Extract from: "The Consulting Journey – Some thoughts for people who are just starting their career" byVijay Vijayasankar (2020) @vijayasankarv
Are you interested in Consulting but don't know exactly where to start? Real hands-on training is the best way to start. However, you will want to continue reading...
1. What separates the great from the good ?
Curiosity is the biggest differentiator . Studies gives us a foundation – but when you step into the industry, you generally have a lot to learn. In consulting – the part of work that youngsters often rebel against is working on "making a slide deck pretty".
What they don’t often realize is that it’s not the fonts, colors and icons that make a presentation work – it’s the story ! The pretty slides that don’t tell a story are useless. The curious ones often come and ask their seniors a lot of WHY questions. They are also resourceful – they do their research and come with suggestions. They learn from the feedback and get better every time. And slowly – they “shift left” and get more opportunities to contribute to the thought leadership that leads to a solution.
2. How do you add value to your client ?
There are two parts to this – the “arms and legs” part , and the “brains and foresight” part. The first is about keeping your skills sharp – are you staying current on your skill set ? Do you know who to reach out for help when you are stuck ? Etc. Basically – you need to know enough to do the job well as it was explained to you. You need to be able to solve a problem the right way.
The second is – are you able to look into the future and spot opportunities and mitigate risk The general idea is – are you just solving the problem the right way, or are you able to figure out if this is the right problem to solve?
3. How do you become an expert ?
Whether it’s an industry or a technical domain – you have a lot to learn to be an expert , and you can never stop learning. That needs a certain mindset to
chart your course. Consulting has two general approaches to expertise – you can do a series of short projects jumping from one project to another at various clients, or you can stay at one client in a variety of roles over a longer period of time and become a master at everything they do.
The end goal is that you have enough experience at some point to know where a certain approach will take you and that foresight is useful to your client. That’s how you get to determine if you are solving the right problem for your client. To be successful in this field, you need to constantly expand that box.
4. Leading people
In theory, you can have a perfectly decent career by continuing to be an individual contributor – where your deep expertise is your differentiator . The part we need to understand is that it’s still a small part of the population. That’s a practical limitation. For most of the people – you need to become good at leading people to progress your career.
There are very few people in any company who are truly great leaders of people. The basic idea as you get to lead people is you cannot effectively manage people – you can only lead them What you can manage is tasks. That’s a long winded way of saying – you don’t become a leader because of a title, you become a leader when people want to follow the direction you set , and they are inspired by both your words and action.
5. Growing your career
The corporate world is generally not very fair – if you do good work , it usually doesn’t automatically take you places. The people who need to sponsor your career need to know that you are adding value and it’s on you to make sure they know. Similarly – you need to know that no organization can promote everyone at every level. So you do need to stand out – with high ethics, high skills, high integrity, high collaboration and all that. The sooner you realize it, the less grief you will have and the chance of success will get higher.
Success doesn’t teach us a lot – but we often realize it only later in life. And by then – the price to fail is too high. In other words – the time to take risks and fail a few times without having a big price to pay is early in your career. We all like to get promoted early and often – that’s a very natural feeling and it might never completely leave any of us. But also remember this – if you primarily focus on promotions and play that game successfully , eventually you will get to a place where you are not at all prepared for the role and you will fail.
Essentially, pace yourself on how fast you want to grow.
Also remember that how you accomplish a career goal is as important (maybe even more important) as what you accomplish. A bad reputation is easy to take root and very hard to shake. Integrity is not just about career growth, every aspect of your personal and professional life needs you not compromise on that!
6. Mentors and Sponsors
You need both to have a great career and it’s important to build that network early in your career . It’s also important to remember that you need more than one of each. Getting mentored is easier than getting sponsored. You need to cast a wide net to make it work. Also remember – it’s easy to think that someone we know got promoted because they sucked up to their boss. That does happen – but not as often as you might think. No good leader will be your sponsor unless your work stands out already.
7. Sales vs delivery
No client likes a consultant because they are good sellers. But unfortunately a lot of consultants grow up thinking they need to get out of delivery and be more Sales focused to grow their careers. At the simplest level – the client is paying for your skills, experience and foresight. When we deliver that with high quality – they trust us more and that leads them to
use our services even more. In other words, sales is more based on delivery, than delivery is based on sales.
Yes you do need to learn the sales process along the way. But never lose sight of the fundamental reason we are consultants – we are there to serve our clients. Sales just happens as a result of a client trusting us to deliver. Also remember, people buy services from people they trust. Great client relationships happen because of great delivery offer a long period of time. Your success as a seller is much higher if your clients already trust you – which is another reason why staying longer on projects is more helpful than jumping around a lot of clients where you don’t get to create meaningful relationships.
If you want to experiment, the best thing to do is to give it a shot early in your career when set backs are not costly. You can always come back to consulting if you want to . All I would say is that give each options bit of time before you make hard decisions .
The more common scenario is whether you want to jump across consulting companies. The biggest difficulty for you individually when you switch employers is that you need to build your network from scratch every time . You will need new mentors and sponsors – which takes time to establish.
You will possibly need to build new client relationships too, which also takes time. And last but not least – there will be already a line of candidates ahead of you to get promoted in the new place. So while in the short term the money might look good, it might not translate to great success even in the medium term, let alone the long term. So think very carefully before you make important decisions.
9. Goal setting and staying flexible
It’s important to have a North Star on where you are headed . But it’s even more important to be flexible on the short term goals that will get you to your destination. Early in your career, your interest might be in full stack development and you might end up doing test automation instead. It is easy to get disheartened and think your skills are being wasted If you think of life as a linear path, you will be disappointed more times than not.