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Archive for the ‘Consultant profiles’ Category

As a follow-up to my last post, I’ve added a part II to my contractor profile blog. I thought it would be important for anyone interested to get the contractor perspective directly, sans personal commentary. What you’ll find below are the questions asked and the responses given. Personally identifying details have been removed. In addition, when the responses were similar or unanimous, I combined them.

1. What do you think are the advantages to being independent?

Freedom

I can pick the projects I want, where I want, when I want. In other words, I have control, something that consulting company employees simply do not have. Employees go where the consulting company has work.

Freedom to pick and choose projects and choose the number of weeks of vacation I want each year.

Location

Every week is a very different proposition.

Stability

This is sort of a shocker, but an IC [“independent contractor”] has a more stable employment picture than just about anyone.  How so?  If I’m on a gig with a PO [“purchase order”], unless the client site burns to the ground, I’ve got work till the PO runs out.  Client or consulting company employees are much more at risk as all sorts of things can happen to them whilst working on a project.  Of course at the end of the project they have work and I don’t but that’s just my cue to find the next engagement.

Work/Life Balance

As consultants age, they tend to have families.  Significant Others and the usually-inevitable offspring have this weirdo expectation that said consultant will be around for the things that supposedly count more than work.  Which is pretty hard to do if you are on the other side of the country.  So I tend to hold out for more local projects because it gives me a better quality of life.

Technology/Skills

Sometimes totally awesome projects drop into your lap, sometimes the gig is a stinker.  I don’t have to take those stinkers unless I either need the money or think I’ll pick up a valuable skill.  I get to decide.

Neutrality (a.k.a. “You are not threatening”)

I put together what I like to call “science projects” that span people I know in the EPM world.  They tend to be consultants and work for a variety of companies.  I think if I tried to organize this and worked for consulting company X their managers wouldn’t allow the work.

Money

Compensation tends to be higher and self-employment allows for much greater pre-tax contributions to retirement plans.  

2. What do you think are the disadvantages to being independent?

(Lack of) Health Insurance

The lack of health insurance and other benefits.

Finding Work

The uncertainty of future project work and needing to find your own work.

If you work for a consulting company you don’t have to find work — your practice manager/sales rep/company management finds it for you.  I do have to find work and it’s just about my least favorite task — finding work, wading through the bottom-feeding body shops that all advertise the same gig with ever-increasing percent of bill rate taken out, negotiating rates, hoping that the job is somewhere near to the same timezone I live in — fun, fun, fun.I find the finding of work and the self marketing to be time consuming things I wish I didn’t have to do but such is life.

Training

The lack of formalized training.

There is no magical EPM training facility that gives out advanced tool training for free. You get this as an employee — when I did work, briefly, for a prominent consulting company I was astounded at the quality and depth of the training practically shoved down our throats. I was equally surprised at how little my fellow employees appreciated what they had. I suppose that was a case of not knowing what you have. So I spend a LOT of time on the boards, searching the web for answers, forcing myself to blog about stuff, being really innovative at clients so that they agree to me doing mini science projects. In other words, I have to hustle to keep myself even mildly abreast of all of the changes coming out of Oracle. I have to say that for me, this learning hustle is the only way I really learn. When I worked for that unnamed firm, I found that the training was a good introduction to the subject but I only really learned how to use the tool by doing. So that’s the same for me as an independent and I guess a bit of a wash.One thing I am free of is a consulting company forcing me to do technology X when I have no interest in it. A firm with a brain wouldn’t do that anyway to an employee if for no other reason than it’s a terrible way to motivate someone but I have heard tales.

Networking

When you’re an employee, you’re on the team. I am a team of one. Oh sure, I meet people through projects but that isn’t the same. I have to use user groups, the web, my blog, etc. to reach out to other people and have that resource I can ask minor favors of from time to time.

Career Growth

I am both the president of the firm and the person that buys stamps at the post office all at the same time. There’s nowhere to go up or down — short of hiring people this is, within my job, as good as it gets.

Over time my role in projects has changed but if I wanted to manage people, or run multiple projects, or deeply interact with Oracle, there simply isn’t the scope. I find the user groups and the web (blog/twitter, boards, etc.) to be a substitute for the normal growth path in a firm. It works for me, but I suspect that is a personal view and all of that does take time. Who needs sleep, really?

3. In addition, the following information was offered in the category of “Neither an advantage nor a disadvantage”

Money

This is a tough one. There is the expectation by everyone who is not an independent consultant that we make the big bucks. My good years are just that — good. Take a guess re: the bad years. Let’s just say that fiscal discipline is a big, big, big part of staying in the IC game. I have over a year’s worth of living expenses in cash? Over reaction? Think about what happened after 9/11. That was a very bleak time for ICs.

Once all of the expenses (there are others — payroll, accounting, training, miscellaneous) are figured in and a few years are averaged the pay is roughly equivalent to what a senior technical consultant would make at a decent consulting company. It is no path to riches but it is certainly a comfortable life.

