Thursday, March 26, 2009

So now you think you know what you are doing ..

So, onto the next level – Senior Consultant (SC). In some ways, this one of the better places to be in a consulting firm. For your tenure, the pay is pretty good, the responsibility is nowhere near as much as higher levels, and you have been around long enough that you have a real identity with the firm. This last is more important than you might think – having a reputation at a professional services firm is crucial if you want to progress. By rep I don’t mean “check out Joe Blogs, he is a real ladies man”, but instead “Joe Blogs is the go to guy for customer segmentation models”. Yes, its not as cool, but it is how you get staffed on good projects, and where you are staffed is an important determinant of how well you do. Many a good worker has been screwed because they got staffed on a series of projects that didn’t let them “tick the boxes”.

Anyway, as an SC, you will almost immediately see a difference in the way seniors treat you. Even though the management model is pretty light touch even for newly minted consultants, it becomes even more so for SCs. You have been around for a few years, so people will start to only give you vague directions, and leave it to you to make some consulting magic happen. Hopefully you know enough to get things done – if not learn fast! Depending on the size of the team, you will be leading workstreams, or at the very least sizeable chunks of independent work.

Your soft skills will also need to be used quite often – even more than as a consultant, you will have your own clients to look after, either managing them or as direct relationships. Just as it is for anyone senior, you have to keep them happy. One technique I have found useful is to try and help them with something non project related that you have expertise in – I often find helping them out with Excel related issues is a great way to build credibility and trust.

Of course, keeping the client happy is the minimum requirement – you also need to make life easy for the engagement manager, and live up to the high standards set at a consulting firm. The rule is, always know the background to everything you do – be able to answer all the questions, even if the number that is being queried comes from the client. I don’t know is the absolute worst thing you can say. Also, make sure you raise issues quickly and transparently. Asking for help sourcing some benchmarks two weeks before a steering committee is much much better than not having them the day before.

Once you are an SC for a little while, its time to start thinking about business school. I will be a writing a post on why I want to go to business school (and where) in the near future, but for the SC job description, lets just say that it is an almost expected part of your career progression. You go away as an SC, and magically come back as an Associate. Therefore, you should be thinking about the process, what you need to do, and whether or not you want to go. 

Next post in this series will be on Associates. 

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