A day in THIS life: Day Two on a New Project

Published: Jun 15, 2009


Credibility, value and the biggest insult

Now, that you're set up in the workplace, or at least the forms have been faxed (yes, Twitter generation, they do still use these archaic devices) for a security badge and whatnot, you're on the path. It's time for the work to begin. You have a short time to establish credibility with the client. As I mentioned in my previous post, the threat of rolling off is real, and a few words from the client is all it takes for that to happen. The goal here is to manage the client's perceptions of you. It is now time to grow gray hair, gain a sizable amount of weight and, if necessary, height to physically mirror your vast knowledge and expertise. If you are not willing to go to those lengths, there are some other things you can do. Maintain a measured calmness, a correct level of seriousness and a firm tone of voice, to start.

The primary characteristic of a good consultant is being proactive, or taking action in anticipation and striking out on your own to solve problems. (In other fields, this may be synonymously referred to as being annoying, depending on the context.) For those coming from school or a job with nailed-down responsibilities, being proactive is a difficult adjustment for many, myself included. One is expected to take ownership over various issues, mini-projects, etc., and become the driving force behind them. This means determining if and when meetings happen, tracking down the right people and pulling together deliverables with little, if any, guidance, and a fervor not particularly common among students. One must ask for certain things and then continue to check up to get the information needed ... and then check up some more. If this sounds like you are creating work for yourself, you are, but hopefully you are adding value simultaneously. But don't let your own scope grow out of control—your first goal is to demonstrate "client value" by participating meaningfully and visibly.

You will get the experience question at some point; think about how you will handle it. You probably have some sort of experience, even if you're fresh out of college, maybe it was even an internship. I would say, "I did this activity before, or I did this for X company," but don't bring attention to the fact it was an internship—there's no reason to. You accomplished these things and that should be the focus of the conversation. For each role you take on, have this in the back of your mind so you won't be caught off guard. Answer firmly. Establish some credibility and then go after some common ground (socially or otherwise).

For those of us who are naturally a bit more introspective, preferring to take in all we can to learn and then act, showing value immediately is particularly difficult. Especially, as a new consultant, knowing how to participate meaningfully, appropriately and, at the same time, quickly is challenging. The risk here, then, is the label, perhaps the ultimate insult in consulting: the term "junior," as in, the client perceives him as "junior," or he's too "junior" for that role, etc. Technically you may well be junior, but try to convey a maturity beyond your years of experience or age.

-- Taylor O'Neal is a supply chain consultant for a major consulting firm. He graduated from Miami University School of Business in 2005 and Indiana University's Kelley Masters of Information Systems program in 2006.