7 Tips for a New Consultant

Author : Lew Sauder
Published: August 03, 2012

So you’ve secured that new job with the consulting firm of your choice. After years of hard work in college, surviving the grueling interview process and evaluating which offer to accept, you’re ready to change the world.

Your new consulting firm will most likely put you through an orientation process to teach you their methodologies and how to work with clients. But how do you work within your own firm to be successful?

Here are a few tips that may help you navigate the unknown waters of being employed at a consulting firm.

(1) Dress appropriately. Most firms will review their dress code with new employees, but the best thing to do is observe. Dress codes are often filled with vague suggestions such as “professional looking footwear” and “appropriate length skirts”. Look around the office and observe how the majority of people dress. Do they tuck their shirts in or not?

There is always an employee who pushes the envelope and may even get away with outright violations of the code. Being a fashion pioneer is not a recommended move when you first start out. Observe how management dresses and emulate them. Erring on the side of conservatism won’t hurt.

(2) Promptness is a sign of respect. Perhaps your college professors didn’t care if you showed up a few minutes late to class. Perhaps you didn’t care whether they cared. You will find that even in a professional environment, people show up to meetings late. Don’t be that guy. If you show up on time, you’re late. Whether it is a meeting of 15 people or just a one-on-one, aim to show up 1-2 minutes early. You occasionally may need to wait in the hallway as the previous meeting finishes up, but at least no one will end up waiting for you.

(3) Listen. You may now have a college education but your learning has just begun. You may be working with people who are much older than you and don’t understand some of the technologies or business concepts that you learned in college. Don’t presume that that makes them dumb. Assume you can learn something from everyone. Even if you disagree with what they say, they may have wisdom that you will never acquire if you don’t hear them out.

(4) Don’t take yourself too seriously. Many new consultants believe that professionalism equates to how serious one acts. It’s okay to smile and laugh once in a while. You also are not expected to know everything at this stage in your career. You will make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them and not repeat them.

(5) Turn off or silence your phone and leave it alone in meetings. You may find that business meetings will make your most boring college class seem like a party. Your first impulse may be to pull out your phone and check emails, text your best friend or check out Twitter. Resist the urge. Even if you pull out your phone to do something work-related, it’s bad form. You’ve sent a loud and clear message to whoever is speaking how disinterested you are in what they are saying.

(6) Continue learning. You may feel like you’ve had enough reading assignments in college to last a lifetime. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning. You should continue to read books, trade magazines, blogs and anything else that can keep you up to speed on the latest business trends in consulting and in the industries that you serve. You should also keep yourself up to date on any technologies your firm offers. Seek out someone – or multiple people – to be a mentor. Ask this person questions about what they would recommend on your reading list. They may even have a few books they’ll lend you to get you started.

(7) Get to know people in the firm – and let them get to know you. In a subtle way, market yourself within the firm. Introduce yourself to key individuals. Let them know who you are and that you are motivated to help the company be successful. Meeting people needs to be tempered. You want to be outgoing but polite. When you address a manager at the firm, make sure they have the time to talk. You might go to their office and say, “Hi Ann, do you have a minute? I just wanted to introduce myself and let you know that I’m looking forward to working here.”

If they’re busy, they will probably let you know. If they have the time, they will probably give you a least a few minutes. Make sure not to turn it into an hour long chat unless that’s what they want.

It’s always awkward being the new person in the office. It is even more of a challenge when you aren’t sure how to act and what is expected of you. It’s important to be yourself while also observing others in your organization to learn what is and isn’t standard operating procedure.

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