When first starting out your career as an IT consultant, it can prove quite overwhelming. The typical implementation stages for a traditional waterfall project are requirements gathering, solution design, build, user testing, and application deployment. For a project to be a success, not only does the lead consultant/solution architect have to understand the technical aspects of the application they are implementing, but they also need to have the capacity to quickly understand the functional side of the client’s financial processes. That way, they can satisfy the client’s requirements as well as design an appropriate solution with their technical knowledge.
Although your first year you will be mostly focused on the technical aspects of building out the application along with tasks such as assisting with requirements gathering, end user training, documentation, etc., it is important to start learning all aspects of being an IT consultant so that one day you can lead a project on your own.
To achieve this goal, I’d like to share some advice from IT consultants on how to overcome the initial challenges of joining the workforce and grow your career as quickly as possible that I personally have found most crucial to my growth.
Do Not Ask “How?” Until You Have Tried Yourself
Whatever application type you implement most likely has a plethora of documentation available, so make sure to take advantage of it. For example, when you get assigned the task of creating an allocation business rule and you don’t even know where to start, start with spending time researching followed by testing. In the process of research, test, and repeat, you will learn an immense amount. Once you’ve spent a decent amount of time trying to accomplish the task on your own, don’t be afraid to seek advice from your seniors. They will be more than happy to help put understand how to put together the remaining pieces of the puzzle. Learning how to learn on your own while also learning from your peers is key to your growth.
Learn From Every Conversation
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During your initial client meetings, you will primarily be focused on notetaking (especially during requirements gathering meetings). The lead consultant on the project will drive the conversation, and you must capture everything that takes place during the meeting. However, a lot of the topics covered during the meeting may be completely new to you. Acronyms may be used by the client without any explanation as to what they mean, extremely industry specific discussions will be had, and so forth. You may be able to note down everything that was said but have no clue what half the stuff means. At this point, that’s ok and acceptable. During your internal meetings (those without the client present) you can ask your questions and get your questions answered. It is imperative that you make sure to take the time to fully understand everything that was discussed in the meeting as this is how you remove any “blind spots” about what was communicated and how it impacts the over project. Your ability to perform as a lead consultant will depend upon your ability to comprehend everything that is discussed with clients, but also be able to drive the conversation to get the pertinent information from the client.
Do More Than What is Expected of You
When starting out, you will almost assuredly be given a list of tasks to complete – build this report, write a formula that accomplishes this, create these forms, write this data rule, build this integration, etc. While your priority should always be to complete your tasks in order of importance, you should also spend some time putting yourself in the client’s shoes and thinking “What does the application currently not have, but could have, and would benefit me (the client) greatly?” Sometimes it can be as simple as creating a form that can provide variance analysis between forecast, budget, and actuals. Other times it can be something a little more complex, such as a metadata integration that reduces the amount of manual work the future admin of the project will have to do each month. By adding your own improvements (and confirming these additional features with your lead), you are not only improving your own skills, but also delivering additional value for your clients! A win-win for everyone!
Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
No matter how far you progress in your career, there will always be times that make you uncomfortable. The project manager will always get a little nervous before a big presentation to executives, the solutions architect will get asked a question they do not know the answer to on a call with clients, and so forth. It is only a matter of time, but you will be put in uncomfortable situations as well. Do not be afraid to take a breather in the middle of your presentation to the client, to say “I do not know the answer to that question, but I will research and get back to you later”, or to ask a peer for help when you need it in the middle of a client meeting. Although with time you will get more comfortable in these situations as you learn more, you will never become fully 100% comfortable. It’s important to put yourself out there once you have a little bit of experience; don’t be afraid to volunteer to give presentations and have calls with clients without your peers present. The more time you spend being uncomfortable, the more you will get comfortable in these situations.
Save Everything You Do
A last quick but important point to mention, build your personal inventory of the work you perform for every client. Remember that allocation rule you spent a whole day on? Save it. Maybe you don’t write another allocation rule for 4 years, and then instead of spending another whole day on it you go to your reference folder, open your allocation rule, and use that as a starting point. Even if you do happen to remember how you wrote it, being able to start with an already written rule will save you a lot of time. Always remember to work smarter, not harder.
Try to remind yourself of these 5 main points often (especially during your early years in consulting) to get as much out of them as possible.
To recount, they are:
- Do Not Ask “How?” Until You Have Tried Yourself
- Learn From Every Conversation
- Do More Than What is Expected of You
- Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
- Save Everything You Do
I hope this advice helps you as much as it has helped me. Congrats on joining the consulting world, and best of luck to you!