I frequently advise people who are starting a consulting career and give them my 6 ‘Golden Consulting Rules’ so they can start it with success.
During one of my recent conversations, a comment was made that these consulting rules make great career strategies especially for those just entering the workforce.
Here are the career strategies I learned in consulting.
6. When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do.
This is one of the first consulting rules I learned and has proven to be one of the best career strategies. As a consultant, you spend most of your time with clients and often in their environment.
Before you show up to their world, learn everything you can about their culture, including the dress code.
I have been fortunate to travel all over the world. When I go to a new culture, I always seek to learn as much as possible about it.
I may not agree with all parts of the culture, but I respect it and use it as an opportunity to learn.
My hope is that people in these cultures will want to learn about mine as well; however, I am very conscious not to ‘push’ my culture onto them or disrespect their culture in any way.
The same holds true when you begin working in a new environment, even if it is a new department in a company that you’ve been at for 20+ years. Most departments (even regions) within a company hold their own ‘subculture’ that is often a result of leadership.
Do not make assumptions and learn everything you can about the culture, the standards, and the personalities before you step foot on their turf. It is time and effort well spent to ensure you start with success and at the very least – don’t horrifically embarrass yourself. This is a piece of career advice I wish someone had emphasized boldy from the start.
5. Dress to the Role – with a Twist.
I’ve never understood the career advice,
“Dress for the job you want, not the job that you have.”
If you do truly do this, you’ll likely alienate your colleagues (who are a critical part of your career progression), and you might look a little..ridiculous. It’s horrible career strategy. Don’t do it.
This goes back to career advice tip #1 – when in Rome – dress to the part, but add a little something that differentiates.
For example, if the dress code is a shirt, tie, and slacks, I might add a sharp blazer to that.
Same with business casual and jeans. Just throw on a blazer, and it still looks great, and you do not stick out like a sore thumb.
As superficial as it sounds, personal style is an important part of your career, especially as you progress into leadership and executive roles.
You’ll make a great impression, and you may also start a trend.
You trendsetter, you!
4. Respect Expenses
As there is so much travel in consulting, a client will give you a per-diem which is the amount of allowed daily spend for food. If you max it out every day in your report, it does not look good.
If you are maxing it out with reported items such as movies, alcohol or other items, it makes you look horrible.
The same holds true when you are expensing items with your company. Money is always a sensitive subject in both our personal and professional lives. Show it some respect and don’t call attention to yourself.
I learned this piece of career advice in Northern California in 1995.
I had gotten a free upgrade to a sweet convertible from the car rental company. YES!
Until my boss saw me drive into the hotel parking lot with Montell Jordan blaring from the stereo system.
She calmly came out as I was going to the trunk to take out my bags and quietly said,
“I would go ahead and leave the bags in the trunk. You are going to take that car back and exchange it for the standard.”
Later that night she explained a concept that I now call ‘expense sense’ career advice.
Even if it did not come at an additional cost, the sense and perception might be that it did.
The freebie convertible was not worth the possible expense sense and breaking a major consulting rule.
3. The Client and Customer are NOT always right.
“The customer is always right”
has got to be one of the most ridiculous pieces of career strategies I have ever heard – especially in consulting.
It is career suicide.
Your role as a consultant is to provide innovative solutions and perspective. That is the value that you provide.
If I agreed with everything that a client said, I would have failed miserably years ago in consulting.
This is one of the most important pieces of career advice I give – tell a client, or colleague what they need to hear – not what they want to hear.
The same holds true for the value you provide to your boss – at any level in the organization. As uncomfortable as it might be at times, you have to learn to disagree with your boss to add the value required to progress your career.
That is the purpose of a team – to add diversity in thought and participation.
If your boss only wants to hear ‘yes’ and agreement, it is time to find a new manager. You will never have the opportunity to progress if you are only producing the specific widgets that your boss dictates.
There is nothing innovative about that, and you’ll likely lose your mind to boredom.
2. Master Debate and Amend Solutions
Because you will get nowhere fast with agreeing to everything, it is important to master the art of debate.
The successful debate begins with first understanding the goal and how you approach it. The career advice that surprises most people is when I tell them to be open to changing your solution if it is the right thing to do.
How I approach debate has not only made me incredibly good in a debate but has also provided invaluable growth to me professionally and personally.
I approach the debate with an open mindset. I explain what I believe is the best solution, but I am more than open to amending that answer based on what you teach me in the debate.
I want to be proven wrong, as it then allows a hybrid of your solution and mine and that can produce some incredibly powerful and innovative results.
Especially during times of change and transformation, you have to be amenable to modify the plan as you learn more from the result.
This is where it is critical to surround yourself with both people who will tell you what you need to hear and who are open to being told what they need to hear.
That two-way openness is the formula for an incredibly long-lasting partnership.
1. Be Five Minutes Early – For Everything.
Never keep them waiting and always keep them wanting more is a career strategy that is applicable to any function. It also happens to be one of the golden rules of dating.
Time is money – especially in consulting – so never keep a client waiting. In my almost 22 years of consulting, the only time I was late for a meeting was when I was pulled over for a speeding ticket.
Yes, I used #5 to get out of the ticket.
This is the same career advice that you should apply to your boss, colleagues, and partners in other departments of the same organization.
This is one I have committed to work on much more with my colleagues as I am not always the best at it – in fact, I often fail.
I am always putting clients first. However, I’ve learned that it is incredibly expensive and disrespectful not to show the same courtesy to my colleagues.
As always, I am a work in progress.
Just as I recommend you be early, I also advise not to stick around for too long.
Don’t be the person that needs to be the last to leave a meeting or the one who needs to respond to every single statement – and breath – in a meeting.
Say what adds value and only what you need to say and stay for only as long as you are required and are adding value.
Keep them wanting more and don’t overstay your welcome.