Taxes

What no one quite gets are the taxes. I pay double Social Security because I have to pay my personal and corporate SS taxes and I have state and local taxes that individuals don’t have to worry about. As an example, New Jersey has a $500/year foreign corporation registration fee. It goes on and on and it does add up.

Insurance

Then there’s the insurance tied to the business:  liability, workman’s comp (which I can’t even really collect on), errors and omissions, and of course the big one — healthcare.  You may complain about having to contribute to it — I pay the full price. And before you think, “That’s before tax” I’ll tell you that isn’t enough to offset the cost, not by a long shot. There is nothing like getting a 31% rise in health care costs which I will absorb 100%.

Legal Expenses

Those contracts I sign all go through a law firm for review. Hourly rate, as a favor to me because I am high school buddies with one of the partners, $380/hour. They are worth every penny — I have been in bad projects with, in my opinion at least, less than honest people and a good contract got me out. Again, another expense employees don’t see but their employers do.

4. What type of corporation did you open for yourself?

I did not create a corporation, though many people do so.

If you don’t incorporate, someone can sue you for your personal assets. This is a risk, though I don’t know of it happening to anyone at any point in time in my network. An individual can get general liability insurance, just as someone who is incorporated. The truth of the matter is that consulting firms carry insurance that cover you in most cases. When they don’t cover you, they may request that you have your own insurance.

When I started there was no Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) so I am incorporated as an S Corporation.  No one will deal with an individual/1099.

5. Do you feel contractors have a positive or negative connotation associated with them (and why)?

Contractors generally have a negative connotation in the minds of the customer and consulting firm. The customer has a fear that a contractor may be somewhat less committed to seeing a project through to a successful ending point. In addition, a contractor may not be available after the project has completed. Consulting firms have financial incentives to utilize their own resources, which are generally less expensive.  In addition, consulting firms are incentivized by Oracle to retain minimum numbers of certified consultants.   In my case, I am usually as dependable and loyal as any employee. I keep email access with multiple consulting firms so that a client can reach me years after a project has ended. Though I may be a more expensive resource, if business is slow for a consulting firm there is no worry of carrying a bench.

Clients (and hiring consulting companies) are only interested in “Can he/she do the work, on time, and on budget”? If I can point to a series of projects, with clients that will act as references, I’ve answered the question.

6. Do you feel discriminated against when you’re working with regular consultants and/or clients?

I have only had the discrimination experience during the beginning of one project. The project manager wouldn’t listen to my advice and even forced application design decisions on me. It really back-fired on him and he did a complete turnaround mid-way through the project. It is also not unusual to be treated better than some “real employees” at times.

Consulting companies typically are decent to me because:

  1. They hired me — why would they then treat me badly, especially when I can leave at the end of a contract?
  2. If I am not a complete idiot on the project, they usually want to hire me.  Okay, sometimes they don’t but that is up to me not being a complete idiot.
  3. A happy IC on a company project = a productive resource which is what they want.
  4. It’s just common sense, see points 1, 2, and 3.

Have I ever had a clash be it technical or project-related? Sure, I’ve had differing opinions and sometimes I’ve been right and other times I have been 100% wrong.  I try to own up to my mistakes.

7. Do you feel that being technology certified makes a difference in landing gigs?

My certification has not had an impact on me landing gigs.

I don’t think that certification makes a difference. I like to think that the years of experience, etc. make up for the lack of current certification. Maybe all that does, maybe not. Also, the tests are a joke, not because of their material, but because it is trivial to buy the results and every bottom feeder buys it and then claims “certification”.

8. What would it take for you to work for a company/consulting firm again (or would you not)?

I think that I would work for a company/consulting firm if I was offered a truly unique opportunity that I thought would be a good learning opportunity.  I would also consider it if I was in need of medical insurance.

For me the big issue is travel. I love my family. I understand how consulting companies work and the need for a body wherever one has been sold. But that’s the consulting company’s concern, not mine. So would I work for a firm again? If it were local, or if I really and truly was not going to travel all over the country, then maybe, if the technical challenges were there. Also, I would have to balance that with the lack of control. I don’t control very much as president and chief bottle washer of my firm, and the mistakes I make are sometimes real howlers, but they are my mistakes. There is something almost transcendentally satisfying about making decisions that affect you all by yourself.

9. Without going into specific reasons for why or why not, do you think you’ll be able to retire early based on your choice to become an independent?

I don’t think I will ever be able to retire, but I may be able to start my dream job earlier.

As I’ve detailed before, the money simply isn’t there.

10. Who do you feel are your biggest threats as an independent?

I was afraid that off-shore resources might be a threat, but that has not been the case.  I guess other independent consultants would be my direct competition, but there is enough work for all of the experienced resources.

Keeping up with technology, training, the US/world economy going into the dumpster forever. I have to decide which products are going to be worth my time and which ones are going to make the test of time. It isn’t easy and I don’t have close relationships nor the resources to spend lots of partner time with Oracle. I’ve branched into some tools that seem to stick around and I’m doing more than I did in the past. So I guess that means I find keeping my skills up to date and relevant to the market as my biggest concern.

11. How do you go about finding gigs? What percent (guesstimate) is through subcontracting through consulting firms vs. other avenues?

