Category Archives: Networking

Critical Consulting Skill: Flexibility

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.

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.

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 aspect here 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.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com).  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Business, Consulting, Flexibility, Morale, Networking, Personal Branding

4 Ways to Market Yourself within the Consulting Firm

Imagine that you have developed a soft drink that tastes better than Coke.  It has fewer calories, comes in a biodegradable can and contains nutrients that will make its users healthier.  Everything about this product is better than Coke, Pepsi or any other soft drink on the market.  Unfortunately, you have no marketing budget to promote it and have to rely on word of mouth.  The current market seems perfectly happy with the soft drinks they’re already drinking and your new product never gets off the ground.

This fictional scenario can happen to you in a consulting environment.  You may be the hardest, smartest worker in your firm.  But if you don’t get your name out to the decision makers who staff projects or have influence on that staffing, you may get passed up for high-profile projects.

This is not as much of an issue at smaller firms where management already knows you.  It’s more critical for larger firms and critical for 1st & 2nd tier firms like McKinsey, Deloitte and McGladrey.  It’s easy to get lost in firms like that.

You may do a bang-up job on a project and impress the partner and the project manager.  If their next project requires your skill set, they may lobby to get you assigned to their project.  But they may move on to projects that require a completely different skill set.  In larger firms, it’s very important to market yourself within.  Some of the things you can do are:

  • Volunteer to speak at firm meetings. – Most firms hold all-hands meetings on a quarterly or semi-annual basis to update the staff on their progress and provide an overview of a couple of their latest successful projects.  If they showcase a project that you have served on, offer to give part of the presentation.  It’s a great way to get your name out.
  • Make an effort to meet the firm leadership – Understand the firm hierarchy and figure out who the decision makers are (Partners, VPs, Directors).  Get to know their names and faces and introduce yourself in a non-intrusive way.  Selling yourself like a used car will backfire like a… well, like a used car.
  • Volunteer to work on sales proposals – When unassigned (on the bench), show that you are willing to do whatever it takes to make the firm successful.  It exposes your skills to others and increases your chances of being assigned to the project if the proposal wins.
  • First and foremost, do your regular job well – You won’t get assigned to any high-profile projects or proposals if you haven’t already developed a reputation for doing quality work.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Communication, Consulting, Meetings, Networking, Personal Branding, public speaking

5 Things My Mentors Taught Me

By Lew Sauder

When I started out in consulting, I decided early on that I would seek out a mentor.  I must have been like the little bird in the children’s book “Are You My Mother?” that goes from animal to animal seeking out its mother.  I had in my mind that there would be one person that would extol his or her wisdom to help me to launch my career.  After a few years, here is what I learned:

Mentors are human, not heroes – One of my first designated mentors was someone I idolized.  I hung on every word he said and thought he was infallible.  I soon found that he made mistakes and wasn’t the erudite I thought he was.  I was disappointed and thought I had made a mistake in selecting a mentor.  But he was still a great manager and I still respected him for his abilities.  I just needed to accept that a mentor can screw up and still be respected.

Have multiple mentors and combine ideas from each of them.  Once I realized that my mentor wasn’t the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi sent down from on-high to bestow his wisdom upon me, I realized that there are many people around me that I can learn from.  I could draw upon one’s advice on one day and someone else’s on another day.

You can learn from anti-mentors.  I’ve worked with managers and people that I didn’t like or respect.  I have a philosophy that you can be a good manager without being an asshole.  But I’ve known people with a quite different philosophy that disrespect their subordinates or act in unethical ways.  I’ve observed these people and from them I’ve learned how not to act and how not to treat others.

Don’t tell a mentor that they are a mentor.  I once told a colleague that I considered them a mentor.  From that point forward, our relationship changed.  It seemed to go to his head.  It was as if we couldn’t be friends anymore because he had assumed this role of being my mentor.  He had to give me advice every chance he got.  It got very tiresome and I got to the point where I would avoid being around him because I got tired of the constant spray of advice.  After that, I would ask mentors advice or learn by observation, but I never formalized the role with them.

