continue to ask questions and offer solutions as work proceeds. “IT professionals like to talk a lot about what they know, but it’s about filling the company’s need,” Smith points out. And, keep the client apprised of potential cost overruns and delays well before they happen — and well before they get out of control.

Be a Team Player

It’s hard to feel like an outsider, and that’s a common situation in consulting. To avoid a sense of isolation, position yourself as a strategic player and decision maker. “It’s about developing a relationship and building trust with the client,” Smith explains.

Plus, follow this simple strategy: Be pleasant. Technology consultants need to fit in and at the same time differentiate themselves from the other candidates who might be after future assignments.

Take the Initiative

If you want to keep a positive attitude, try to exercise some control over the project by demonstrating your expertise and professionalism. “If you’re waiting for someone to find you and anoint you, it’s not going to happen,” says Smith. “Make sure you approach the company as a client and help them think better. You’re not just an order-taker.”

By positioning yourself the right way with the organization, he says, you’re less likely to feel “stuck” and won’t be pigeon-holed completing identical projects and tasks.

Good News

Consulting assignments are growing in length and those with the right attitude and skills are likely to develop long-term relationships with a recruiter or two who’ll find them consistent and well-paying work.

“You have to understand the recruiter needs you as much as you need them,” says Deb DeCamp, vice president of recruiting for Experis, a division of Manpower. “We want people to work for us on more than one project.”

Fortunately for everyone, there are a ton of consulting opportunities out there and “a lot of people do very well at it,” says DeCamp. Plus, software engineers, architects and developers working as consultants get a chance to flex their wings as they move from project to project or industry to industry. “The contract or contingent world gives you the ability to expand your experiences,” DeCamp says.

One Response to “These Are the Most Important Traits of Successful Consultants”

  1. Contracting/consulting is a great way to keep your skills fresh. Because you need to look for new assignments on a regular basis, you have to keep up with the technologies that are in demand. Another benefit is being able to experience working in different industries and work environments. That can be a real plus for a lot of companies, like those in the financial, pharmaceutical, or defense industries, which have a lot of special requirements.In addition, you get to work with different methodologies, like agile, waterfall, extreme programming for software developers, so you can provide expertise on what works well in different scenarios.

    As for assignments that aren’t clearly defined… well, that’s more the rule than the exception. In a lot of cases, a company is bringing in the consultant to help them define what they need. That’s what drives them to hire an expert in the first place. My own experience has been that I usually get handed a vague requirement with a tight deadline. If I even get any sort of documentation, it’s a good thing. You need to have a short learning curve and to know how to ask the right questions to get things more clearly defined. Even then, it can be difficult to please a client who doesn’t know what they want or where there are conflicting opinions. I once had a contract where I was trying to please 3 different managers, each with his or her own ideas of what the project should do and each with different priorities as to what should be done first. Needless to say, I didn’t end up pleasing any of them 100%, but I tried my best to make a good compromise.

    It can be a difficult path, but consulting can be really rewarding. It’s not for everyone, but those of us who enjoy it and take advantage of its benefits can do really well.