Almost all of my work (90%) comes through consulting firms finding work for me. If I am slow and I need work, I will reach out to old clients and the few consulting firms that find me the most work. I also reach out to friends in the business and let them know if I have availability.

Subcontract is about 75% of my work. Otherwise, I do a lot of professional outreach that keeps my profile out there. Most of it is volunteer work but there is some name recognition because of it. Of course the best is a direct to client engagement both because there is no middleman and because I have no layer between myself and the client. I don’t, as a rule, use brokers any more.

 

Cheers,
The Traveling Consultant
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Note: this post comes to you with a light heart and a warm smile. Some of my closest friends are contractors and they are fantastic at what they do. Therefore, please keep an open mind to both sides of the story when reading this. 

…Also, I originally intended to do a single post on the subject. However, after pestering two of my contractor friends to death, I thought I would approach this differently. Therefore, Part I is written from my point of view and Part II will be in their “own words”. Enjoy!

The Contractor (a.k.a. “independent” or “subcontractor”) can be a hotly debated role. Some clients associate negative feelings with this career path. Others are happy to have lighter wallets. And those that get the right combination of skill sets and price feel like they’ve hit the Holy Grail with Contractors. In the end, just like with Consultants, Contractors can be hit or miss.

But let’s back up a second. Some of you may be wondering what a Contractor is…and how do they differ from Consultants?

In a nutshell, a contractor is an independent consultant. Most of those from America (note that I’m intentionally excluding offshore contractors from this post, as that is a whole other animal) exhibit the following traits:

  • Do not work for any multi-person company (although most of them are “incorporated” for tax and liability purposes)
  • May work under 1099 forms (self-employed), if they are not incorporated
  • Are responsible for their own work or subcontract through a firm
  • Do not get the benefits offered to those working for a multi-person company (holidays, PTO, 401K, health, etc.)
  • Get paid more than your average Consultant, per hour, for the same job

Finding Work

So how do they find work? Some Contractors develop a strong bond with a single client and stay there for years. I’ve worked at plenty of clients where it was hard to distinguish the Contractors from the employees – some had even been there longer than the employees. Those Contractors are really like the employees – they have their own cubicles, badges, bosses, computers, etc., except that their hours are capped since they are paid on an hourly basis. Sounds like a perfect gig, right?

Why would clients pay more for a Contractor (vs. an employee)? Contractors, like Consultants, offer a specialized skill set that is hard to hire. At several of the government clients I’ve worked for, Contractors were plentiful. Why? My theory is that government firms don’t traditionally pay well for these roles. They may offer great benefits, but the wages are generally low. So Contractors are hired to supplement skill sets that these firms simply can’t hire in at the established (“fixed”) salary ranges. And since the market demands these specialized skill sets, it’s a win-win for Contractors.

I’ve also known many Contractors who subcontract through consulting firms. Yep, you read that correctly. In this highly competitive world of talent, consulting firms don’t have every skill set for every project at all times. So Contractors are treated like temporary employees – hired to ramp up the workforce when demand is high…and not utilized when demand is low. These are called “subcontractors” at consulting firms. As the consulting season is often unpredictable, this staffing model becomes a necessity. But subcontractors come at a premium price, so consulting firms have to use them sparingly. I would imagine that the margin on a subcontractor ranges from 10% to 33%, whereas the margin on a Consultant can be upwards of 33%.

When Contractors are hired through a consulting firm, do clients know whether or not their Consultant is a subcontractor? More than likely not. Subcontractors are often asked to act as if they are part of the consulting company’s firm and they may even have their own email address at the firm. I’m sure there are firms that disclose this information to the customer, but there are many that do not. In all of the firms that I’ve worked for, this has been an off-limits conversation. Consulting firms don’t want to be known for hiring “outsiders”, as they are selling their own experience in the industry and “outsiders” would not be part of that track record.

Skill Sets

Discussing Contractor skill sets is where this post becomes a bit tricky to navigate. Contractor skill sets are truly hit or miss, just as Consultant skill sets can be hit or miss. Because Contractors are independent, they don’t necessarily have a company watching them, assessing their performance, and vouching on their behalf. This is why it’s so important to get references in addition to Contractor resumes when hiring one.

In addition, Contractors can lack some of the important benefits that are otherwise gained when working with a company. For instance, if the company has formal partner access to vendor resources, a Contractor would not benefit from this relationship. Consulting firms are often partnered directly with software companies (at least in the line of work that I’m in) and this partnership can create valuable benefits to the employees of that firm. Software demo drives, partner training, and valuable resources are available to partners, in addition to preferential treatment for consulting engagements. Independents don’t have access to this information unless they’ve got a vendor contact “on the inside” or consulting friends who have access to that information and are willing to share (which is generally against the consulting firm’s policies).

Finally, Contractors may lack a couple of key elements that make consulting firms great:

  • A methodology built from many hands
  • Knowledge sharing

methodology is a strategy for approaching a project and it usually incorporates standardized methods, processes, documentation, and successfully proven solutions. The methodology at consulting firms is generally built from the experience of many. This is not to say that Contractors don’t have their own methodology – it’s just that theirs may not be as deep (experienced) or wide (diverse). Sometimes this has minimal impact on a project, and yet sometimes this can make a big difference.

