For a young business consultant playing in a field with colleagues and clients who surpass you in age and experience, adding value is one of the biggest challenges. Some 600,000 people in the United States currently work as consultants, but with millennials – the largest generation in the U.S. workforce – just beginning their careers, that number is likely to rise. So, too, will the challenges of starting out as a young consultant. Rising above them will lead to sustainable career success.
I’d like to share five strategies that have helped me overcome the potential pitfalls of young consultancy and aided in both my personal and professional development.
Our ability to listen is a critical determinant of our ability to deliver creative and impactful solutions. It is easy for consultants to identify the missing pieces of the puzzle, but it is much harder to customize the required solutions to your client’s needs and vision. Listening becomes a powerful tool to merge the client’s vision with yours.
2. Asking the right questions at the right time.
Listen to understand, and then ask the questions that will help you convert that understanding to a solution. Remember that listening and asking questions are interdependent and sequential; one does not happen without the other. Listening directly feeds our ability to conceptualize the right question. Knowing how to phrase your question and when to ask it are skills developed with practice and exposure to a broad spectrum of business problems and solutions.
3. Recognizing credibility as a basic survival tool.
“Can I trust this young consultant?” This is one of the first questions that your most experienced clients will ask themselves about you. How do we proactively assure them that they can? By performing the job efficiently and dependably. This is our greatest defense to “vast experience.” When you are given the chance to fix an issue or complete an assignment, do it – no matter how mundane the task. Don’t dwell on the fact that you might not enjoy it; instead, focus on each project as a learning opportunity.
In my current engagement at Percipio, I started as the technical lead for an IT project. This position requires me to manage a team of developers and business users while performing the functions of a business analyst. I view the business analyst tasks as an opportunity to learn. This has allowed me to improve my business analysis skills, expand my client network, and, more important, positioned me as the go-to person to get jobs done on this assignment.
4. Taking calculated risks.
There is a saying that goes, “If you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise.” Taking calculated risks propels our ability to make better decisions in the future. In this rapidly evolving market, taking risks is part of our daily life. Long gone are the days where we can keep doing the same tasks for 20+ years. Today, our ability to quickly identify risks and come up with methods and ways to overcome them defines our success – professionally and personally.
5. Living a full life.
An ability to merge personal and professional experiences to come up with new, creative solutions is a superpower. Not all professional growth comes from our daily work but rather from our life experiences. Work is where we apply what we learn from our life in general.
Last year, I took a sabbatical to apply my consulting skill set and industry expertise as a pro-bono consultant at an energy startup in Tanzania. This opportunity not only rewarded me with eye-opening experiences but it also exposed me to social problems can significantly impact business outcomes. I saw firsthand new challenges that small companies face and learned how to identify and prioritize issues that will add business value to a company while allowing it to deliver the highest social impact to its customers.
Business Consulting Manager | Percipio Consulting Group, Inc.