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I’ve spent most of my career as a software consultant. My job was to go into places and provide expert skills for the project at hand. The skills could range from design to requirements to process improvement to project management to programming.
As a result of being a consultant, I worked in many different spaces for many different companies. I like to think that I did it with minimal fuss and concern to the client, being ever-mindful of how much my idle time was costing them.
Now that I’m a “regular employee” in a place that still has many consultants, I have to shake my head at some of the expectations these new consultants bring to the job. Not only are the expectations unreasonable in some cases, but cause a great deal of ill-will between the consultants, the regular staff, and the support staff. So I decided to put together a list of things that you need to be aware of if you are thinking about making the jump into consulting:
The Client Doesn’t Know You
Before you are at the client site, all the client knows about you is what is on your resume. This may have been “updated” by the people representing you in order to capture a contract. Hopefully you will have had an interview with the client, but your skills still have to be proven.
You may know what you can do, and even if you are a genius, you are going to have to prove that to the client. Don’t expect them to treat you with the respect your skills deserve until you have proven you know what you are doing.
If your skills have been exaggerated, the client will find out. They might have a process in place to catch this; but you need to realize that even if the managers don’t know, your fellow employees will. It pays to be honest and up-front and know what the client is expecting, and whether you have the proven skill set to deliver results.
You Don’t Know the Client
Even if you are a world-class expert in the business of your client, you will not know how the client specifically does business. Don’t assume that your way is best, but take the time to learn what the client does.
One of the best way to alienate your co-workers is to keep saying, “At company X they do such-and-such and it’s the best way.” Sometimes processes were designed for reasons beyond what you may see. Respect that and work with the client without vocalizing judgment.
You Are Not An Employee
Full time employees have certain benefits, both written and unwritten. They may be paid for corporate holidays. They may show up five minutes late without repercussions, or get to learn new technology on the job.
As a consultant, these benefits will not be extended to you. No client is going to pay a consultant for not working on a holiday (that’s why they hire consultants – they don’t have to pay benefits). If your company doesn’t pay you for the holiday, don’t complain to the client.
If you don’t know a skill (especially if you are supposed to know it), don’t expect the client to pay for you to learn it. And if you try to learn something you are supposed to know on the job, it will be noticed.
There are also benefits extended to employees after the employee has proven themselves. At my company, teleworking is allowed if you have proved yourself to be a productive person who does not need constant supervision. Not all employees are allowed to telework; consultants should not expect to be allowed to telework after a single day on the job.
Your Client Might Not Be Ready For You
Of all the clients I worked at, there was only one that was ready for me when I walked in the door. Unpacking a computer or installing software was par for the course. Some clients didn’t even have the project ready to go due to circumstances beyond their control.
If you are greeted with having to unpack a computer on the first day, don’t be a prima donna and expect someone else to set up your working environment for you. If there is no work readily available, learn what you can about the company, their systems and other items applicable to your job.
You Are Not A Superhero
Most consultants are not brought into a place to revolutionize things. Most likely the people you will be working with are competent, and probably don’t need saving. Don’t cause ill-will by always needing to be right or assuming you know the best.
Often consultants are brought in as a set of extra hands to get through things. Many clients I was assigned to used consultants to do maintenance on legacy code instead of working in the new development. If this is the case, don’t whine about what you are asked to do. Companies give new development to their employees because maintenance can be tedious.
Follow the Office Policies
All companies have rules, both formal and informal. Adhere to the dress codes of your client. Respect stated working hours. Don’t install software or hardware without permission. If the company prohibits use of cell phones or personal laptops in the office, adhere to that. Keep common areas clean.
Being a consultant involves looking and acting like an employee without actually being one. There are some definite down-sides when compared with regular employees, but the rates offered consultants generally offset that. If you respect your client and co-workers, you will have a smoother time of things.
Photo by granth