Knowledge sharing, put simply, is the act of sharing information with a group of people. The level at which knowledge sharing occurs is truly different at each consulting firm, but it can be the most valuable asset for a consulting firm. Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge you have, the more efficient you may be able to be. For instance, some firms keep internal databases on commonly known software bugs and/or common solution design approaches. To make this knowledge sharing successful, this information has to be crowd surfed from lots of different people, as there are way too many variables for a single Contractor to keep track of. But wait…can’t a Contractor just ask their consulting friends for that information? It’s generally considered “rude” for Contractors to hit up their industry peers for knowledge that is proprietary to their friend’s firm. And in some cases, this can lead to a lawsuit – it breaks the contract that the Consultant has signed with their firm related to intellectual property and confidentiality. Yes, there are other creative ways that contractors can knowledge share (through blogs, for instance)…it’s just not as direct.

From my personal experience, consulting firms dislike working with Contractors (minus a few notable exceptions). They make less profit off of them and…unless they’ve worked with the person before, they’re just not sure what they’re getting. But it’s not even the unknown and profit issue that drive this dislike…there really are just so many bad stories to tell about Contractors. The firms that I have worked for have subcontracted out many jobs before and out of all of the Contractors used (dozens), only a few are repeatedly staffed. I can probably count them on one hand. Unfortunately, it’s the bad Contractors that give the good ones a bad name.

Why Would Someone Want to be a Contractor?

Being a Contractor has its good and bad. On the positive side, you can take off as much time as you want. I’ve known Independents that literally work half of the year…they make enough to last a full 12 months so they travel a good portion of it.

And, of course, all of my Contractor friends love the money. They may be the sole breadwinner in their household (it’s nice having a stay at home spouse when you’ve got kids), so they work full-time and make enough money for two incomes. Think about it – if the average Consultant in your line of work makes $75/hour (take home) and you charge $125/hour for the same job, then you’re better off (even after taxes, corporation fees, etc.).

Finally, all of my Contractor friends love the freedom. Not only do you have the freedom to choose your projects and your travel destinations, but you also don’t have Big Brother consulting firm breathing down your neck. You can do your own thing, as long as it keeps the client happy. And, if you don’t want to be on a project, you can just say “no” – assuming you have a great reputation. You are in control of your destiny – project technology, travel destinations, project team, etc.

Why Would Someone Not Want to be a Contractor?

Sounds like a good gig, eh? Well…not exactly. And below are the reasons why I have never ventured to become a Contractor myself. Again, the good and the bad…

Contractors have to find all of their own work. And if you’re unknown, this is hard to do. You have to have proven yourself before, have people vouch for you, and you have to be able to adapt to a variety of styles. This can be daunting during turbulent times. During the recession, work slowed in my particular line of work…I saw several Independents convert to formal consulting roles because it was just to hard to find gigs. The uncertainty of finding work can be very daunting.

In addition, many Contractors are responsible for all of their taxes, health care, retirement plans, etc. One of my Contractor friends keeps a separate bank account just for her taxes, as they are quite high. She also has to find affordable health plans for their family when her husband is not working. I sometimes worry about some of the risks she’s taken in the past, due to constrained, “affordable” health care.

Next, you have to handle everything yourself. And when I say everything, I mean everything. This is an overlooked area about Contractors that newbies forget about. As a Contractor, you potentially play every single role on a single project – the sales rep, the project manager, the architect, the junior consultant. This is a very unique skill set that not everyone possesses.

Finally, it’s recommended that Contractors incorporate themselves for liability and tax reasons. This means that you will most likely need a lawyer and have to file paperwork every year. But these two items are minor compared to the real issue here…protecting yourself from liability. Let’s say that you have to back out of a contract early or a project goes sour that you’re on. You can potentially get sued. And if you haven’t incorporated yourself, your client has the right to sue you for your personal assets. If you work for a Consulting firm, you are protected by your firm and, generally speaking, you are not subject to being personally sued. The legal aspect of contracting frankly scares me, and for that reason I prefer to be work under Big Brother.

Why Would a Client Hire a Contractor?

Most of this time this comes down to 2 reasons:

  1. Money
  2. Friendship

Contractors are cheaper than Consultants, unless your reputation precedes you in the industry (which, in that case, you may charge as much as a Consultant). Think about it this way…although a Consultant potentially takes home $75/hour, their firm may charge $200/hour for them. As a client, you may be weighing that against a $125/hour Contractor. If you’ve got a tight budget, a $75/hour difference is huge. A 3-month engagement results in a $38K difference! Those are not just pennies anymore…

The other common reason is old-fashioned networking. I’ve been told countless stories of Contractors who work for years at a firm because their friends are executives there and are throwing them a bone. In the stories I’ve heard, this does not always end well. Contractors are still more expensive than employees and will have to be cut one day…

If You’re Going to Hire a Contractor…

If you’re a client who’s looking to hire a Contractor, here is my simple advice:

