Have you got the skills needed for a successful career in IT consultancy?
IT Consultants need to develop a range of skills that appeal to potential employers, and not just in their core IT specialism. Consultants, or contractors, will be thrown in at the deep end to run and deliver complex projects using knowledge and experience gained from having worked on varied projects in the past.
It takes a combination of hard work, determination and motivation to work in this way, but it can be extremely rewarding. IT professionals are exposed to a vast range of environments, projects and technologies that being a ‘normal’ paid employee, working for just one company, could never deliver.
So, aside from being an expert in your particular technology skill set, do you have what it takes to go it alone and become a consultant?
1. Attention to Detail
As a consultant, this is a crucial skill to have. The very nature of tech involves a minutia of detail, and small errors can lead to big issues. Consultants rely on good recommendations from previous assignments, and to ensure you deliver outstanding results, your work needs to be error free.
2. Being the “Go-To” Person
You will find yourself working in different sectors with various clients. Although it’s good to have a wide range of experience, it’s important that you develop at least one skill which differentiates yourself from other consultants. By gaining a reputation as the expert in your area, you’re ensuring that you have a constant stream of work opportunities. Take the time to become the ‘go to’ person for that skill - whether it’s excellent communication skills or advanced knowledge of a particular sector.
Confident consultants can be team players, able to go into a new team and quickly build trust and rapport. However, they should also have the confidence to challenge existing ways of working and traditional methods in order to focus on achieving the company’s goals. It’s important the client is able to confide in the consultant, trust their advice and understand that they are there to help.
Strong consultants are able to adapt to any work situation a new project may throw up. They can adjust to a change in work culture and easily fit into a new team, working with different colleagues. Consultants also need to understand that sometimes a client may reject ideas and recommendations. no matter how suited you think it is for their business. Excellent consultants should be able to argue their case effectively, but also accept defeat graciously.
Consultants need to have excellent interpersonal skills, particularly around communication. Effective communication with your clients can be the difference between the success and failure of an assignment. Establish a reporting procedure early on, ensure you stick to it, make sure all team members are kept in the loop at all times, and maintain contact with your recruitment consultancy or provider too.
6. Asking Questions
Never be afraid to ask questions or seek clarification. Asking questions will demonstrate your understanding of what the client wants. It’s imperative at the beginning of an assignment to get a full understanding of the goals, how the business works, who is involved etc. As you move through the assignment, it’s important to ensure that this process continues, enabling you to deliver exactly what’s required.
7. Being Resourceful
As a consultant, you will be faced with many challenges as you implement new systems or steer new projects. You’ll need to be resourceful in order to tackle any situation quickly and effectively. You’ll need to draw on all your skills and experiences, and those of your team, to make each assignment a success. Demonstrate that you are willing to do whatever it takes to overcome any challenges and achieve the desired results.
8. Problem Solving
Consultants should have a backup plan for situations where there may be unforeseen circumstances. An effective consultant will make sure they are able to adjust their plans in a fast and agile manner in order to achieve success. The ability to think outside the box and draw from past experiences to solve a client’s problem is an important asset to an IT consultant.
9. Experience of good and bad
Developing new systems, implementing new processes, managing crises and past failures – all these experiences are positive additions to your range of skills. You know how to avoid common pitfalls, how to resolve issues and how to ensure the business can learn from a crisis to become stronger.
10. Listening Skills
As a consultant, you will meet with different people with many different personalities and characteristics. Being a good listener will mean you can engage with people from all walks of life and ensure you enjoy positive relationships with your manager, client and colleagues. By listening to the overall objectives of the business, you will have clarity around your own particular assignment and appreciate its place in a wider business context. The varied experience of a consultant will enable you to see things from different perspectives and appreciate the concerns of others.
In summary, whilst IT consultants need to excel in their technology field, the honing of softer skill sets will set them apart. Being able to mesh culturally with a wide range of organisations, to provide leadership and guidance and to have the confidence to steer businesses in bold new directions are just as critical for a long, successful career as a consultant.