So your company has just announced a big initiative—and it’s bringing in some consultants. Does this mean your job is in jeopardy?
Relax—chances are, it doesn’t. Consultants often get a bad rap, but the truth is, they’re generally brought in because your company needs specialized knowledge that will help it solve specific problems or gain a competitive advantage.
So, before you start panicking (or hitting the job boards), consider these tips for getting the most out of the situation, and even boosting your own career.
1. Help Them Get Acclimated
Remember your first few days on the job? They were probably a bit uneasy until you figured out the office culture and got to know everyone. Keep in mind that consultants are human beings, just like you, and they’re probably feeling the same way.
So take the initiative and help the consultants get acclimated. Introduce yourself and what you do, let them know you’re available to answer questions, and hey, even point out your favorite coffee spot. Not only does this show them (and your boss) that you’re a team player, but it demonstrates maturity and professionalism. Plus, the sooner the new team members feel comfortable, the sooner you can start engaging with them.
2. Fulfill Your Obligation to the Project
Part of a consultant’s job is to really learn your business by asking a lot of questions and gathering data. And the only way he or she will get this information is if you cooperate. Remember that consultants are usually constrained to a specific project budget, scope, and schedule (set by your boss), so respect that and get them what they need in a timely manner—even if that means a little extra work on your end. You definitely don’t want to be known as the person who’s holding up the process.
And who knows—the information you provide could be key to saving your company money or winning more market share. And that’s a far cry from the downsizing that you were so nervous about.
3. Remember to Ask For Knowledge Transfer
If consultants are helping your company implement something new (like software or financial services), you have a big opportunity to gain some internal expertise. The consultants have already been exposed to a myriad of other companies, which they’ve helped with project design, a public relations crisis, or strategic direction. Take advantage of their experiences and pick their brains. You may learn a new skill or gain a better understanding of your company’s industry, and that’s a huge benefit to your professional development.
Also remember that you don’t want to be dependent upon the consultants after they leave, nor do you want your boss asking you why you dropped the ball when the project was handed off. If you are confused or aren’t getting the answers you need, don’t be afraid to speak up. If a consultant tells you that you don’t need to know how to fix something, make her show you anyway. Murphy’s Law tells us that six months later that same problem will unexpectedly emerge, and you’ll be the one called upon to fix it.
4. Use Them as Mentors
Some consultants can also be incredible teachers. They have worked with countless other clients just like you, so they often know what knowledge and skills will best help you land that next promotion. I will always be grateful to one particular consultant who made me learn as much as possible about a new computer system (even when I didn’t necessarily want to). He was adamant that these particular skills would pay off for me in the future—and he was right. I now have a niche skill that is highly desirable in the marketplace, and I owe a lot of my success to his mentoring.
In order to build this type of relationship, make sure that the consultant knows your goals and how he or she can help you achieve them. Ask about the success stories she’s seen and what steps were taken to get there. And remember that the mentor-mentee relationship needs to be mutually beneficial—so don’t forget to reciprocate. My favorite way to do this is by giving glowing recommendations to the consultants' potential clients.
Above all, keep in mind that working with consultants doesn’t have to be painful. Not only can they provide a valuable service to your company, they can also help you obtain some important skills for your own career.