  • Ask for references – at least 2
  • Interview them well.
    • Ask about their experiences on both the technical and soft skills sides. Anecdotes about challenging situations tell a lot about their personality and approach to conflict.
    • And…if you’re hiring for a technical gig, find someone who can grill their technical skills well – thousands of dollars can be saved with a simple half hour technical assessment phone call to find out if this candidate really does know their stuff.
    • Ask them about similar projects they’ve worked on. Ask for specifics – technology versions, team make-up, specific industry challenges, etc.
    • Make sure they’ve been working in this industry for at least several years.
  • Ask for examples of past documentation and/or other project work.
  • Write up a contract that protects you. If you work for a medium or large sized firm, this shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Don’t forget to have them sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement).
  • Do a background check. This is critical.
  • Do a drug test. Not as critical, but you’d be surprised…every now and then someone doesn’t pass (Consultants and Contractors alike).
  • Provide your own computers, security, and email for them (assuming the gig is long enough). The last thing you want to do is have a Contractor waste unnecessary time trying to get their laptop up to snuff on your environment.

If you’re not able to do the above (or feel uncomfortable about it) and can forego a few dollars, then have a Consulting firm spec out your Contractor for you. And yes, this does happen in real life and probably more often than you think. The better Consulting firms are hard interviewers and they have the experience and expertise to drive a good interview.

Cheers,
The Traveling Consultant

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This profile exists in all work environments, not just consulting. But I’ll be honest – it’s rare in my line of work and frankly a little odd. Consultants just have too much pride and passion to fall into this category.

The “It’s just a job!” Guy/Gal

Definition: For those of you who are enjoying a career right now, you know who I’m talking about. This is the kind of person that makes you roll your eyes, huff out of frustration, and/or want to strangle someone. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s an excellent (and hilarious) NSFW explanation by Chris Rock (undoubtedly one of the best comedians of our time).

% of consultants that exhibit this trait: ~1 in every 250

Detailed definition: This type of consultant is one who’s just getting by. They are doing the absolute minimum. They don’t give back to their fellow brethren, you can’t expect them to go above and beyond on anything, and they live the consulting life as if it’s a 9-to-5 job. Once the clock magically strikes 5pm, they are out the door.

I have met only a couple of people like this in my career. I believe I’ve encountered relatively few of these types because most consultants are very passionate about their work and, to be super honest, workaholics. However, having said that, I do feel that a person who starts with a great attitude in consulting can eventually drift this way…

Example 1: The first example is about a young and quiet sort of guy – he literally just faded into the background. You had to give him direction (i.e. micromanage him) or you would find him surfing the internet. Although we don’t have set business hours as consultants, we established some just for him on that project. He showed up ~15 minutes late in the morning and then was out the door a few minutes early. During meetings, I often caught him not paying attention – he looked like his mind was elsewhere. I think he was let go shortly after that project. I will never know what was going on with him – I approached him during a free moment and asked if everything was OK and then hinted that he didn’t seem to be engaged. But he brushed off the encounter and said everything was fine (not that it was really my business anyways).

Example 2: This second person was similar to the first. He was quiet, kept to herself, and was quite…boring. No real personality, no passion. One time our project team invited him to go out with us for drinks after work and he complied, although I have always wondered if he did it out of obligation. He didn’t talk to anyone during the happy hour – he spent most of his time watching the sports bar TV. I also approached him (I was in a management role at the time) and asked him to level with me about what was going on. He first seemed to hesitate but then relayed a personal story that was quite heartbreaking. The management team decided to look the other way on his performance and tried to support him as best as we could.

This story has a happy ending, unlike the first. After his ordeal was over months later, he did a 180. He was infused with new found happiness that spilled over into his career. He stayed with the firm for another 2 years.

Example 3: This example breaks from tradition a bit. In this one I’m going to discuss a client. By the way, the number of clients that portray this profile is much higher – I encounter at least one “jobber” on every project. I assume that this is due to a simple numbers game – corporate workers outnumber consultants by at least 10:1. Also, I have to state the obvious here – the story I’m sharing with you is an extreme example that just happens to manifest itself in a client persona. This story is not meant to encourage a stereotype of people on the client side. I illustrate it because there are some extreme behaviors that are worth noting.

I once encountered a business analyst who had been working for a company for over 10 years when we got there. He was rigid, seemed to be “held back” (i.e. not promoted), and very cantankerous. He was also the only person who could give us the stuff we needed, as it came out of a complex database system that he both created and maintained. At first, I had no clue what I had walked into. But then I saw him roll his eyes when I introduced myself. Instead of addressing it, I continued and asked if he could help us out, although it was clear to both of us that he was the only who could help us and would need to. He waved me away and explained that he “did not have time for this.” (When this happens, we have to go through the management chain to “motivate” people.) After he was given a talking to, we gave him the exact specifications of what we needed. Note that these specifications were based on a rigid document that he had defined and required us to fill out (my guess is that he did this to stall or stop our request). I made sure to fill in every detail and even put in a screen shot of what the final product should look like. But somehow his version of the end product did not look like mine. When I went back to him to request needed adjustments, he started yelling at me and then blamed me for writing a bad spec. We then went through the management chain again. After his second talking to, he fixed most of the issues. Needless to say, I worked with him several more times to finish the task. It was painful, especially since it was hard to get an inch from him on most things…and he left at 4:57pm on the dot everyday.