Be your own person.  You can get all the advice you want from as many mentors as you choose.  But you have to filter for yourself what works best for you.  Just because you asked someone for advice doesn’t mean you have to follow it.  All advice is optional.  When I was a senior in college, I was fortunate enough to have three job offers to consider.  I went to my number one mentor, my father, to ask his advice.  Although one of the offers would have kept me close to my parent’s home, he refused to give me advice.  Instead, he told me to think about the things that were important to me and to decide for myself.  He helped me make my own decision rather than giving me his opinion.  A true mentor will resist giving you advice, but will ask you the right questions to make you think so that you make decisions for yourself.

It’s a good practice to identify mentors at any stage of your career to help you steer your career.  But mentors are guides, not a replacement for using your own judgment.  You need to decide whether their advice is worth following based on your own values and the direction you want your career to advance.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Business, Communication, Consulting, Mentoring, Networking

Everything I Need to Know About Networking I Learned from My High School Pals

By Lew Sauder

Last weekend I spend three days in Lexington and Louisville, KY with two life-long friends.  Jon and Robb have been friends of mine since grade school.  We were good friends through high school and were even roommates at various times through college.  One of the things we did was tour a whiskey distillery.  I’ve never been a whiskey drinker and a sample taste of it at the distillery confirmed that for me.  We also went through the Louisville Slugger bat factory and generally consumed mass quantities of unnecessary calories all weekend.

Just like in our school days, we had a great time together.  After college, we went our different ways, working in vastly different industries.  Two of us live in the Chicago suburbs while the other is in Southern Illinois.  Although we’ve gotten together in pairs at various times, we realized that, except for a funeral six years ago, the three of us hadn’t been together in 18 years.

What struck me was the way we were able to just hit the ground running with our relationships as if it had only been 18 weeks instead.  But we really hadn’t stopped being friends.  In fact we’ve kept in close contact.  We keep up with each other on Facebook, email each other and even connect the old-fashioned way through telephone calls every once in a while.

It got me to thinking that we have been networking with each other the way professionals should network with their contacts.  I’ve known people that I call ‘reactive networkers’.  They may gather connections in LinkedIn or Facebook, but they don’t keep in touch with any of their contacts.  Not until they need to anyway.  They wait until their company has a round of layoffs, find themselves without a job and are suddenly reaching out to their network asking if anyone knows of any job openings.

This is an ineffective way to network.  Many of your connections are not bound to remember you like life-long friends.  If you meet someone at a conference and connect with them on LinkedIn, but never maintain that relationship, contacting them three or four years later is not bound to be helpful.  On the odd chance that they remember you, they won’t know enough about you to feel comfortable referring you for a position.

People often hear that they need to network and they consider collecting contacts to be sufficient.  There is a lot more to it.  Practicing ‘proactive networking’ means making contacts and keeping in touch with them on a regular basis:

  • Update your LinkedIn profile on a regular basis.  Update it with new career experiences, newly published publications and any updates that people in your network might be interested in.  If they receive periodic updates on their network, they will regularly see your name, keeping you top-of-mind on a regular basis.
  • Keep in touch by sending an email every once in a while.  Tell them you saw an update on their LinkedIn profile or saw an article they might be interested in and thought of them.  This helps to keep up your awareness and provides them with helpful information.
  • If your contacts are on Twitter, follow them.  Chances are they will follow you back.  Tweet on a regular basis and interact with them.
  • Determine how you want to use the various social media applications.  I use Facebook for personal friends only and have very little overlap between it and LinkedIn or Twitter.  I use LinkedIn and Twitter professionally connecting only with professional contacts in which we could help each other in some way.

If you think of this as contacting people with an ulterior motive or as an insincere approach to making friends, you’re probably doing it wrong.  When I keep in touch with my personal friends, I don’t do it with the intent of asking them for a favor sometime down the road.  But I know that if I need help someday, they may be more apt to help me out if I haven’t abandoned them for the past 18 years.

The same goes for networking professionally.  If I keep in touch with people and send them an article that they may be interested, they know that I’m interested in them and will be willing to help them out if the need arises.  It’s a matter of making friends professionally, knowing that if you stay in touch and maintain a familiarity with each other’s’ skills, either one of you can help the other out when needed.

So I’m thinking I should make this high school friend outing an annual event.  Maybe we could meet next year in Las Vegas. In the meantime, I’m going to make sure I keep in touch.

What do you do to keep up with your network?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under blogging, Consulting, Job search, Networking, Personal Branding