Aside: after reading the above, some of you may be thinking “maybe he just doesn’t like consultants.” No doubt, and I’m not going to speculate – there were obviously several things going on with this gentleman. Note that he behaved the same way with both peers and consultants. Also note that had been heard saying “It’s just a job!” to co-workers.

Why would a consultant behave in such a manner?

Based on the few people I’ve known, I am going to say there are a couple of causes:

  • Personal reasons
  • Lack of ambition

Consultants seek out this line of work because they have a specific type of creative need. They like to solve problems, be challenged, live the life of a road warrior, and/or exist on a plane that is constantly changing. There is a strong spirit that is alive and well in our community that propels us. People who try consulting and don’t like it leave almost immediately. Therefore, I think personal reasons are the #1 reason why someone’s spirit breaks. I’ve met consultants who have suffered personal loss and hardships during their consulting careers. They check out, but it’s only temporary. They bounce back. But those that don’t – they move on or are asked to move on.

The #2 reason is really directed toward the younger generations who don’t know what they’ve gotten into when they start their consultant path. Once they realize how much ambition and self-stamina you need to survive this career, it either makes or breaks them.

How do you know when a consultant is an “It’s just a job!” Guy/Gal?

The signs are pretty clear: they routinely look/act/talk like they don’t want to be there, they lack focus and attention to detail, they count down the hours before they can leave each day, and they consistently do bad work. In rare instances, you may actually hear them say “It’s just a job!” in defense of a job done poorly.

What can one do about the “It’s just a job!” Guy/Gal?

Clients, your course of action is to tell the consulting management team and let them handle it. It is really up to the consulting firm to deal with their own people.

For consulting firms, I think there are 2 true options here:

  1. Have a heart to heart with them and find out why they don’t value their job. Maybe they lack motivation, skill, or the necessary tools they need to do their job efficiently. Then support them.
  2. -and if #1 doesn’t work- Encourage them to leave that particular position or company.

The bottom line comes down to this…us consultants have a certain level of autonomy in our line of work and we are expected to create our own opportunity and then walk that pathway ourselves. If someone’s heart isn’t into it, this is most definitely the wrong career choice.

Cheers,

The Traveling Consultant

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This profile is one that I hope to work with on every project. I wish I were this profile myself, but unfortunately I don’t possess all of these wonderful traits. 🙂

The “Great Guy/Gal”

Definition: You know this guy/gal almost immediately. This person makes everyone smile, puts any situation at ease, and while also getting their work done on time and on budget. In essence, they are one of the perfect consultants.

% of consultants that exhibit this trait: ~1 in every 300 (or at least in my estimation)

Detailed definition: This type of consultant possesses all of the great characteristics that you are looking for in both: 1) an honest worker and 2) a great friend. They are honest, ethical, hard-working, and have a good passion for the job. In addition, you trust them completely. You can have both work and off-topic conversations with them – they are so easy going. I have found, however, that these folks are generally not in leadership positions. They are usually “doers” with great people skills.

Fortunately, I have met 2 people like this. They were both young guys who were new to consulting.

Example 1: The first Great Guy was a very young kid who came to consulting straight from college. He had an enormous appetite for all things technical. In the truest sense of the word, he was a nerd…but he was also very cool (a “geek”?). In his spare time, he DJ’ed – he had an entire suite of electronica music that he would demo for us, which easily upped his coolness factor. He always had a smile on his face, was eager to learn, and seemed to just enjoy life. He often went out with us (older) team members after work for dinner or fun, and he was a barrel of laughs. He was always doing crazy (but nice) things for our team.

But what I liked most about him was his small ego – he didn’t let the little things get to him. He also didn’t get caught up in office politics or gossip. I often looked at him and thought “This kid is going places.” I still keep this person in my LinkedIn contacts list – he is at another firm, kicking butt and taking names.

Example 2: The second Great Guy I’ve come to known was also new to consulting. He was only a couple of years out of college. This guy possessed many similar traits as Great Guy #1. He was fun, easy-going, had a small ego, and didn’t get caught up in the little things that “stir the pot”. The cool thing about this kid was that he had a great designer’s eye, in addition to picking up technology quickly. His layouts were so fabulous – the sales team loved to have him create demos for them, as the clients gravitated to his stuff.

Why would a consultant behave in such a manner?

If you’re lucky, you’ll meet a consultant like this at least once in your lifetime. And the funny thing is, due to the lack of ego – they don’t even know how superb and special they are. They just know they have a lot of friends in the firm.

How do you know when a consultant is a Great Guy/Gal?

After the first day with them, you’ll think “I like this person!” and you look forward to working with them everyday.

What can one do about Great Guy/Gal?

Hire them! IMMEDIATELY!

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For whatever reason, I’ve encountered 4 of these types of consultants. They have all been female project managers. I am not sure why this is the case, but in defense of all female project managers out there – my experience does not cause me to stereotype the female species.

The “Flake”

Definition: A consultant who continuously drops the ball on tasks and never seems to be listening to anyone, nor understands what people tell them.

% of consultants that exhibit this trait: ~1 in every 100 consultants

Detailed definition: UrbanDictionary.com (yes, I look up words there all the time – for a laugh or just because the definitions are so true!) describes a flake as “An unreliable person; someone who agrees to do something, but never follows through”. I think unreliable is the perfect definition.

Example 1: The first Flake I encountered worked at my first consulting firm. She began her career at the bottom of the ranks and worked her way up. Since she was unofficially in the project manager role before she was promoted, it made sense to the company to promote her to that position. However, once she “officially” became a project manager, she changed. She started flapping her gums around her team for hours at a time (instead of focusing on work) and she would spontaneously not show up to the client on days when she was expected. When trying to reach her by cell phone, she wouldn’t answer half of the time…and when she did the cell phone would suddenly hit a dead zone and drop mid-sentence during hard conversations. Unfortunately for her, her consulting life there was short-lived and ended quite soon after the client complaints started rolling in.

Example 2: This next Flake managed a very large project at my second firm. At first she was fun to be around – vibrant and smiling. She stood up for her team when they needed support and she gave an encouraging shoulder to cry on when members of her team needed it. Seemed great, right? She was doing a “fine job” until the project went sour. Once that happened, people started paying attention to her performance. During meetings it was discovered that she was doing nothing more than nodding. She didn’t understand the details being discussed. People noticed that she wasn’t taking notes, either. She didn’t follow-up or follow through on things. And she didn’t document the important decisions of the project – crucial for CYA’s. (Sidenote: although these details sound very specific and, well…anal…they are well-known standards for project managers.) After the project hit rock bottom, it was suddenly hard to reach her by cell phone. She became defensive in conversations and meetings. She also started throwing her team members under the bus, one by one. After one incredibly stressful morning, her team members could not find her anywhere. After about an hour, she came in looking fully refreshed and smiling, exclaiming “It is such a beautiful day. I just needed to bask in the sun for an hour!”. She was laid off several months later.

Example 3: This final Flake managed a large project at my third firm. She was an older lady and very refined – she wore skirt suits every day. Her manner was professional and she seemed to be a great project manager on the surface. She had a project plan, she stayed on top of tasks, and she kept her project status reports in tip-top shape and submitted them on time. But she drove her team mad…when her team members launched into any sort of technical detail in response to a question, she would nod her head and then turn around and ask them the exact same question…then space out again the second time around. Several people asked her “Are you listening to me?” She would nod and then ask the same question a different way. As she was there only on a trial basis, the client decided not to sign her onto a contract.

Why would a consultant behave in such a manner?

Flakes are flakes – they are completely oblivious. And if they receive any sort of positive feedback about their performance, they hang onto it forever and believe they are great! Unfortunately, I have seen the road end for all of them in some form or fashion.

How do you know when a consultant is a Flake?

If you find yourself:

  • repeating yourself a lot around them
  • confused when you are around them
  • watching them look like a deer in headlights when you explain something with any sort of detail
  • trying to reach them repeatedly by phone or email, with no luck

What can one do about Flakes?

Upper management involvement plays a key role in dealing with Flakes. But since most upper management is uninvolved at the lower levels, it can be hard to make traction on replacing them or removing them.

It’s important to be specific when communicating Flake issues to management. It’s also important to point out how their behavior effects the bottom line (money).

And if you do choose to take on a Flake, tread carefully. Remember that Flakes are usually in management – so they will get the benefit of the doubt (since they have obviously made it that far for a reason).

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This particular consultant profile is one of the main reasons why I left management. I was suffocated by the number of Diva consultants that the firm turned a blind eye to.

The “Diva”

Definition: a consultant who insists on a high-maintenance, extravagant workstyle

% of consultants that exhibit this trait: ~1 in every 20

Detailed definition: If you are a client, you will recognize this consultant when you get your first expense bill. If you are a consultant, you will recognize this type of consultant once you get past the dazzle and glimmer that surrounds them wherever they go.

At first, with clients, this consultant is a sheep in wolf’s clothing. They say all the right things and seem to be nothing short of awesome. And they really know their stuff – they can confuse you with their brilliant minds and fantastic buzz words. But then, as you start examining the expense bills, their true self will start to unravel…

Example 1: Early in my consulting career, I worked under a project manager who fell into this profile. The client liked him enough to keep him on the project, but those of us who worked under him grew to hate him after the first few months. He would want to take an hour-long trips to the coffee shop a half mile away because that “barista” had “bitter-less” coffee. (And if it were raining or snowing, one of us peons would have to drop everything to make the coffee run for him.) He would eat dinner with the team only when we went to the high-priced steak restaurants. He would require that we submit individual status reports that looked exactly like his format (which did not follow the company’s standard methodology) because it was how he wanted it. And, he would require that someone drive him around every week. He sat in the front passenger seat since that was (conclusively) the seat least likely to be targeted in the event of a sniper attack…everyone else rode in the back. Note that this guy came from a military background – military consultants have quirky habits.

Example 2: This example is based on one of the most “celebrity” diva consultants I have ever met. Luckily, he has since left our company. This person would take a limo to and from the airport every week, although it cost the client 25% more. He also ignored all other standard travel expense policies, like booking flights at least 3 weeks in advance to get a cheaper rate. He would book his flight the weekend before, which could cost the client >$500 extra. Finally, he would ignore emails from 90% of his peers – unless you were the CEO or another member of upper management, your email went straight into the Trash bin. (I would bet an entire paycheck that he created a special Outlook rule.) But…he made sure to respond to every email from the client with extra sugar, and the client loved him…just not his expense bill.

Example 3: There once was this hot shot kid who came to us from a large consulting firm. Upon arrival, she immediately exclaimed that she was going to be our new CEO within 5 years. Most of us just shook our heads at her, remembering what it was like to be young and naive. But her true “diva-ness” stemmed from her working hours. She proclaimed that she could only work 40 total hours a week, including travel. Therefore, if her travel snapped up 15 hours of the week, she would only work (and bill) 25 hours, as 15 travel hours + 25 billable hours = 40 total hours. To this day, we don’t understand how she got away with it. She no longer works at my firm.

Why would a consultant behave in such a manner?

It’s really simple: Divas are usually not self-aware, so most of them do not even realize they are behaving badly. In addition, they keep getting away with it. As no one likes to deal with Divas, consulting firms often turn a blind eye to these folks because they are gifted in a particular area of expertise and have dazzled enough clients to be in high demand. They are usually high billers and are spread across multiple projects at once. I’ve noticed that most of these Divas are also Over Billers (see post entitled “Consultant Profiles: the Over Biller”).

How do you know when a consultant is a Diva?

They are smooth talking, very sharp, and often full of themselves. And you’ll know when you start seeing those expense bills, because Divas typically charge 20% more than other consultants due to their high-priced lifestyle.

So what can one do about Divas?

This is really an internal issue, one that consulting firms must manage. Management has to acknowledge that they have a Diva in their midst and then figure out a way to manage their expenses and personality conflicts with others. But, to be honest…because Divas are Divas, their lifespan at a single consulting firm is about 1-3 years. Perhaps everyone can just wait them out…

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One of my close, personal friends is a “Talker”, so I write this post with love…

The “Talker”

Definition: A consultant who rambles on and on about anything and everything…and can talk you into oblivion (without noticing). This consultant is the type of person you can ask a question of any topic to, and you can count on never hearing “I don’t know” as the response.

% of consultants that exhibit this trait: ~1 in every 100 consultants

Detailed definition: This consultant can go on and on about any topic. They are happy to divulge their opinion, a family member’s opinion, or even a friend’s opinion on the subject. Sometimes, they even give you your opinion. This type of person is gifted with acumen…they have great knowledge that they either: 1) acquired from past conversations (and retained with an elephant-like memory), or 2) Googled and stored in the “vault”. When you get them going on a topic that they particularly like, it is referred to as “geeking out”. I often wonder if these folks are insomniacs – I don’t understand how they have time to learn everything about everything.

Example 1: As stated above, one of my close, personal friends is a Talker. Some have affectionately called him “diarrhea mouth” behind his back. He especially gets going late at night after a few beers. I can’t help but love him…he can ramble for an hour on a single topic, but he also has many other wonderful qualities that make him an excellent friend, especially the gift of techie knowledge. We often geek out together over our newest i-gadgets.

Example 2: A consultant at my firm is also a Talker, and because I am not a personal friend of his, his rambling often annoys me. I was first introduced to him on a project by way of gossip. Consultant friends were discussing a game they liked to play with him. When he came over to one of their cubes to fulfill his word quota for the day (one of the four or five times a day he did this), they would play the “timer game” with him. It would start with a question about a random, inane topic. His response would get secretly timed. Then the consultants would compare notes to see which topic he talked longest on, and that person would “win”. A variation of this game involved asking sequential random questions to see how long he could talk before getting interrupted by the client. While he was talking, they wouldn’t even look at him – they just continued working on their laptops, nodding from time to time to keep him going. For whatever reason, he didn’t mind – he would continue to look at them as he kept talking.

Why would a consultant behave in such a manner?

These people have no awareness whatsoever of their affliction. They may hear people snicker and joke directly about their lengthy conversations, but they seem genuinely surprised – as if it’s the first time they’ve been told they talk “a lot”.

How do you know when a consultant is a Talker?

At first, when you’re just meeting a Talker (and blissfully unaware), you politely nod and continue with the conversation although you don’t particularly care for it. Then you look at your watch and 15 minutes have disappeared…and the subject is still the same. An hour later, you are looking for someone to bail you out, or you suddenly “have to go to the bathroom”.

What can one do about Talkers?

These consultants are harmless. Although they have the gift of gab, they are generally sweet people who trade off their rambling with excellent technical knowledge that will save you in a tight spot. If you get caught in their avalanche of words, make sure you have an out (or your cell phone so you can text an S.O.S. message to a colleague).

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